HOUSTON - For the second time in 10 years, a former member of the Public Utility Commission of Texas is encouraging changes to how the state's power-grid is operated, and that there is a narrow opportunity to learn from the lessons of the Big Freeze.
Brett Perlman is now CEO of the Center for Houston's Future, but was a PUC commissioner as the state's electricity industry was deregulated, more than 20 years ago. He says there should be little surprise we are having this discussion, again.
"I think what this really was a failure of imagination," he says, "It was a failure to understand what the possibilities could be."
Perlman believes there is blame to share, for the massive power outage that left millions of Texans in the cold and dark, during the arctic blast.
In an op-ed, printed in the Dallas Morning News, he says the state needs to find improvements while the memory is fresh. He expressed similar concerns, after an outage in 2011, and is frustrated that the same problems exist.
While avoiding the 'politics' of the current argument, Perlman believes the PUC missed an opportunity to exert long term pressure to prepare for the extreme conditions.
"I do think the commission does have authority to act, here. Whether it decides to act, or not, is another question," he says.
The Texas legislature appears ready to make sure the PUC is clear on that point, going forward. Still, there are also the issues of failed communication and coordination between the various players in the industry.
Indeed, there's little more than informal relationships that connect the natural gas and electricity industries, in Texas.
"While everybody is looking at their piece, and there are some changes that need to be made to each of the pieces, no one is really looking at the whole," says Perlman. "That's something that needs to change."
What won't work, says the former PUC commissioner, is doing nothing. He suggests Texas leaders tried that, already, with catastrophic results.
"We didn't learn the lessons that we should have learned 10 years-ago," says Perlman. "Hopefully, this time, we have learned those lessons and changes will occur."
Meantime, he warns the crushing costs of generating the electricity that 'was' available during the Big Freeze, is a pressing concern.
With a number of power generators facing billions in extra costs, Perlman says regulators and industry have got to find a solution that does not land in the wallets of consumers, who had every reason to expect that this dilemma was avoidable.