Texas Standard For February 23, 2021

After a death from hypothermia, a Conroe family is among the many filing suit against Texas electric grid manager. But can ERCOT be sued? Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a governmental entity cannot be sued without its consent. But ERCOT, a private nonprofit corporation, claims it is protected too. What’s behind the claims and counterclaims mounting across the Lone Star State? And: Could technology embraced during the pandemic lead to and end to snow days for schools across Texas? Also: Another lingering effect of the storm, the rise of so-called Buy Nothing groups. All those stories and a whole lot more coming up today on the Texas Standard:

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By Texas StandardFebruary 23, 2021 9:30 am

Here are the stories on Texas Standard for Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

ERCOT Suits and Sovereign Immunity

Texans are starting to file lawsuits against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, for failing to maintain power for days as outside temperatures plunged below freezing. While ERCOT has sovereign immunity, which protects it from lawsuits, an upcoming decision by the Texas Supreme Court could change that. Paul Takahashi, business reporter for the Houston Chronicle, talks to the Standard.

The Texas Public Utility Commission’s Role in Energy Regulation

We’ve heard a lot of talk about ERCOT, which manages the state’s power grid, after last week’s storm caused massive power outages. Another agency you’re going to hear a lot more about is the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT and public utilities. The commission is made up of Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointees. Jay Root, investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle talks to the Standard about how the PUC canceled a contract with a group devoted to electrical reliability standards

Future of Snow Days

Last week’s winter storm disrupted everything across Texas last week, including schools. In years past, a closed school building would mean no school. But after COVID-19, more schools are just flipping the switch to just all-virtual. How are schools taking what they’ve learned during the pandemic into the future? Curby Alexander is associate professor of professional practice at Texas Christian University’s College of Education. He talks to the Standard about whether “snow days” as we know them are melting away.

Buy Nothing Groups and the Storm

Last week’s storm was devastating, even deadly, in most of Texas. But many neighbors stepped up to help each other: offering free firewood, or walking over diapers or food because the roads were too bad. For many people, help like the above examples came via their local “Buy Nothing” group. Jennifer Lansdowne started the third such group in Austin and she talks to the Standard.

The Sounds of Texas: Maurice Chammah on Let The Lord Sort Them

Vital Information and the Language Gap

Last week’s weather emergency shined a light on a recurring problem: too much crucial information doesn’t reach Spanish speakers. In Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, one in three people speak only Spanish or say it’s their preferred language. That’s where KERA’s Alejandra Martinez went to dig into how community leaders are bridging the language gap distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.

High Energy Bills 

In Texas, residents in cities including Austin and San Antonio rely on a municipal utility provider which has fixed electric rates. In Houston and Dallas, residents can choose their electric provider – and some of those residents are bracing for higher electric bills caused by last week’s storm. Keegan Warren-Clem, a managing attorney for the Texas Legal Services Center, talks to the Standard about those bills, what the state is already doing about it and what consumers can do.

All this and Texas News Roundup, plus Social Media Editor Wells Dunbar with the talk of Texas.

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