Capital Highlights: Heat wave prompts conservation call

By Gary Borders

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas urged Texans to cut back on power usage last week when an unusually large number of power plants shut down for unexpected repairs as temperatures soared. ERCOT officials announced Friday that Texans could resume normal levels of electricity use, however.

ERCOT came under fire after widespread outages during the winter storm in mid-February, resulting in the CEO being forced out and much of the board replaced.

Saturday marked the official first day of summer.

Border wall construction plan unveiled

Gov. Gregg Abbott last week announced several key facets of his plan for the state to build a wall on its border with Mexico. Abbott and other state leaders signed a letter during a press conference, allowing the transfer of $250 million to begin construction and to hire a program manager and contractors. The program manager will hire contractors and subcontractors needed to build the wall and will identify available state land, as well as private land whose owners are willing to volunteer space for the wall.

Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced approximately 591,595 acres of state-owned land will receive emergency authorization to be used to build part of the wall. Texas and Mexico share 1,254 miles of common border, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

The governor is also seeking donations for building a wall via www.borderwall.gov. State lawmakers allocated $1 billion for border security in the recently passed budget, but Democratic officials have pointed out most of that money goes to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Abbott appoints Cobos to PUC

Abbott last week appointed Lori Cobos to the PUC. She fills a term scheduled to expire on Sept. 1, although she could be reappointed. Senate confirmation is not required since the Legislature is not in session. The PUC will have a full complement of commissioners for the first time since February.

“I am proud to appoint Lori Cobos to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and I know that she will draw upon her wealth of experience and knowledge to faithfully serve the people of Texas,” Abbott said.

Cobos has served in several senior-level posts at the PUC and ERCOT, including as chief executive and public counsel for the Office of Public Utility Counsel. As a commissioner, she will draw a salary of $201,000 annually.

Forest service firefighters sent to aid other states

Texas A&M Forest Service has sent 25 firefighters, including two engine crews, to wildfires in Colorado, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida.

“Texas state resources are supporting wildfire suppression efforts in multiple roles, including firefighters, engine support, prevention team members, aviation operations and support roles,” TFS said in a press release. The release said TFS remains dedicated to protecting the state’s natural resources from wildfire while assisting other states, a common practice. 

Across Texas, the potential for wildfires remains low due to the copious amounts of rain this spring. For current conditions, visit the Texas Potential Outlook site: https://tinyurl.com/3j84srd7

Vaccine rate continues to slow

The number of Texans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has hit 11.4 million, about 39% of the state’s population, according to Texas Department of State Health Services.

Across the United States, 45% of the population is fully vaccinated. Texas ranks in the lower tier of states in percentage of population that is fully vaccinated. However, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas dropped considerably from the previous week, with 8,414 reported by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, along with 186 deaths. Hospitalizations dropped slightly, with 1,564 lab confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, according to DSHS.

STAAR tests show drop in math results

Results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, which measures students’ knowledge of several subjects, shows a sharp drop in math scores, the Texas Standard reported last week. The new scores came after a school year unlike no other, with many students taking classes online at home because of the pandemic.

Only 42% of high school students who took the primary high school math test were considered to be “at grade level,” down from 66% last year. This year’s STAAR results don’t include all students, since some did not return to school in-person to take the exam.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. 

gborders@texaspress.com

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