November 29, 2023
⛷️ It's Wednesday, and downhill to the weekend.
☁️ Today's weather: Mostly cloudy with a high of 63. Showers likely overnight.
🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios Austin member Ann Fairchild!
Today's newsletter is 825 words — a 3-minute read.
1 big thing: Power grid preps for winter demand
The operator of the Texas power grid expects to have enough electricity to keep the lights on this winter after making it through an extremely hot summer with record power demands.
Why it matters: We're still traumatized by 2021's devastating winter storm power outages, leaving so many Austinites cold, in the dark and scurrying for refuge.
- At least 40 people died in Central Texas as a result of that storm, including 28 in Travis County.
State of play: Electric demand has been increasing across Texas as more people and businesses move to the state.
- The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid that covers most of the state, asked residents and businesses to reduce energy use 11 times this summer.
Yes, but: ERCOT isn't predicting emergency conditions this winter.
Context: The grid operator has been closely watched since February 2021, when those mass outages led to hundreds of deaths statewide and cost the Texas economy as much as $130 billion.
- ERCOT predicts this winter's demand will be 78,900 megawatts — below the projected capacity — based on the electric needs during last year's winter storm.
What they're saying: "The grid's going to be as ready as it's ever been this winter," ERCOT CEO Pablo Vargas said on the "Y'all-itics" podcast.
Between the lines: The Texas grid is particularly vulnerable to generators going offline during extreme cold snaps, per a recent North American Electric Reliability Corp outlook.
- Nearly a third of the state's thermal generation plants are over 40 years old.
Meanwhile: Local officials are trying to show they're prepared after a storm last winter left hundreds of thousands of Austinites without power.
- The city's Street and Bridge Operations division invited the media to field training as crews practiced debris removal earlier this month.
2. Texas Supreme Court hears abortion ban case
The Texas Supreme Court is weighing whether the state's abortion bans should be clarified to give doctors more guidance on treating certain complicated pregnancies.
Why it matters: Pregnant Texans carrying fetuses with severe complications have been forced to seek abortions outside the state or wait for care because their doctors said they couldn't end the pregnancies for fear of breaking the law.
Driving the news: The all-Republican court heard arguments on Tuesday from lawyers representing the Texas attorney general's office, which is defending the state's abortion restrictions, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group leading the challenge to the bans.
- At issue is whether doctors can legally perform an abortion when they identify a potentially fatal abnormality in a fetus.
- Health care providers who violate Texas' abortion laws could be charged with a first-degree felony that's subject to up to life imprisonment.
Catch up quick: The lawsuit has grown to 22 plaintiffs, including two OB-GYNs and several women who allege that they didn't receive the care they needed while pregnant because of the state's abortion restrictions.
- Houston-based OB-GYN Judy Levison says the state's bans have led to "widespread fear and confusion" among her colleagues and "has chilled the provision of the standard of practice of obstetric care."
- The AG's office has said that "protecting the health of mothers and babies is of paramount importance" and a "moral principle" enshrined in Texas law, which allows abortions under "limited circumstances."
What's new: Supreme Court justices asked what the law currently does and doesn't allow, why the plaintiffs decided to sue for clarification over seeking to strike the bans entirely, and whether the limitations put physicians in a tough position.
- Some of the arguments on both sides hinged on doctors being required to apply "reasonable medical judgment" instead of being allowed to operate under a broader standard of "good faith."
3. 🤠 The Roundup: Wrangling the news
🚲 Austin Energy says its e-bike rebate program is on track to double in size this year. (Austin Monitor)
- The city pays out rebates of up to $600 for e-bikes priced $2,000 and higher.
💸 Speaking of Austin Energy, customers of the city-owned utility will see a 5%, or about $2 per month, bump starting Friday. (KUT)
🍽️ Esquire included Austin's Este on its list of best new restaurants. (Esquire)
4. 🔨 1 arena demolition to go
👋 Bye-bye, Erwin Center.
Driving the news: Crews yesterday began the $25 million deconstruction of the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center.
💭 Our thought bubble: We used to call it the Super Drum — and it's where we happily watched basketball shoot-outs, student fashion shows and Bruce Springsteen performances with family and friends.
- But our favorite thing to do was lean up against the angled sides after a game and peer up at the building's lit-up rim, feeling, in a weird shifting of gravity, like we were lying down while standing up.
- There was, in the end, something almost planetary about it, in its roundness and glow.
🏥 What's next: The University of Texas at Austin Medical Center, composed of a UT Austin hospital and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is expected to break ground on the site in 2026.
Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Keely Bastow for copy editing this newsletter.
💡 Asher is reading this fascinating history of Austin's moontowers by Addie Broyles.
🍲 Nicole is making this slow-cooker spinach-artichoke chicken stew.