On February 18th, Kelcy Warren, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer, based in Dallas, filed suit against Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for defamation, including claims of libel and slander. Warren is seeking one million dollars in damages.
Unhappy that O’Rourke is highlighting the huge profits Energy Transfer made during Winter Storm Uri, Warren accuses Beto of taunting a “relentless and malicious attack” against him.
Energy Transfer has over 120,000 miles of pipeline and received one of the largest financial windfalls for overcharges as a result of last February’s winter storm — a storm that left millions without power and 246 Texans dead.
O’Rourke has been vocal in his criticism of Abbott’s response, or lack thereof, to the state’s power grid failure — a grid overseen by ERCOT. the same entity that neglected to make upgrades to the grid a decade earlier. Since he took office, Governor Abbott failed to enforce the mandated improvements and upgrades.
This negligence contributed to Texans seeing their utility bills soar.
Pre-storm wholesale power prices averaged $50 a megawatt-hour. During the storm, they soared to over $9000. Thanks to the deregulated energy industry in Texas, some customers saw bills as high as $16,000 based on just a handful of days last winter.
Power companies saw record profits. $2.4B of $11B in excessive electric charges went to Energy Transfer alone.
In February of 2021, Abbott promised a bi-partisan effort to insure that Texans didn’t get stuck with the bill.
“We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” Abbott stated at the time..
Abbott even held an emergency meeting with legislators and the Public Utility Commission to prevent energy providers from disconnecting customers from power and water.
By March, however, he was singing a different tune.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick demanded a reversal of the overcharges, but Public Utility Commissioner Arther D’Andrea refused, saying the rate was “justified.” When Patrick urged Abbott to do something, Abbott responded that he “didn’t have the authority” to comply.
Fast forward to June 2021: Kelcy Warren was one of the first donors to Abbott’s re-election campaign and wrote a check for a cool million dollars — four times the amount usually donated to Abbott, and the most Warren had ever donated to a politician.
It was this donation that gained O’Rourke’s attention. He made the power grid failure a focal point of his campaign, calling out Abbott, and his relationship with Warren. The attention didn’t sit well with Warren., who threatened to sue if O’Rourke didn’t quit speaking publicly about his donation to Abbott’s campaign.
“Mr. O’Rourke’s statements are flat out false and they appear to have been made for political gain in a desperate attempt to overcome what appears to be a weakening campaign to unseat Governor Abbott,” Vicki Granada, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer told the public.
Seen as the one to unseat current Governor Greg Abbott, O’Rourke dismisses the lawsuit as little more than a “frivolous” attempt to “use his billions of dollars to try to shut me down, and shut us up.”
Beto O’Rourke was aware that a lawsuit was imminent, but has stood firm. Saying he would “not back down”.
“We’re looking forward to being able to continue showing this story whether it’s in a courtroom or it’s in the court of public opinion. We’re going to make sure the people of Texas have the facts,” O’Rourke said.
“All I have done today, and all I have done over the course of the campaign is share these facts with voters. When we connect the dots and follow the money, we see that Greg Abbott has put profits over people.”
Recently, Bill Magness, the former CEO of ERCOT, Bill Magness has alleged Abbott was complicit in the overcharging of Texas energy customers by ordering wholesale power prices to stay at the maximum allowed — even when no longer necessary — a move that led to more than $16B in profit for energy companies. Abbott has denied the accusations.
Beto O’Rourke says ‘”follow the money.” Ok, let’s do that.
Texas energy consumers: $16 billion overcharged. Energy Transfer: $2.4 billion profit. Abbott campaign: $4.6 million in contributions. with $1 million of that from Kelcy Warren.
Follow the money.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick