Billy Bob in the Ice Palace of ERCOT

billybob_icepalace600A public utility fairy tale of the struggle between The Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the humble citizens of that sovereign state.

The journey to the ERCOT Ice Palace was perilous and long. Billy Bob had been delegated by his Texas neighbors to bring their town’s request before the great and powerful ER, but it was no easy task.

Traversing the barren stretches of northern Canada had been terrible in winter. It reminded him of the bleak days, months before, of minus-2 degrees in Texas, when ERCOT had appeared out of obscurity – no one had even heard of this mighty entity before – and shut down power to an entire state.

After many weeks of travel on foot, by sledge, jet ski and dog sled Billy Bob finally caught sight of the palace. He removed his snow-blindness goggles and shielded his eyes against the blizzard’s wind. Yes, he had arrived at last! (Earlier, he had mistakenly lost a week trying to get into Superman’s nearby Fortress of Solitude, but… wrong address).

The Sentry Troll checked his credentials, his Texas driver’s license and a recent bill from his power provider, and opened the giant oak doors. The atmosphere inside was still icy, but more from the silent disdain he felt coming from the last remaining ERCOT Power Guardian. The others had fled, fearing angry townspeople after the Great Arctic Polar Vortex wreaked destruction across their state and almost 5 million people lost power.

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Billy Bob before the Great Throne of the Guardian of ER.

Only one Guardian remained. Most ERCOT Guardians lived out of state, and this one had retreated to his secret arctic redoubt and now sat wrapped in an ermine robe, sipping a hot latte from a silver goblet. Around him flashes of electricity crackled and zapped to and fro, as if from a Tesla coil.

“Who dares appear before the Throne of Power!”

“It is I, sir, Billy Bob from Townsville, Texas.”

The Guardian pulled the collar of his cloak closer to warm his neck, releasing a shower of sparks. “You may approach,” his voice echoed in the great hall.

“Please sir, we need funds to replenish our supply of firewood, candles, propane and Sterno in case of another disaster.”

The Guardian scowled.

Surprised by his own boldness, Billy Bob inched forward and continued to speak:

“The blackouts and the resulting water utility failures were too much for us to bear! Federal regulators suggested a fix back in 2011, but you ignored them. Texas maintains its own deregulated electric grid, unconnected to the rest of the world, making it impossible to get more power should we need it. We’d like a pledge from you to change this, and to winterize all the equipment so this never happens again.”

“Impossible!” the Guardian shouted. “We Texans need to keep our precious gassy and oily resources – and the power they produce – for ourselves alone. And spending funds on winterizing would be wasteful. This was a once-in-a-century freeze and it will never happen again in your lifetime. Besides, have you no generators at Home Depot? As a non-profit entity, it would be irresponsible of me to grant your request, and then I wouldn’t deserve to collect my hefty salary, would I ?”

He set down his latte, gazed over Billy Bob’s head and spoke to no one in particular.

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The evil ‘Eye of ERCOT’

“The governor and other state officials have now asked this very thing of me, and I was deeply hurt. They, after all, were supposed to provide oversight and accountability, but instead allowed me to gather ALL POWER into my hands without insisting on foresight, prudence or wisdom. The fault is surely with them.”

He looked back at Billy Bob.

“Some of them went off to Cancun while you suffered, others blamed the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ or jousted with windmills. They said Texans should buckle down and tough it out, that individualism would prevail. Anything was better than having federal bureaucrats in Washington tell Texans what to do.”

“But now – after first slaying the Masters of PUC – they attack me, and make a great show of chastising me. This is just a grand performance before the masses. Bah!”

Then his eyes narrowed. “Electricity is dangerous, you know. We can’t have just anybody messing around with it.” He snapped his fingers, and a bolt of electricity shot out, killing one of his Sentry Trolls.

Billy Bob was desperate. He stepped closer to the throne.

“Oh great Guardian, what about the social contract between government and the people? We pay fees, and gas and electricity bills, as well as state and local taxes. Don’t we deserve protection and help from our government in times of extreme need? Isn’t that what a community is?”

The Guardian of Er shifted on his throne of ice and cleared his throat.

“My son, responsive government is a danger to self-reliance. This ‘social contract’ you speak of smacks of social-ism, which is the handmaid to Communism, and this is something that we cannot allow in Texas. ‘Community’ might then become a ‘commune’ and erode Texans’ precious freedom to freeze ourselves to death.  And then, I swear by Reddy Kilowatt and all that is holy,  you could kiss the last shreds of your individual initiative goodbye.

“Now begone! Your audience with the Great Er is ended.”

As he turned to leave, Billy Bob noticed a large, glowing power plug lying below a giant electrical outlet wall plate.

Ignoring the danger, he grabbed the plug, and it burned his hands as he struggled to pull it toward the plate.

“Stop him!” the Guardian screamed to his sentries, with sparks spewing from his nose and ears.

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Mystical ‘Ley Lines of ER’

Turning toward the throne, Billy Bob shouted, “For Texas, and for those everywhere longing for warmth, I defy thee!”

He managed to insert the power cord plug into the wall outlet. There was a crackling sound. Somewhere machinery began to rattle and hum, and Billy Bob watched as a large dial registered free flowing electricity spreading from the ERCOT Ice Palace to needy power stations, home HVAC units, appliances and light bulbs everywhere.

“Oh No! I’m melting!” The Guardian of ER began to shrivel and decrease in size as his life essence was sucked from him, and his imposing ice palace began to collapse and melt away. Large chucks of falling ice buried Billy Bob, what was left of the Guardian and all his Sentry Trolls. Then there was only silence and the distant howling of an arctic wolf pack.

ERCOT was no more, but electricity was now guaranteed. The state would never be deprived of heat and light again. Billy Bob was remembered as a hero. And Texans lived very happily, ever afterward.

About Skippy R

Skippy R is retired after toiling as a scribe for a large denominational newspaper in Texas for about 40 years. He's written for The Wittenburg Door and Beliefnet. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Mrs. Skippy, and leads a Bible study in his home. Mostly spends time running after his grandkids. He is -- what are they calling it now? -- a Jesus follower.
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