A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Arts & Entertainment

Fair Park’s Hall of State Suffered Millions in Damage After the Storm

| 2 days ago

Fair Park’s historic Hall of State suffered about $3 million worth of damages after a pipe burst, flooding prominent rooms that contained historical archives dating back to the early 1900s. The Hall of State is among three Fair Park buildings that we know suffered damage in last week’s storms, which include the Tower Building and the Cotton Bowl. (The Tower Building is where vaccine recipients are observed 15 minutes after receiving their doses, but Rocky Vaz, the city’s director of the Office of Emergency Management, said the damage didn’t affect those efforts this week.)

Julian Bowman, a spokesman for Fair Park’s management company Spectra, declined to discuss the extent of damage elsewhere among the 277-acre grounds. He said the company is waiting to complete a “parkwide” assessment that will identify any other problems after last week’s storm. Spectra will determine the source of damage in affected buildings, fix it, then establish longer-term solutions for severe weather conditions in the future. The Dallas Historical Society estimates about 10 percent of its collection was damaged.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Cotton Bowl sustained $2 million worth of water damage, but Bowman would only say that Spectra hopes to complete its estimate by early next week. The State Fair Classic between Grambling State and Prairie View was scheduled for this week, but has been postponed until March 13 and moved from the Cotton Bowl to AT&T Stadium.

The damage to the Hall of State was particularly painful. Fair Park’s most visible landmark, which is home to the Dallas Historical Society, had just completed a $14.4 million renovation last month. Now, the same company responsible for the renovations, Phoenix 1, will get back to work.

Karl Chiao, the executive director of the Dallas Historical Society, says most of the cost will be for building restorations. He believes only 10 percent of its archives—which include documents, photographs, maps, and other paper artifacts—suffered any sort of damage. Nine orotone prints produced in the 1930s by photographer Polly Smith had to be restored. The city of Dallas dispatched a conservator to help work on them; they were removed from the East Texas room.

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Fifty Years of Erykah Badu

| 2 days ago

Fifty years ago, Erica Wright was born. In her teenage years, Wright rapped under the moniker Apples, a young female MC in The Fresh Ones and The DEF Ones, one of the first hip-hop groups in Dallas. In her twenties, Wright re-introduced herself as Erica Free, a jazz singer who incubated one of the first cyphers for the city’s underground hip-hop community with Cold Cris and Big Ben. Now, she’s known to the world as Erykah Badu, the four-time Grammy winner.

Since last year’s annual Birthday Bash at the Bomb Factory—about a month before the shutdown—the local legend debuted Badu World Market, her online store that hosted The Quarantine Concert Series: Apocalypse, Live From Badubotron, a live music streaming platform. In May, she performed alongside Jill Scott to over 700,000 viewers on Verzuz, a virtual music series started by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. Several months later, Live.e, a Dallas-raised singer, held her album listening party using Badu’s platform. Recently, the local legend participated in #FutureofBlackMusic with Houston musician Tobe Nwigwe.

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Listen to New Leon Bridges and Keite Young Cover of “Like a Ship”

| 2 days ago

Something special will happen June 12, which is Record Store Day. The guys behind the local record label Eastwood Music Group — that’s Skin Wade from Mavericks broadcasts and The Eagle’s Ben and Skin Show, and Luke Sardello from Josey Records — will drop a full-length triple LP as part of their Truth To Power Project. It’s a righteous cause, and you should read more about it here as you listen to this advance track.

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Health & Fitness

After the Storm, North Texas Faces a Critical Blood Shortage. Here’s How to Donate.

| 2 days ago

When COVID-19 first arrived in Dallas and the shelter-at-home order took effect, all of North Texas’ scheduled blood drives were canceled. As a result, the American Red Cross experienced an unprecedented shortage of blood. We urged you, our readers, to consider donating once you felt safe to do so. Now, we’re urging you again.

This February, record-breaking temperatures and winter storms forced the cancelation of over 10,000 blood and plasma drives nationwide. The American Red Cross is asking all healthy North Texans–especially those with type O blood–to help replenish our local supply. Without donations, many of our medically vulnerable neighbors won’t receive the lifesaving care they need.

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Local News

Two Men Who Saw the Storm Coming and Sold Their Electric Companies Before Disaster Hit

| 2 days ago

State lawmakers in Austin spent all of Thursday grilling the people responsible for keeping the power on in Texas. They want to know where and how the system broke down last week. But it really isn’t all that hard to figure out. Two former CEOs in Dallas saw this coming years ago, which is why they sold their companies. They’d separately come to the same conclusion: if something like last week occurred, it would put them out of business. One of those CEOs believed a disaster was likely, if not imminent.

Stream Energy and Ambit Energy are electricity retailers. Both companies have, by all accounts, achieved great success. After Stream began registering users, in March of 2005, it took only 10 months to become the fifth-largest retail electricity provider in Texas. This was three years after the Legislature deregulated the state’s electricity market, turning what the rest of the country considered a closely regulated utility into a free-market spree.

For the first time, Texans could choose their energy provider. Upstart retailers didn’t generate their own power but would instead buy wholesale from major generators. They would market that energy to consumers, usually undercutting the retail arms of the larger producers. (The Legislature froze established rates to trigger market competition.) The retail market ushered in creative delivery plans like free usage during nights and weekends. Some credit the proliferation of Smart Meters directly to this free market approach.

The idea of deregulation was to let the market drive energy production instead of any government agency, but that didn’t translate into sufficient reserve power or infrastructure improvements that may have helped keep the plants online in single-digit temperatures.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, manages the grid. It can order utility providers like Dallas’ Oncor to cut power to preserve the grid during periods of extreme demand, which is what happened last week. But ERCOT is supposed to be overseen by the Legislature and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, known as the PUCT. Neither did nearly enough to motivate generators to winterize their facilities or create enough additional power to fall back on in an emergency. The federal government even warned the electricity grid manager to do this in 2011.

ERCOT can make its utility partners like Oncor put customers in the dark, but it can’t order the private generators to pay for infrastructure improvements to prepare its generating units for a freak storm: insulated power lines, de-icing equipment on wind turbines, removable structures for natural gas plants, all of which is less expensive if you’re not retrofitting existing generators.

That’s not to say the state government didn’t dangle carrots. Deregulation introduced scarcity pricing. Generally, a megawatt of energy costs anywhere from $40 to $150 to produce, depending on the source of that energy—coal, natural gas, renewables—and the conditions under which that energy was being generated. But renewables were becoming so subsidized that it was actually priced negatively, spurring the PUCT to come up with a way to motivate more natural gas generation. (A megawatt can power about 200 Texas homes during peak demand, according to ERCOT.)

So when demand soared, the state allowed energy generators to sell electricity for an inflated price. It was capped at $1,000 per megawatt, then $3,000, then $4,500, then $9,000. The idea was to use this inflated pricing to motivate generators to produce more when prices were higher. The Public Utility Commission of Texas’ hope was that this would prompt these private generators to build more natural gas facilities; the more power you generate, the more money you make during moments of scarcity.

But for years, Texas generators rarely charged the inflated cap, especially not for consecutive hours. That wasn’t the case last week, when unprecedented temperatures froze natural gas in the pipelines, shuttered some coal production, held wind turbines in place, and knocked off a nuclear plant. Natural gas, coal, and nuclear account for 70 percent of the state’s production. It’s rough to lose renewables like wind, but when those traditional sources fail, we have a problem. And the traditional sources of energy lost about 41 percent of their generating capacity in a flash.

Texas had no backstop. And, ironically, some generators couldn’t benefit from the scarcity pricing because the cold had stifled the gas production.

Nevertheless, Stream almost certainly would have had to purchase wildly inflated electricity for its customers at the height of last week’s storm. The difference between that inflated cost and the lower income from its customers might have sunk the company. Its general partner and founder, Rob Snyder, sold the operation and its customers to NRG in May of 2019 for $300 million.

The company was doing well at the time of the sale. In May of 2019, days after the deal closed, Snyder quipped in an email to a Dallas Morning News editor that Stream was “such an efficient cash flow machine that I have almost become numb to the size of the federal income bills that I have been paying over the past seven years.” 

So why sell? Stream and Ambit sold energy like Mary Kay sells cosmetics, through thousands of direct-to-consumer salespeople.

Snyder says he saw last week coming and got out. He predicted the circumstance, if not the timing. He figured the grid would fail, or come close to failing, during the summer. That’s when demand has historically been at its highest, when rolling outages were sometimes necessary to conserve energy. Besides, Texas just doesn’t dip into single-digit temperatures, especially not across the entire state. But then it did.

A quarterly NRG earnings report in 2019 caught Snyder’s eye. Generally, ERCOT wants a reserve margin of 13.75 percent that can be deployed if generators can’t produce for whatever reason, including extreme weather. But there is no legal requirement for such safety nets. By 2021, Houston-based NRG was predicting reserves so low that the state wouldn’t be able to sustain even a day without blackouts if generation failed. The market had not motivated enough new generation to keep up with all the new Texans and their power usage should a catastrophe occur that resulted in generators not being able to operate.

“If we have a recurrence of the summer of 2011 (when we had 40+ consecutive days of 100+ degree weather), there is virtually no chance for the survival of independent retailers that do not have vertical integration with significant generation capabilities,” Snyder wrote in his email to the editor at the News. He was saying that companies needed to be in the generation game if they wanted to stay in the retail business. He sold to one of those generators.

Snyder said he saw retailers like Stream to be “shock absorbers” for when there was volatility in the market. Generators like NRG benefit because they can sell the electricity they produce at an inflated margin when energy is scarce. Customers who were locked into fixed-rate plans would be protected from market swings. The retailers—known as REPs, Retail Electricity Providers—would be the ones left holding the bag. (Customers with variable-rate plans would feel the pain, too. That is what happened with the much-publicized California-based Griddy. Powering your home at wholesale rates is great when demand and prices are low, but when scarcity pricing kicks in, five-figure electric bills follow. During Thursday’s hearings, the head of the PUCT said about 40,000 to 45,000 Texans out of 7 million total customers were enrolled in such a plan.)

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Local News

Leading Off (2/26/21)

| 2 days ago

Senate, House Take Aim at Who to Blame for Outages. Over the course of 14 hours yesterday, the Texas House and Senate grilled the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electricity grid. They ducked blame. The legislature grilled the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, which is supposed to oversee ERCOT. They also ducked blame, pointing the finger at the agency below them. One thing ERCOT CEO Bill Magness—whose annual salary is a cool $803,000—did note is that the Legislature could change the agency’s governance power. It could give them teeth to mandate generators winterize and further protect their equipment during extreme weather events, which will surely become more common as we live through the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, Curt Morgan, the CEO of Dallas’ Vistra Energy, said the natural gas companies couldn’t get gas to the power companies with the required pressures. Morgan told legislators that his faith in the deregulated energy market has been shaken. NRG’s CEO, Mauricio Gutierrez, basically said the same.

COVID Numbers Ticking Back Up after the Storm. Dallas County reported 614 new coronavirus infections on Thursday and 24 new deaths. The infection count has been artificially low because of how the storm affected testing and our ability to move about the city. County Judge Clay Jenkins anticipates those numbers to begin their ascent soon, but he believes deaths will begin to decrease.

It Really Hailed Last Night. I’m exhausted with this weather. Last night, two rounds of hail battered mostly parts of the northern corners of Dallas-Fort Worth. That’s where we got more reports of golfball and quarter-sized hail. The rest of the weekend brings a mild, springlike cold front on Saturday and widespread storms on Sunday. Saturday looks dry but cloudy, yet there is a chance we’ll get some precipitation.

Mavs Fall to Sixers. Luka had trouble against Ben Simmons, posting 19 points on 6-13 shooting with only four assists and seven turnovers. The Mavericks, who were without Kristaps Porzingis again, fell 99 to 111. Doncic posted a miserable +/- of -20 while Josh Richardson was even worse against his former team, with -24. The Mavs fall to 15-16 and snap a two game win streak.

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Sports & Leisure

Colonial Tickets Will Cost $475 This Year (!)

| 3 days ago

As FrontBurner’s duly elected golf correspondent, it is my duty to tell you that the folks running the Charles Schwab Challenge (aka the Colonial) are proud of their 75th anniversary, as evidenced by the ticket prices they announced today. The tourney runs May 23 through May 30. Attendance will be limited by pandemic precaution. The cheapest ticket will cost $475 ($514.19 including sales tax).

You’re saying, “Tim, that’s insane! For that cash, I could buy a Cobra RADSPEED driver.”

I’m saying, “Sure. But if you bought a Cobra RADSPEED driver, it would become outdated, and you’d just wind up replacing it anyway, whereas if you went to the Colonial, you’d have an experience, a memory to cherish for the rest of your life, even though science has shown us that the more you access a memory, the more its fidelity to actual events degrades, so 40 years from now, you might be reliving a really expensive trip to Chuck E. Cheese.”

What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. With that $475 ticket, you get an all-inclusive deal, with booze and food on the course; access to the Palmer and Crenshaw villages, where you get ambassador greeters, waitstaff, shaded seats, and TVs; and use of the Colonial Country Club pool house and adjoining patio. This is the first time Colonial will have tried the all-inclusive thing. And there are more expensive options.

By the way, the AT&T Byron Nelson runs a few days prior to Colonial. It’ll be played at TPC Craig Ranch this year. The cheapest ticket I see is the $100 Bourbon Bunker. Sounds delectable, right? The bourbon costs extra.

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Four Key Questions that Could Determine the Future of Texas’ Failed Electrical Grid

| 3 days ago

The Texas Legislature is conducting hearings today to determine what led to last week’s massive power outages. We’ve all learned a lot about how Texas’ energy infrastructure works in week since the historic winter storm, and the story of the failures of the deregulated marketplace has remained at the top of the nation’s headlines.

What is now clear is that last week’s event was brought about by a confluence of factors, ranging from physical challenges in natural gas distribution and power plant operation to market-related issues with how plants are incentivized to prepare for catastrophic weather events. There have also been a lot of potential fixes tossed about, ranging from reconsidering the independence of Texas’ grid from the rest of the nation’s infrastructure to taking to task the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates and manages the state’s electrical grid.

The legislative sessions hope to bring some additional clarity as to what went wrong, as well as identify ways the state’s leadership can ensure that such a cataclysmal event – which has resulted in the deaths of a still un-certain number of Texans – never happens again. But as the legislature deliberates, keep an ear out for any answers to these four key questions that must be at the heart of any attempt to repair Texas’ broken electricity system.

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Local News

Leading Off (2/25/2021)

| 3 days ago

Remember That Guy, Jamie Faith, Who Was Tragically Shot and Killed in Oak Cliff Back in October While Walking His Dog, Maggie, With His Wife? And afterwards, his wife, Jennifer Faith, said the masked shooter approached them from behind just as they were leaving their home on South Waverly Drive, fired at Jamie’s head several times, then tried to bind Jennifer’s hands and steal her jewelry? Well, Jennifer was arrested yesterday on a federal charge of obstruction of justice. Police say that text messages show that Jennifer was having a “full-blown emotional affair” with the actual shooter, Darrin Rubin Lopez, a former high school and college boyfriend from Tennessee. Police arrested Lopez for the shooting in January, alleging that he shot Jamie and then fled to Tennessee. Former Dallas County prosecutor Toby Shook is representing Jennifer.

Seriously? Hail? The temperature swing from 2 to 81 apparently means that showers and thunderstorms, which are expected to start later this afternoon, may bring quarter-size hail along with heavy rains. On the bright side, at least it’s not falling airplane debris, which just missed my sister’s house in Broomfield, Colorado earlier this week.

Hooters With No Servers and a Food Truck on Steroids? I really just have so many questions today. Hoots Wings apparently plans to serve the chain’s beloved wings without the side of sexism across North Texas, taking on Dallas-based Wingstop. Meanwhile, former Fast N’ Loud TV host Richard Rawlings is designing a 42-foot-long, $500,000 food truck with t-shirt cannons, which will be parked in the “Monkey Yard” behind his restaurant, Gas Monkey Garage, on Merrill Road. I’m guessing he will also have wings, like Flying Monkey Wings or somesuch. Maybe they, too, can be shot from cannons.

Dallas Rapper Yella Beezy Faces Misdemeanor Weapons Charge for Having Five Firearms in His Vehicle. An arrest warrant shows that the 29-year-old musical artist, née Markies Deandre Conway, was stopped on February 13 after officers, who were surveilling a strip mall in east Oak Cliff, pulled over his black Yukon for minor traffic violations (pulling out of the parking lot without yielding to traffic and not fully stopping at an intersection). Officers asked Beezy to roll down his windows, but he said he couldn’t because they were bulletproof. He cooperated with a request to get out of the vehicle, but when an ID check indicated a gang affiliation, and officers say they spotted a gun visible on the floorboard, they searched the vehicle and found four additional firearms. Beezy was shot three times in Lewisville in October 2018, a month after opening for Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Dallas County Reports 789 New COVID-19 Cases and 25 Deaths. County Judge Clay Jenkins says that the Fair Park vaccination site will continue to prioritize second doses as they attempt to catch up with delays caused by last week’s storms. Military and FEMA personnel pitched in yesterday for the first time as part of a new nationwide effort launched by the Biden administration. Dallas is one of three locations in Texas to receive a FEMA vaccination site; the other two are in Arlington and Houston. Locally, the goal is to help vaccinate 21,000 people per week from Dallas’ 17 most vulnerable zip codes. But the post-thaw rush for second doses led to a bit of a bottleneck on Wednesday, with cars snaking around Fair Park earlier in the day. Officials are requesting that only people who were supposed to receive their second shot on or before February 17 should report to Fair Park for vaccinations today.

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Monty Bennett and ‘Dallas Express’ Appear to Have Major Conflict of Interest

| 4 days ago

I’m going to relay some information to you, and I’m going to be careful about how I do it. This information is about a new online publication in town called the Dallas Express. Its publisher is a man named Monty Bennett. When the site launched, Bennett wrote in a note to readers that his publication is all about the truth, facts, no bias. The first two paragraphs from Bennett:

Truth has become a casualty in today’s media world. News has become a vessel to promote favored world views, and objectivity has been sacrificed. There are many publications in our wonderful city, but none we can count on daily to present just the facts. Readers can’t pick up a local publication without seeing bias in one direction or the other.

I can’t take it anymore — and I know many of you can’t either. The Dallas Express was created for one purpose; to help make our city a better place. That’s it. It’s a nonprofit operation and there’s no other agenda.

So here are some factual statements stripped of any bias.

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Dallas County Anticipated to Reach Herd Immunity by June

| 4 days ago

Dallas County is expected to achieve “herd immunity” this June, according to a new report by the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation. PCCI has been tracking and mapping the disease in Dallas since it arrived last March. It made the prediction that we will reach this critical point in the fight against the pandemic based on current vaccination and infection rates.

The organization’s models estimate that 80 percent of county residents will have received their second dose or have some sort of immunity from the disease by this summer. The forecast is based on local data, models, and trends. Herd immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of a population is immune. The disease is unable to spread within the group, choking it of resources until its risk decreases significantly.

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The Council Nearly Killed the Oak Cliff Streetcar, Then They Realized They Can’t

| 4 days ago

For the first hour or so of Tuesday’s meeting of the Dallas City Council’s Transportation Committee, council members listened as the region’s top transportation official and the assistant city manager who oversees transportation discussed the need for a more integrated approach to long-range planning.

They proposed an approach to transportation planning that allowed for other city investments and services – like improved traffic signals, reconstituted streetscapes, and expanded access to high-speed internet – to be incrementally built into the system. The idea was to design each transportation project not as a single, standalone investment, but as a component of a broader network of iterative improvements.

Then, the council pivoted and nearly killed the Oak Cliff Streetcar, a pilot trolley line that the city has long hoped will someday evolve into a modern streetcar network covering downtown and the surrounding inner-city neighborhoods. It was a paradoxical juxtaposition of planning philosophies and something of a case study in what works – and what doesn’t work – with city planning in Dallas.

Council members are understandably frustrated that the Oak Cliff Streetcar is leaking money. The streetcar connects the far southwest corner of downtown at the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station with the Bishop Arts District. It is short nearly $1 million of its $2.3 million annual operating budget. Staff proposed the council draw from the city’s general fund to cover the gap, but only North Oak Cliff representative Chad West was vocal in supporting that idea; the streetcar is in West’s district. In the end, the council voted to delay action – but not before the committee kicked the tires on giving up on the streetcar altogether.

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