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The growth of industrial-scale users of power could strain the Texas power grid, ERCOT’s chief announced last week. The Dallas Morning News reported Pablo Vegas, the agency’s CEO, said bitcoin miners and artificial intelligence data centers going in across the state, as well as industrial growth in the Permian Basin, could create the need for a massive buildup of power transmission lines in the future.

ERCOT is forecasting a 37% jump in power demand from industrial- sized users, even more than earlier predicted. It increased its forecast of electricity needed by new largescale users from 111 gigawatts to 152 gigawatts. By comparison, the record for grid demand was set last August when 85.5 gigawatts were used.

ERCOT regulates 90% of the state’s power grid.

STATE BATTLES ACUTE AG WORKER SHORTAGE In the 1950s, 10% of the state’s adult population worked in agriculture, a number that has dropped to 1% today, according to the Texas Standard.

Diane Charlton, an associate professor at Montana State University who studies where farm workers come from, said the number of individuals from Mexico working in agriculture provides the most farm workers, has dropped an average of one percent per year from 1980 to 2010. That amounts to 250,000 fewer farm workers per year.

Mexico provides the most farm workers. Among the reasons for decreasing numbers of Mexican farm workers are growing industrialization and increasing access to education in Mexico, and an aging group of immigrants who have traditionally worked on American farms.

Steve Hubbard of the American Immigration Council said more farmers are applying to hire temporary workers through an H-2A visa. Under its provisions, foreign workers are hired to do work on a specific farm for a given time before returning home.

Experts say hotter temperatures under climate change are also driving away potential farm workers.

“Workers are just going to suffer significantly if there are not some immediate protections put in place to address the work in these hotter temperatures,” Amy Liebman, with the Migrant Clinicians Network, said. “We’re experiencing these higher heat days, higher number of heat days.”

75 TEXAS COUNTIES LOST POPULATION FROM 2022 – 2023 The Texas Standard reported that 75 counties lost population from 2022 to 2023 in the Texas Panhandle, West Texas, parts of South Texas, and Deep East Texas.

The state’s population center is increasingly concentrated in a triangle drawn from Dallas to San Antonio to Houston, then back to Dallas. Inside that triangle reside more than 30 million people — 68% of the state’s population.

“ These are also centers of economic development,” said Helen You of the Texas Demographic Center. “This is also where you see universities and lots of educational opportunities there.”

William Chittenden, president and CEO of the Southwestern Graduate School of Banking, said the shrinking population of those rural counties will eventually pose serious challenges.

“At some point, some counties are going to get so small where it’s going to be difficult for them to function,” Chittenden said. “You have to have some critical mass just to support, for example, a local grocery store, a local gas station, hopefully a bank.”

INMATE ADVOCATES SUE OVER LACK OF AC Ahead of a summer heat wave, advocates for Texas inmates last week filed a complaint against Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The complaint argues that not having air conditioning in most Texas prison cells amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, according to the Texas Tribune.

The plaintiffs have asked an Austin federal judge to declare the state’s prison policy unconstitutional. It would also require that prisons be kept under 85 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the Tribune, Texas jails are already required to keep facilities cooler than 85 degrees, while federal prisons in Texas have a 76-degree maximum.

What is truly infuriating is the failure to acknowledge that everyone in the system — all 130,000 prisoners — are at direct risk of being impacted by something that has a simple solution that has been around since the 1930s, and that is air conditioning,” attorney Jeff Edwards told reporters.

About two- thirds of the inmates in the Texas prison system do not have airconditioned cells. A study conducted in 2022 found that 14 prison deaths per year were associated with heat.

WORK ZONE AWARENESS URGED BY TXDOT Highway road construction is amping up as summer approaches, and motorists are urged to exercise caution when driving through the state’s more than 9,000 highway construction zones.

In 2023, 190 people were killed in construction work zones. Of those, 77% were either drivers or passengers, far outpacing the number of workers injured or killed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

“Keeping our Texas highway system functioning and safe requires constant effort from dedicated crews,” TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams said. “Drivers should anticipate work zones and changing road conditions and always be prepared to slow down, follow signs and pay attention.”

The “Be Safe. Drive Smart” campaign, which seeks to end a daily string of highway fatalities that dates to 2000, has five tips for drivers to protect both those on the road and those working on those roads:

• Slow down and follow the posted speed limit.

• Pay attention and stay off your cell phone.

• Watch out for road crews.

• Don’t tailgate. There are often sudden stops and starts during a work zone delay.

• Allow extra time to get to your destination.

TEXAS STILL LEADING U.S. IN JOB CREATION Texas continues to lead the nation in job creation, with March unemployment numbers indicating the state has led in that category for the past 12 months. The state’s total workforce has reached a record 15.189 million, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Texas added 270,700 jobs from March 2023 to March 2024, the most in the nation.

“Texas continues to be a top place for growth and economic success with thousands of jobs added by employers in March,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “Our world class workforce of talented Texans attracts employers from many expanding industries.”

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