Texas lawmakers pass power grid reform bill, as experts warn it is insufficient

Texas lawmakers on Sunday passed a final proposal to bolster the state’s electricity grid in response to this year’s deadly power outage crisis, agreeing to a series of reforms that experts have welcomed but also fear. ‘they won’t go far enough.

It would also create a state-wide emergency alert system, force industry participants to communicate more often, and require major gas installations to be recorded as critical so that their electricity is not unintentionally cut off in the event of a shortage. Hundreds of gas installations reportedly lost electricity during the winter storm, cutting off fuel supplies to power plants.

“This bill proposes important reforms that will strengthen the communication, coordination, monitoring, and the reliability and resilience of the ERCOT network,” said Senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. “These reforms are necessary to ensure that the problems encountered during the winter storm on Valentine’s Day do not happen again.”

Aging rules for power plants and certain natural gas suppliers

Creates a new statewide emergency alert system

Creates a new energy sub-committee bringing together regulators and stakeholders in the power generation and natural gas industry

Requires regulators to consult state climatologist when drafting climate aging rules

Requires that critical gas installations be mapped and registered with utility providers so that their power remains on in the event of an emergency

Bloat funding

Funding of emergency generators in nursing homes, hospitals and dialysis centers

Energy efficiency standards

Incentives for power plants to store fuel on-site

Requirements that wind and solar companies pay the state for backup power when their units are offline

The measure was passed unanimously in the House and with only one opponent in the Senate.

The proposals address several long-standing weaknesses, though they are still a gamble in the wake of one of the state’s deadliest natural disasters, leaving its already isolated power grid vulnerable to similar disruptions for winter ahead, before major weather conditions take effect.

Energy experts have warned that without rapid structural improvements to power plants, gas wells and the supply chain that connects them, millions of homes in Texas could once again be left without power in dangerously freezing conditions. The February storm cut power to around 4.5 million homes and killed at least 200 people – and probably many more.

Critics also warn that the final provisions leave wide discretion to gas suppliers, who provide most of the fuel for the electricity grid. The legislation allows minimum fines for those who fail to comply and leaves the oversight of infrastructure updates to the Texas Railroad Commission, whose members receive industry funding and have long opposed weather requirements.

The state’s gas production fell more than 20% in five days during the storm.

This month, Republicans in the House rejected Democrats’ amendments that would have increased penalties for gas suppliers that do not winterize and would have required progress on winterizing within six months of coming into force. of the measure. Democrats have always praised the reforms that made it the final draft.

“I voted for this bill because it contains a lot of good,” tweeted Rep. Jon Rosenthal, Democrat of Houston and engineer in the oil and gas industry. “But make no mistake – this bill is not enough to ensure that we don’t have another massive blackout. This leaves a lot of discretion to the RRC / PUC / ERCOT and the guardrails do not. are not tight enough. “

Gas producers have testified in hearings that they recognize the need to equip their operations and that warrants to do so are unnecessary. Gas supply disruptions were among the first and most significant causes of the February power outages.

In a series of measures, the Legislature also supported nearly $ 9 billion in taxpayer-funded debt payments to electricity and gas suppliers, some of which were financially destroyed by the week-long storm and crippling power outages. These charges will appear on monthly residential utility bills for the next 20 to 30 years.

Lawmakers negotiating for the House and Senate appeared to have disagreed on Saturday over an eleventh-hour Upper House request for one-time payments to taxpayers affected by the outages. But it was unclear how the state would pay for it, and one proposal was left out in the final draft.

The legislature also implemented a previous commitment to overhaul the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid and which many have blamed for components for power outages. Under a measure expected to pass on Sunday, board members would be required to live in Texas, and most would be direct candidates for the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, all currently Republicans. .

The new nomination process could inject a new political element into the ERCOT board, whose members have already been nominated by market players and other direct stakeholders. Members of the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, are currently appointed by the governor.

On Sunday, the proposals were withdrawn from final invoices that would have required at least one of those PUC members to represent consumers.

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Lois Mendez

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