Legislators in Austin – including two from the local area – want people to know they are on the case when it comes to restoring confidence in the state’s electric power management after the February winter storm left millions without power for several days.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced on March 8 the first phase of the House’s legislative reforms to protect consumers and strengthen the state’s electric grid after recent hearings that examined the collapse of the state’s electric infrastructure.
“I am proud the Texas House is leading the charge in protecting consumers, fortifying our grid, and creating clear lines of communication and authority during extreme weather events,” Phelan said in a news release. “We must take accountability, close critical gaps in our system, and prevent these breakdowns from ever happening again.”
Members of the Texas House have filed or will file the following legislation, according to the release:
HB 10 – Reforming Energy Reliability Council of Texas Leadership (Chris Paddie-District 9)
HB 10 restructures the ERCOT board, replacing the unaffiliated members with members appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House. HB 10 also requires all board members to reside in the state of Texas and creates an additional ERCOT board member slot to represent consumer interests.
HB 11 – Protecting Consumers and Hardening Facilities for Extreme Weather (Paddie)
HB 11 requires electric transmission and generation facilities in this state to be weatherized against the spectrum of extreme weather Texas may face. Utilities will be required to reconnect service as soon as possible and prevent slower reconnections for low-income areas, rural Texas, and small communities.
HB 12 – Alerting Texans During Emergencies (Richard Pena Raymond-District 42)
HB 12 creates a statewide disaster alert system administered by Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to alert Texans across the state about impending disasters and extreme weather events. The alerts will also provide targeted information on extended power outages to the state’s regions most affected. This system builds off the model used in Amber, Silver, and Blue Alert systems.
HB 13 – Improving Coordination During Disasters (Paddie)
HB 13 establishes a council composed of ERCOT, Public Utility Commission of Texas, Railroad Commission, and TDEM leaders to coordinate during a disaster. The committee will identify challenges with fuel supplies, repairs, energy operations and prevent service interruptions from the wellhead to the consumer.
HB 14 – Weatherizing Natural Gas Infrastructure (Craig Goldman-District 97)
HB 14 requires the Railroad Commission to adopt rules requiring gas pipeline operators to implement measures that ensure service quality and reliability during an extreme weather emergency, which covers winter and heat wave conditions.
HB 16 – Defending Ratepayers (Ana Hernandez-District 143)
HB 16 bans variable rate products like Griddy for residential customers. These types of speculative plans resulted in exorbitant bills. This bill will provide consumer protection to residential customers while still allowing the competitive market to flourish.
HB 17 – Protecting Homeowner Rights (Joe Deshotel-District 22)
HB 17 prevents any political subdivision or planning authority from adopting or enforcing an ordinance, regulation, code, or policy that would prohibit the connection of residential or commercial buildings to specific infrastructure based on the type or source of energy that will be delivered to the end user.
Legislators from the eastern Collin County coverage area offered feedback about their approach to solving issues with the electric power management.
Rep. Candy Noble of District 89 said March 11 that she hadn’t read all of the House Bills outlined by Phelan but agreed with HB10’s direction with issues related to the ERCOT board. She said HB 14 is one she was most interested in, as it centers on winterizing natural gas infrastructure. She has not seen its text yet, though.
As a result of some questioning that’s happened since February, she and others learned the state really didn’t have a handle on gas infrastructure disposition and that it wasn’t sufficient to keep flowing to gas power plants.
She said that bill is important for the grid being stable going forward. Lawmakers need to ensure the power grid does not go down again as it did in February.
“We were within four minutes of power grid complete failure,” said Noble, whose district covers Murphy, Princeton, Sachse and Wylie. “And I can’t even imagine what that would have been like. They tell us it would have been between three and four months to get it back going again. I mean, how do you stop those dominoes from falling when they begin falling? So never again should we have to face this.”
Noble said the state can do better – she pointed to the failures of Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the Public Utility Commission of Texas – and she expects lawmakers to do something in this session to prevent future power shutdowns such as the one in mid-February.
“We all have the will to make it happen,” she said.
She added, though, that some issues need some time to analyze.
Lawmakers will look at the cost-effectiveness of winterizing equipment, decide what to do going forward and ensure the state has the power for the people here and the influx of new residents, said Noble. Leaders have to ensure that the infrastructure is as sound as it can be and that it is cost-effective.
“And honestly, at the end of the day, all of those costs are going to be passed on to the consumer, I’m guessing,” she said. “That’s where the buck stops, whether it’s tax dollars or it’s your energy costs from your home. That money comes from someone, and so we just need to make sure that were dealing with things that are wisest, that (we have) things that will ensure we have the power we need going forward.”
She expects to co-author some bills centering on the power management.
In an email, Justin Holland, District 33, which covers Wylie and Farmersville, said he thinks there needs to be better coordination of communications to the public and between government, regulators, media and industry. He thinks there could be an emergency alert system created that is similar to an “Amber Alert.”
Additionally, he said, there should be feasible winterization/weatherization tactics for natural gas suppliers, renewables and generators. He also said he supports reforming PUC and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas policy to protect ratepayers from price gouging and that there should be battery storage and reserves for planned outages and rolling blackouts.
Holland said he plans to have a bill relating to use of electric energy storage facilities in the ERCOT power region, a bill requiring the governing board of ERCOT be Texas residents, and a bill relating to the securitization of amounts owed to ERCOT during the period of winter storm by electric cooperatives in order to avoid bankruptcy.
“The house has reserved priority bill numbers HB 10-17 specifically for the electricity industry, as you may know,” he said.
Two other legislators in the area – Scott Sanford (District 70) and Angela Chen Button (District 112) – did not respond immediately to messages from C&S Media.
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By Don Munsch • [email protected]