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Energy policy experts say Texas Legislature’s response to February winter storm fell short

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 9:27 PM CDT
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - One day after the 87th Texas Legislature ended, some are beginning to scrutinize Senate Bills 2 and 3, the major pieces of legislation passed this session in response to the winter storm.

“Gosh, if I were going to grade the Texas Legislature on the winter storm response, I think I’d probably give it about a C minus,” Adrian Shelley, the director of the Texas office of Public Citizen told KWTX.

He said that the requirement in Senate Bill 3 that electric generation plants and certain natural gas plants and other infrastructure weatherize is significant but that the bill does not go far enough.

“We need mandates; we need strict timelines; we need clear penalties for failure to meet mandates,” Shelley said.

The bill outlines requirements for when weatherization rules must be developed but does not specify a timeline for enforcement.

Additionally, he said that the bill gives the natural gas industry control over which parts of its supply chain it deems “critical” and, therefore, which parts need to be weatherized.

“We’re very concerned that that process is going to occur outside the public eye,” Shelley said.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, also said that lawmakers fell short.

“They did not address the central issues facing the grid here in Texas, which is a reliable supply of electricity.”

He said a big issue that lawmakers did not touch is tracking the amount of money flowing in the Texas market.

“$50 billion changed hands that week,” Hirs said, referring to the week in February when some went without power for more than 100 hours.

“ERCOT’s own independent market monitor said that $16 billion was taken out of the market that shouldn’t have been,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2 will switch out the board of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which is currently made up of industry players, with appointees by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

The appointees must live in Texas and cannot have a financial stake in the electricity industry.

“I don’t know that a bank of political appointees will help,” Hirs said.

“You know, there’s no mechanism to enforce good behavior,” he said.

Lawmakers also passed other proposals that will tack a few dollars or more per month onto consumers’ bills over the next decade or longer to pay for billions of dollars in debt in the industry and funnel $800 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to ERCOT.

“There was a lot of talk about how are we going to make the energy companies whole again,” Shelley said.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about how we’re going to make Texans whole,” he added.

Some also worry that lawmakers did not do enough to prepare for potential outages in the summer.

“We know from ERCOT’s own capacity report — reserve report — you know, they think we’ve got enough,” Hirs said.

“But, you know, they also published scenarios where if the wind doesn’t blow and there’s cloud cover, we’re going to be short,” he said.

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