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Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Monday announced seven priority bills responding to the widespread power outages last month that left dozens of Texans dead and millions without power.
The proposals include “weatherizing” the state’s energy infrastructure to protect it from extreme weather, creating a statewide alert system for impending extreme events and improving communication between state agencies to better coordinate during disasters.
Lawmakers are also seeking to reform the governance structure of the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. There is also legislation to ban variable-rate electricity pricing plans such as were offered by the company Griddy, which was recently effectively shut down in the state after customers were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars.
Phelan’s office called the legislative proposals the “first phase” of the House’s proposed reforms in the wake of the winter storm. Not all the bills Phelan announced have been filed yet, so the details of two of the seven bills have not yet been made public.
“We must take accountability, close critical gaps in our system, and prevent these breakdowns from ever happening again,” Phelan, a Republican, said in a statement.
But Ed Hirs, energy economist at the University of Houston, called the proposals “window-dressing band-aids that don’t actually solve the structural problems facing the Texas grid.”
The power outages in February began when the amount of power available to the grid that covers most of Texas began to rapidly drop offline when freezing temperatures led Texans to use large amounts of heat and electricity at home. Natural gas plants, utility scale wind turbines, coal and nuclear plants alike began to trip because many lacked the investments necessary to keep them online during low temperatures.
Lawmakers have had several chances over the last decade to prepare the power grid for extreme weather. Instead, lawmakers and regulators repeatedly ignored, dismissed or watered down efforts to address weaknesses in the state’s sprawling electric grid, which is isolated from the rest of the country. Those regulators include the Public Utility Commission, which regulates ERCOT, and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas sector.
Politically powerful natural gas production and transportation companies, along with the Railroad Commission, appear to have so far escaped the wrath of the governor and the Legislature in the aftermath of the power outages.
The package of bills Phelan announced Monday comes days after marathon hearings on the crisis by House and Senate committees that left many lawmakers unsatisfied. DeAnn Walker,…
Read More: Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan lays out seven bills after power outage