Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Must Keep His Promise To Fix The Texas Grid

After House Democrats staged a walkout on the final night of the 2021 regular session of the Texas Legislature Sunday evening to kill a voting reform bill sponsored by Republicans, Governor Greg Abbott promised to use his power to call members back into a 30-day special session to address the issue. But will the Texas Governor also use his power to keep his promise made in February and call a similar special session to force legislators to do their jobs and enact reforms to the Texas power grid that would truly address the issues that led to days-long power outages that killed more than 200 Texans in February?

On this important matter, the Governor remained silent as Memorial Day dawned in the state.

Make no mistake about it: The bills passed by the legislature in this just-completed regular session will not fix what ails the grid in any real way before next winter. The weatherization requirements for some power plants and some natural gas infrastructure contained in Senate Bill 3 are vague, contain inadequate enforcement measures and rely on regulations to be written by a Public Utilities Commission that has proved repeatedly in the past to be unreliable when it comes to protecting Texas consumers. There is no requirement that the PUC even begin the months-long process of writing those regulations until October.

A bill that would have subsidized the cost of weatherizing power plants failed to pass, sticking power generators with the full cost, something they have refused to bear when strongly advised by regulators to voluntarily weatherize their Texas facilities over the past decade.

Nor will any of the bills sent to the Governor’s desk for signing do anything to address the grid’s other major issue: The shortage of baseload generating capacity. This issue not only reared its head in February, it did so again on two very mild spring days in April when grid manager ERCOT was forced to warn that it may not have adequate available capacity to meet those days’ paltry system demands. With the inevitable 100-degree days of July, August and early September looming, Texas power consumers will once again be left to hope against hope that the wind in West Texas will blow especially hard on those summer days to keep their air conditioners running.

“I voted for this bill because there is a lot of good in it,” Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, tweeted shortly after the final vote on SB3. “But make no mistake – this bill is not enough to ensure that we won’t have another massive blackout. It leaves much discretion to RRC/PUC/ERCOT and the guardrails aren’t nearly tight enough.”

No kidding. Weatherization of power plants will only happen under SB3 if the PUC does what the legislature was unable to do and summons the political will to force it to happen. No one should bet the farm on that happening. PUC members will find themselves under incredibly heavy pressure from power generators and other players on the grid to ensure that whatever regulations they write have as little force in them as possible.

SB 3 also does nothing whatsoever to increase the reliability of the renewable energy sources that have gained such a large footprint in the Texas market. Representatives of the wind industry in Texas proudly proclaimed that their generators “performed as expected” during the winter freeze, an event during which wind generation on the grid collapsed by more than 90% at one point, according to ERCOT. The near-blackout days in April were in part the result of ERCOT’s models indicating the grid manager could expect wind to deliver double the amount of power it was actually able to deliver when the winds of West Texas blew less than normal on those days.

Thus, ERCOT, for all the blame it gets for its apparent inability to manage these issues, will remain stuck with a grid with inadequate baseload capacity, a surplus of renewable capacity that it really can’t rely upon during weather emergencies, and no legislative requirement mandating the building of a fleet of dispatchable backup generating capacity, such as was proposed by Berkshire Hathaway

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during the legislative session. Language mandating a plan similar to Berkshire Hathaway’s was contained in SB 3 when it was approved by the Senate, but stripped away by the members of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Republican Chris Paddie of Marshall, late in the session.

In a statewide televised address aired on February 24 as the state was still thawing out from the Big Freeze, Governor Abbott said “Many of you are angry — and you have a right to be. I’m angry too. At a time when essential services were needed the most, the system broke. You deserve answers. You will get those answers.” He concluded by assuring Texans that “This legislative session will not end until we fix these problems.”

Well, Governor, the regular session has ended and none of the big problems you personally identified in that very strong speech have been fixed. Texans remember the promise you made in February. Are you still angry enough to keep it?

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