Bill to better protect Texas' power grid against another weather storm gaining steam

A plan to better protect the state's power grid against another winter weather freeze and blackout gained steam in a compromise bill that leaders in the Texas House of Representatives presented this week.

The full House could vote on it in a few days, then send it back to the Senate.

It would require critical infrastructure of the electrical generation process be weatherized to handle natures extremes.

"For the first time, it’s a bill that provides weatherization, all the way from the wellhead to the light switch in your home," said Sandra Harvalah, with the Texas Consumer Association.

But under the compromise legislation crafted by a House committee, not all of the natural gas supply would be protected, only the parts used to generate power.

"I think it would be helpful to have a more generally applicable weatherization standard because things change. You never know where the gas is going to come from, and the more we have winterized, the more we're going to have available," oil and gas attorney Chrysta Castaneda said

The bill, though, does shore up accountability among the agencies that regulate power companies, transmission, and fuel supply lines.

"Includes regulation at PUC. It includes also some new oversight from the railroad commission. It includes new oversight of ERCOT as well," Harvalah added. 

"It also provides to make sure ERCOT is running planning exercises for this kind of event twice a year," Castaneda said.

When natural gas wellheads and pipelines froze during February’s winter storm, the power grid almost broke.

Texans suffered, with more than 150 dying and millions without power for days.

There was silence from power producers.

This new measure creates a statewide outage alert system.

"We had our systems that weren't communicating with the public of what to expect with blackouts, how to better prepare for things, so I think we'll have better emergency communication and we'll have better communication between the gas and electricity regulators," said Dr. Dan Cohan, with Rice University.

Overall, Cohan said the legislation doesn't go far enough, especially when it comes to connecting with larger, multi-state power grids for emergency support.

"It doesn’t take the full steps that we would need to prevent a new set of blackouts when the next winter storm hits," Cohan said. "What we'd really like to see is more comprehensive steps of linking our power grid to neighboring states, having better transmission within Texas, having demand be made more efficient and more flexible."

"I'm worried that we'll do a little better next time, but not enough to keep the lights on for all Texans," Cohan added.

The compromise bill is expected to go to House floor for a vote in the next few days, but end of session drama is brewing in Austin.

Representatives have adjourned until at least Sunday, in sort of a political protest to state senators.

Because their colleagues across the Texas State Capitol are moving slowly on bills that have come out of the House.

It’s unclear how long the protest goes, but if it extends beyond the weekend, it could pull the plug on important pieces of legislation.