Questions remain as Texas Public Utility Commission considers changes

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas will meet Thursday to discuss options for redesigning how electric prices are set in the market. 

PUC officials have said they have confidence the lights will stay on this winter after several recent changes, but some energy experts have their doubts.

"This is going to take us further down a path that’s going to increase cost to consumers, we better be darn sure these are the right choices," said Tim Morstad, Associate State Director, AARP Texas.

There’s real skepticism among some energy industry watchdogs as the PUC considers major changes to the Texas electric market. 

One option from the PUC would require electric companies to buy capacity ahead of time to meet future demand, which is hard to predict. 

A former PUC board member was among the participants in a panel Wednesday hosted by Advanced Power Alliance, an advocate for renewable energy resources. 

"There are so many remaining questions on each of these, how they’ll interact with existing competitive markets, and the commission recognizes that to be fair," said Colin Meehan, energy consultant/resource planning & power market design expert.

RELATED: ERCOT to inspect 300 power plants for winterization

Another option would require ERCOT to buy a set amount of backup capacity in case of extreme emergencies. 

There’s doubt among some energy consultants on how much analysis has been done on these proposals. 

"These two proposals that are before the commission tomorrow haven’t been thoroughly analyzed, we should not have confidence these are the best choices," Morstad said.

All of this results from the February 2021 winter storm that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Texans during extended blackouts.

State lawmakers demanded reforms from the PUC and ERCOT. Last week, PUC Chairman Peter Lake assured texans there have been vast improvements made on the grid.

"We go into this winter knowing because of all these efforts, the lights will stay on. No other power grid has made as remarkable changes in an incredibly short period of time as we did," Lake said.

The PUC recommended $7.5 million in fines against eight power generating companies that did not meet a December deadline for providing winter readiness reports. The commission now says only one company remains out of compliance. 

ERCOT is conducting inspections this month to ensure power plants are meeting winterization standards. 

The PUC also lowered the cap on wholesale prices that soared during the winter storm, hitting power companies and some consumers hard. The cap, originally $9,000 per megawatt per hour, is now down to $5,000. 

"Complicated systems fail in complicated ways and they owe it to the world’s ninth largest economy to take a deep breath and start committing to serious thoughtful, extraordinary integrated and comprehensive analysis to help us understand where we go next," said Alison Silverstein, former Texas PUC and FERC Senior Advisor, Energy Consultant.

Experts on Wednesday’s panel also say customer demand and usage needs to be addressed. They pointed to a study that estimates millions of homes in Texas use up to four times as much power to heat up in the winter than to cool off in the summer. 

RELATED: Texas grid vulnerable to blackouts during severe winter weather, despite new preparations, ERCOT estimates