Proposed bills to make Texas power grid more reliable face criticism

Texas lawmakers faced criticism this week over bills aimed at making the power grid more reliable.

Critics have concerns about consumer costs and whether lawmakers are focusing on the right things.

Lawmakers championing the bills acknowledge this is a work in progress by making tweaks to some plans, while some say other plans need to be thrown out altogether.

Some lawmakers liken it to a backup generator for the state of Texas.

A Texas Senate committee hearing Thursday began with a focus on Senate Bill 6.

It calls for the state to support the construction of 10,000 megawatts of power that will only be used in emergencies.

"These insurance generators will turn on only when our energy reserves fall below 1,000 MW, to prevent these assets from interfering with our competitive market," said Senate Business and Commerce Committee Chairman Charles Schwertner/(R).

But not everyone agrees the state-backed program won’t interfere with the market.

Some in the electric industry testified it will hurt competition.

"Because those are held out of the market, it’s 10,000 MW that consumers are paying for on their bills that are going to sit on the sidelines until we’re in a crisis," said Michele Richmond, with Texas Competitive Power Advocates.

"I think the temptation is going to be too great, and at some point in time, to see these generators sitting out there, seeing they aren’t operating, and it’s going to be very tempting to pull them into the market," said Clif Lange, with South Texas Electric Cooperative.


Regulators reveal study on ideas to make Texas power grid more reliable

The study notes there is "significant risk" with a plan public utility commissioners have discussed moving forward with.

Meanwhile, others argued in support of the legislation as a direct way to boost power generation.

"I think this is going to be the only bill you hear today that guarantees new construction of generation built here in Texas," said Julia Rathgeber, with Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

The bill to provide for a backup source of generation was one of several outlined in a news conference earlier this month.

It’s lawmakers’ second crack aimed at strengthening the grid after the deadly 2021 winter storm.

Thursday’s hearing also featured testimony from some who echoed criticism we’ve long heard from some advocates, that the focus shouldn’t be on generating more power, but reducing demand.

"If we ignore the demand side and only focus on solutions on the supply side, we’re going to overbuild and we’re going to cost customers way too much, and there are better solutions," said Cyrus Reed, with the Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter.

"Why would we force Texas ratepayers to pay for building more expensive and polluting power plants, when we could instead lower our electricity use and fortify the grid while protecting our homes," Emma Pabst, with the Sierra Club, added.

Several different bills are being discussed, and this is only in the early stages, as lawmakers gather input and try to craft a path forward.