Texas House gives green light to package of electric grid reform bills

Texas News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After nearly five hours of debate, Texas House lawmakers initially approved a slate of legislation aimed at reforming the state’s electric grid.

The priority bills aim to prevent a repeat of the power problems Texas sustained during February’s winter storm.

The measures include a requirement for power providers to prepare equipment for summer and winter weather (House Bill 11). Another bill would mandate Texas residency for key members of the Public Utility Commission and its subsidiary Electric Reliability Council of Texas (House Bill 10).

A third bill would set up the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council to oversee electric grid crises (House Bill 13).

“I think this is a critical first step,” said State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, author of half of the six bills okayed by the House Tuesday. Paddie is chair of the House State Affairs committee, which, alongside the House Energy Resources committee, has led the examination into the big freeze and its aftermath accountability.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall (lower left), first bumps with State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville (lower right), as Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan presides over the chamber’s passage of six priority bills to reform the state’s electric grid on March 30, 2021. (Nexstar Photo/Frank Martinez)

“I know we all would love to find one easy answer to fix this problem, but the facts are that we had a failure of system, and we need to address it as systems to make sure that we never see this type of suffering in Texas again,” State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said during the amendment adoption process.

Alison Barajas of Hutto lost power for four days during the storm, shivering through sub-freezing temperatures with her son. As the electricity returned, they lost water for five days. She worries the good intentions of lawmakers to find a fix will ultimately run awry.

“While I think there are some very well-meaning people… in the legislature who do want change and want to move forward with things that would actually benefit the citizens of Texas, I think that there are too many that are okay with the status quo and really want to just kind of make a show of, ‘Look, we’re doing something,’ but nine months down the road, we still aren’t winterizing our electrical grid, we still don’t have regulation over our electrical companies, and you know, we’re still in the same situation, but people have forgotten about it, because it’s 112 degrees outside instead of two,” Barajas said.

Lawmakers also gave approval for a statewide disaster alert system (House Bill 12) as well as a bill to stop local governments from banning a particular energy source (House Bill 17). They also gave a thumbs up to a plan to bar retail electric providers from offering a wholesale indexed product to residential customers (House Bill 16).

“The Texas House today took important first steps in passing critical, essential reforms in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement after the House gaveled out. “The actions taken by the House will help restore confidence in our critical infrastructure after the catastrophic mismanagement of our electric grid last month.”

“The House’s legislative package will reform ERCOT, ensure the reliability of our grid in extreme weather conditions, defend ratepayers and improve coordination during times of crisis,” Phelan continued.

After final approval of the legislation in the House, which is expected Wednesday, the bills head over to the Texas Senate, which has been working on its own set of electric grid reform legislation.

“As far as fixing ERCOT going forward, winterizing the grid, making sure we have capacity, I believe the House and Senate will come together on that,” State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said. “It’s moving fine. We have plenty of time — just enough time — to do that.”

Photojournalist Frank Martinez contributed to this report.

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