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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and senators unveil package of bills aimed at improving Texas’ power grid

By Emily Foxhall, The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and senators unveil package of bills aimed at improving Texas’ power grid” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas senators announced their much-anticipated plans Thursday for how to continue to strengthen the state’s electricity grid. The proposals come two years after the winter storm that caused millions to go without power in frigid temperatures and killed more than 200 people.

The ideas are meant to get companies to build more of what’s known as “dispatchable power,” which is power that can turn on or off at any time. This typically means building gas-fueled power plants, which are more polluting and costly to operate than solar and wind power but don’t rely on sunny or windy weather to operate.

“This is a product of hours and hours and hours of testimony, days and months of study, to come up with what we believe is a plan that will secure our future of the Texas grid,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at a press conference, adding, “We have invested heavily in renewables, but now it’s time to focus on dispatchable.”

During the February 2021 storm, various power producers fell offline as the extreme cold caused equipment to freeze and fail. Renewable energy producers were not immune: Ice accumulated on the wind turbine blades and covered solar panels. Legislators have since required electricity generators to weatherize their facilities.

Some 30,000 megawatts of power on the Texas grid today are produced by wind and solar out of 85,000 megawatts of power available overall, Patrick said Thursday. He and other state leaders want that balance to be different.

Patrick and members of the state’s Senate Business and Commerce committee, chaired by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, outlined nine electricity-related bills that put a little bit of everything on the table. Among the bills are:

  • Senate Bill 6, which would direct the state to hire one company or more to build up to 10,000 megawatts of new gas-fueled power generation that can be activated during emergencies. Schwertner described it as a “backup system so that Texans can be reassured that we have the power necessary in times of crisis.” The bill would also create a state-backed, low-cost loan program to cover maintenance or modernization for current dispatchable power generators.
  • Senate Bill 7, which would allow power generators to bid a day ahead on providing a specific service separate from the everyday energy market. Generators that could provide at least four hours of power that could turn on within two hours of being called upon by grid operators could get paid through this tool. The bill also aims to smooth out what Schwertner called “market distortions” caused by federal tax credits that wind and solar power generators receive.
  • Senate Bill 2012, which would provide parameters for a proposal that the Public Utility Commission put forward earlier this year to incentivize companies to build more dispatchable power, or at least keep existing dispatchable power online. The PUC proposal would require electricity providers (such as companies that sell power to consumers) to pay electricity generators (such as gas-powered plants) a market-determined amount to be able to produce power in tight times. The bill would ensure the idea benefits only dispatchable generation. The bill would also create a legislative oversight committee to oversee its implementation.
  • Senate Bill 1287, which would require the Public Utility Commission to set a cap for how much Texans would have to pay for power producers to connect to the state’s power grid — and require the companies to pick up the rest of the cost. The aim is to encourage companies to build new power plants close to their intended customers or to existing infrastructure rather than choosing the cheapest land.

Senate Bills 6 and 7 are among Patrick’s priority bills that he outlined last month for this legislative session. Other bills announced Thursday would address potential market violations and potential physical and cyber attacks on the electric grid. Patrick followed the press conference with an emailed statement that reiterated his commitment to the proposals.

“Every part of these reforms represents a significant victory for Texas ratepayers,” Patrick said in the statement. “Once these bills become law, our grid will be stronger for our Texas future which is brighter than ever.”

Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bills ignore the cheapest, cleanest, most cost-effective tool: reducing energy demand. This could happen by improving energy efficiency in homes, for example. And Reed bemoaned the impact of the proposals on the environment and consumers’ wallets.

“I think if we were to pass all these bills and they were to go into law and be signed by the governor, it would create a huge expense on residential consumers that’s not needed,” Reed said. “And it would create a chilling effect on renewable energy development.”

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