AUSTIN, Texas - The legislation Gov. Greg Abbott signed Tuesday was considered by many to be the top priority under the Capitol Dome for the 87th regular legislative session.
"Power grid reform in Texas is now law," said Abbott.
The bills, an effort to rebuild trust in the state’s power grid after the winter storm in February, were among his emergency Items for state lawmakers to take up during the 87th regular session. The weather event shut down power plants across Texas and the sub-zero temperatures claimed more than a hundred lives.
"There is no one sitting or standing here, he does not remember that week, none of us miserable, we don’t want people to have to go through that again," said state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills).
SB 2 restructures the makeup of ERCOT, which manages most of the state's electric grid. All board members now must be residents of Texas. The size was also scaled down.
SB 3 mandates companies that generate electricity to weatherize their power plants. The upgrades were drafted to prevent blackouts and freeze-ups. The legislation includes fines of up to $1 million for failing to comply.
"They are fully prepared to ensure the power grid is stable both during the summer as well as the winter," said Abbott.
Consumer advocates like Jeffery Jacoby with the Texas Campaign for the Environment acknowledged state lawmakers made some big changes. "But it doesn’t go far enough to really protect the interest of Texans," he said.
Adrian Shelley with Public Citizen agreed with Jacoby and went on to predict another power grid crisis will happen before the new rules are implemented. "There is no deadline in there not six months it’s not a year it’s within a reasonable time so it could be easily two years, three years before these rules are actually implemented across the state," he said.
When lawmakers eventually come back to Austin, consumer advocates would like to see legislation passed that provides financial assistance for low-income ratepayers. They also want grant programs to build renewable energy infrastructure.
"The legislature had a chance to bail out everyday Texans but instead they chose to bail out the energy industry that raked in billions of dollars during this winter storm," said Jacoby.
State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), who drafted some of the new rules, called the bills the largest utility rewrite since deregulation in 2005. "The reforms in those bills address every single issue that came to light during that storm and as such, Texans can feel much more confident in the electric grid in Texas, and making sure when the light switch is flipped, that it comes on reliably on time, affordable and when they can feel secure about," he said.
But consumer advocates still have a feeling of the "fox is guarding the henhouse." A reason for that is the new process that will identify natural gas pipelines that feed power plants.
"If they’re not mapped In the supply chain then they are not going to be weatherized, they won’t face a mandate from the state," said Shelley.
That concern was described as a misunderstanding according to state Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who steered the reform legislation through the House. "You need to remember the whole goal here was to identify critical infrastructure as a relates to the supply chain for electrical generation which does not require weatherization of every single wellhead in the state," he said.
The debate over what the legislation will accomplish may not be settled until later this summer when temperatures spike and utility bills start to arrive.