Power demand sets new record as lawmakers get grid reform update

In the ERCOT control room, the focus Thursday was on keeping the power grid in balance, a critical job as high temperatures narrowed the buffer zone between power generation and demand. 

At the Texas State Capitol, a similar concern was raised by members of the House State Affairs Committee.

"We've got to balance a private-capital market with the public," said state Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi).

Leaders with ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission testified that new weatherization rules for power plants are being finalized and will include a tighter inspection schedule. The reworking on power companies' compensation also continues, but a concern for consumer sticker shock was raised by Rep. Hunter.

"Transparency is my big issue, I see everybody transparent on the benefits, but I never see the transparency on the costs, so lets try to equalize that out as we go forward.," said Hunter.

The winter storm of 2021 brought about this shift from affordability to reliability. The cost of that change, based on an ERCOT estimate made earlier this week, is expected to exceed a billion dollars this year. FOX7 asked PUC Chairman Peter Lake what that means for the average bill.

"Our new margin of safety that we've implemented has cost roughly $1.15 per household per month, yet has proven on at least 6 occasions to keep the grid safe and stable, when otherwise we would have been in emergency conditions and near blackout conditions. So for roughly a dollar a month that amount of reliability I think delivers great value for the Texas ratepayers," said Lake.


The market redesign is designed to convince private companies to build more power plants. State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) questioned if the state should also spend more money in order to hire and retain staff that manages the grid.    

"We lost too many lives already, and we could lose more," said Raymond.

Improving the transmission network was also discussed during the hearing. In theory, it will give customers access to better electricity rates, but the pace of that work is a concern for state Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo).

"So I guess my question is, what are we doing to get this thing moving? I'm frustrated by that," said Darby.

The problem, as stated to Darby, was the result of the rule-making process which had to be addressed first and is taking longer than expected, but should be completed by the next legislative session. Other factors, such as natural gas prices, could increase the price tag for the redesign.

"We are seeing inflation in a lot of areas of life right now, that's a big concern across the state and across the country, as you know we are doing everything we can at ERCOT to keep prices reasonable but we can't drill more gas wells," said Lake.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) urged grid managers to modify how they work up weather forecasting. She wants the state climatologist to have more of a role in the process that determines the level of power generation anticipated for the near future.