Power grid reform bills package comes with big promise
AUSTIN, Texas - The package of power grid reform bills announced Thursday came with a big promise; it will restore balance to the power grid and will fix it once and for all, according to Lt. Gov Dan Patrick.
The plan is being promoted as a companion reform package to the electric market redesigned proposal that the Public Utility Commission has already rolled out for lawmakers to review.
Patrick and Texas Senate leaders said their package of bills will improve the power grid by getting investors to build new power plants. The emphasis for them is on electricity generated by natural gas, coal and nuclear and not as much by renewables, like wind and solar. The group admits the legislation is not going to be a quick fix.
"It will take several years, if you start it tomorrow, to get steel on the ground and hook it up. It's going to take 2 to 3 years. That's why we have to start now. We can't wait another session to do that. That's two years farther down the road. But we're going to build those plants and we're going to have renewables that help keep our air clean and our prices low. That's why a lot of companies move here. And we're going to have dispatchable that guarantees in the worst weather conditions that when you hit that light switch, the lights come on," said Patrick.
Supporters of wind and solar power point out that several natural gas plants went offline because supply lines froze up during the big winter storm in 2021. But Senate leaders like state Sen. Phil King (R-Weatherford) are worried that renewable generation could become the main source for electricity in Texas and that could also put the grid at risk of failing.
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King is pushing legislation that would end subsidies for those building solar and wind projects.
"So they've got a lot of incentive. This is just a subsidy. If subsidies are ever good, they are only good when you're trying to help a startup brand-new technology market, which is what wind was and solar certainly back in the early 2000s, and today is just no longer necessary. And again, even if Texas ends its renewable energy credit subsidy, they've still got a lot of federal subsidies coming in," said King.
One of the bills in the package is called the Texas Energy Insurance Program. The idea behind that, according to state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), is to get companies to build power plants that act like a home back up generator. This collection of units would be designed to power up fast and provide a short run of electricity to give large sites time to spin up or make repairs for restart.
Schwertner says that idea, like the overall package, is focused on natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, although he admitted new battery technology may also qualify.
"We have to have generation that performs when it's critically necessary, and that's dispatchable generation that can be counted on when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. And when you have weather that is extreme, extremely cold or extremely hot," he said.
The Senate package is in response to a proposal by the Public Utility Commission to redesign the electric power marketplace called PCM. Some lawmakers have been critical of that plan saying it does not guarantee new construction, but Patrick indicated the Senate package is not a rewrite.
"This is not a move to a capacity market, but it is a move working with the PUC and their PCM plan to take the best of that plan. The other ideas by republicans and democrats on this committee to focus on how we balance the fairness and the equity and the competitiveness between the renewables and thermal, that there is an incentive for more thermal power built in this state as quickly as we can build it," said Patrick.
PUC chairman Peter Lake issued a statement to FOX 7 Austin, saying:
"We appreciate Lt. Governor Patrick’s and Chairman Schwertner’s leadership on these issues critical to Texas. We are all working together toward the same goal, reliable and affordable energy for Texans. They made clear today the PCM, which we unanimously adopted earlier this year is an important part of the solution that will achieve this for the Texas grid. We look forward to continuing this work with legislators to ensure reliability, affordability, and accountability in the Texas energy market today and for generations of Texans to come."