State legislators propose additional changes to improve Texas power grid

It has been a little over two years since winter storm Uri spurred widespread power outages that led to at least 250 deaths across Texas

Now state legislators are introducing bills to try and improve the Texas power grid on the heels of weatherization related reforms that were made back in 2021. 

Doug Lewin, president of Austin based Stoic Energy, joins FOX 7 Austin's John Krinjak to discuss the proposed changes.

JOHN KRINJAK: So we know all we all know one of the big problems during URI was a lack of clear communication from ERCOT, from the PUC, about what was going on. I understand there's a bill under consideration now HB 1500 that would actually make changes to how those agencies operate and communicate. What would those changes look like?

DOUG LEWIN: HB 1500 is the Sunset Bill and Sunset Commission did a top to bottom review of the agency. It's a pretty expansive bill. It's pretty long. A lot of different sections. But one of the things in there is that the PUC can no longer just give a verbal order to ERCOT to change things so that that pricing at sort of infamous $9,000 during ERA that that cost customers many, many billions of dollars. Those have to be written out and not just verbal anymore, but there's a lot of other changes in there, too. It's a pretty comprehensive bill. 

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JOHN KRINJAK:  And we should note that immediately after the winter storm, there were some other reforms. We saw a bill called SB three that created what's known as an electricity supply chain map. And now I understand there's a new bill that specifies who can actually see that map. So what is the supply chain map and what does this new bill do, essentially?

DOUG LEWIN: Well, it puts the Texas Department of Transportation into that bill so that they can see the electricity supply chain map, which I think is fine. But I've raised concerns that I think it's a little bizarre. I think it's more than a little I think it's very bizarre that there is not what is typically in other sections in statute where there's a legislative exemption to the confidentiality of the electricity supply chain map. I just think it's just crazy that legislators wouldn't be able to see that map, because the map what's on the map is what is required to be weatherized. So if it's not on the map, if it's gas supply, it's not going to be weatherized. And the only people who know what is on that map are the PUC and the Railroad Commission, literally the policy makers that are ultimately responsible for making sure that we don't have any events like Uri ever again. They can't see the map even if they were to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Legislators are not allowed to see what is required to be winterized. That just strikes me as absurd.

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JOHN KRINJAK: So you feel this The sphere of people that can see this map needs to be expanded?

DOUG LEWIN: Well, at least to include legislators. I don't understand how you can make policy around a reliable grid without understanding what is required to be reliable. That's just it. Just. Yeah. 

JOHN KRINJAK: So we saw, you know, as these bills were being introduced this week, ERCOT also met. They, of course, manage the state's power grid. They held a meeting Wednesday to discuss establishing a new reliability standard in the wake of URI. So what does that mean? What is a reliability standard and what are they talking about? Changing.

DOUG LEWIN: So reliability standards used to be pretty straightforward because for a long time in the electric utility industry, you had really large power plants serving load. It was complicated, but it was fairly straightforward. Things are a lot more complex now for a variety of reasons, one of which is the extreme weather where we're experiencing more and more regularly. And another is the proliferation of a lot of distributed energy resources. So the system just looks a lot different than it did in the old standards, what they called a one in ten. If you had one outage in ten years, then you met the reliability standard. We had an outage in 2011. We had an outage in 2021. By the old standard, we have a reliable system, but that's not acceptable to anybody. So what they're starting to look at is instead of a one event in ten years, they're looking at a standard that that takes into account things like the frequency, the duration of the outages and the magnitude. How deep are those outages? So it's going to be very different. And they're going to look at extreme weather. They're going to look at distributed energy resources and how those participate towards reliability. And one last thing that's really important for Austin viewers is it's not just about do you have enough supply to meet demand, but what's going on in the distribution system? Because as Austinites learned just last month, you could have enough supply to meet demand. But if your distribution system is down for an extended period of time, the results and the outcome is the same to the customer. So they've got to take those kinds of things into account as well.

JOHN KRINJAK: A lot of pieces to the puzzle. Doug Lewin, thanks for helping us break it down and for being here. We appreciate it. 

DOUG LEWIN: Anytime. Thank you.