A steady breeze Tuesday had the wind farms spinning in Mills County and each turn cranked electricity into the Texas power grid. However, that doesn't happen when the wind stops blowing or when equipment freezes up or when solar farms stop generating power when the sun goes down.
Senate Bill 3 would require renewable electrical generating companies to have some type of power back-up plan, possibly meaning on-site battery storage, investing into other forms of power generation, or buying credits according to state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), who sponsored the bill.
"It needs to be a balanced portfolio. So that the reliability, what Texans want, to be able to flip the switch and the light come on, is there at all times," said Schwertner.
The statewide crisis caused by the February storm essentially guaranteed SB 3's passage.
"This is not going to be a repeat of 2011, this Bill passed off the floor 31-0 it has a very strong bipartisan feel. I worked with my fellow Senators to get a consensus document that addresses all the failures that occurred during the Valentine’s Day Storm," said Schwertner.
Along with the mandate for a backup plan, the bill also:
- Requires power generators to winterize their equipment or face a fine of up to $1 million a day
- Establishes a state emergency advisory committee to draft a response plan
- Maps out the power supply chain
- Develops a winter storm classification system, similar to that for hurricanes
- Creates a new statewide power outage warning system, similar to smartphone Amber Alerts
State EMA director Nim Kidd says there are big things to work out first before a power outage alert system goes on line.
"Past legislatures have tried to bring bills like this forward, they never made it to the Governor's desk for his signature. Most of our local officials in the past, this may have changed with this event, but in the past, said they didn't want Austin being the front line notifier to their citizens," said Kidd.
Kidd pointed out a single area could have several different alerts, from counties, towns, utilities and even schools. "One of the things we learned from disaster psychology is, when an individual gets conflicting messages from conflicting points, that individual usually just stops, they don’t take action on any of them because they don’t know which one to trust or believe," said Kidd.
There's consumer protection in SB 3. The legislation outlaws wholesale index plans, which resulted in large power bills because of predatory pricing. Bills collections are to be deferred during weather emergencies and the Public Utility Commission of Texas would have to create an emergency pricing plan.
"State lawmakers are very serious about never letting this happen in Texas again, it was a catastrophic failure there are no 2 bits about it and it needs to be addressed in a holistic manner," said Schwertner.
Legislation is also moving to restructure the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT, which manages the power grid.