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Legislature Starts Unpacking Response to Grid Failure

- Multiple Measures in Play, One for Radio/TV

Leaders in the Texas House of Representatives last week began introducing multiple measures intended to address the catastrophic failure of the state’s electrical grid last month which prompted water shortages that are still plaguing many communities. The raft of measures introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers includes one specifically protecting broadcast facilities from rolling blackouts, and more legislation is coming.

While lawmakers and Capitol observers continue to anticipate the Legislature will be forced to meet in multiple special sessions to complete their work in a COVID-19 restricted environment, House leaders’ swift reaction reflects their desire to address the disaster in the regular session as Texans throughout the state continue to simmer in anger at the devastation wrought by officials’ perceived mismanagement.

One measure in particular would ensure that Texans do not lose access to up-to-the-minute, lifesaving information provided by local broadcasters during emergencies.

HB 2763 by freshman Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford, would require the Public Utility Commission to mandate electric utilities and cooperatives exclude any circuits providing power to a commercial or public Radio or Television broadcast facility from load shedding in response to rolling blackouts ordered by the state’s electrical grid manager. Senate companion legislation is pending.

The first seven measures reflecting House leadership’s priorities also have been filed, with additional legislation anticipated in the coming month. The bills filed to date include:

HB 10 by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would restructure the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas’ governing board, replacing five seats with members to be appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House, and adding a consumer representative. The bill would also require that all ERCOT board members reside in Texas.

HB 11, also by Paddie, would require electric transmission and generation facilities in Texas to be weatherized against weather extremes and direct utilities to reconnect service as soon as possible, particularly for low-income areas, rural Texas, and small communities.

HB 12, by Rep. Richard Raymond, would lay the groundwork for the potential creation of a new statewide disaster alert system administered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (DEM). While the focus would be on power outages, the system could be used for other impending disasters and extreme weather events.

Notably, the DEM did not activate the existing Emergency Alert System at any point during last month’s disaster, the first truly statewide disaster to strike Texas since EAS was established in the late 1990s.

HB 16 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, proposes a ban on variable utility rate services, such as those provided by the now-defunct Griddy, for residential customers.  The speculative rate plans resulted in exorbitant bills for untold numbers of households. 

However, this measure doesn’t change the fundamental structure of the “reformed” electrical grid lawmakers created in the late 1990s at the behest of energy companies such as ENRON which infamously collapsed because of shady accounting practices.

HB 17 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, is characterized as a measure to protect property owners’ rights by preventing any entity from adopting practices that would prohibit the connection to electrical service providers based on the type or source of energy to be delivered to the end user. This is an important, nationwide legislative goal for the natural gas industry.

One additional measure that has been announced, but not yet filed as of press time, would create a coordinating council comprised of grid managers, the PUC, Railroad Commission and DEM, to identify weaknesses in the energy grid system.

Another would require the Railroad Commission to require gas pipeline operators to implement service quality and reliability measures to withstand weather emergencies.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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