AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – The state of Texas will not reverse billions of dollars in overcharges for electricity by ERCOT during the February winter storms by Friday’s deadly.
After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on Gov. Abbott to make the change himself on Thursday, March 18, the governor said it’s up to the legislature to act.
The Senate passed a bill to do so this week, but not the house.
Lt. Gov. Patrick said ratepayers will now face up to $5 billion in charges, but the governor said that will be worked out in the courts.
In the meantime, a bill requiring facilities that produce and deliver electrical power to prepare for extreme winter weather is making its way though the Texas House.
“It is our job to get it right and make sure what we intend to accomplish in these bills actually happen,” said State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Chair, State Affairs Committee.
A Texas House Committee approved a bill and sent it on to the full House aimed at preventing last month’s deadly power outages from happening again.
It would require the Public Utility Commission to make sure power plant operators, electric co-ops, municipal owned utilities, and transmission companies to implement measures to maintain service during a weather emergency, make reasonable efforts to prevent service interruptions, and re-establish as quickly as possible if there are.
The measure would also require companies to provide instructions to their employees and make sure they don’t neglect rural and low-income areas.
“Winterization is technologically feasible and can be done affordably, especially when compared to the economic and social costs of a failure like the one we just experienced with winter storm URI,” said Bruce Thames, CEO of Thermon Group Holdings.
But some residents told lawmakers they want stronger state oversight.
“We believe this bill, if properly implemented and enforced will provide a structure to prevent another tragedy. However, we are concerned this bill as currently presented, is not enough,” said Texas resident Michelle Brannon.
Bruce Bullock, Director of the Maguire Energy Institute at SMU, says the bill is a good start, but agrees accountability measures will have to be added.
“That’s going to largely fall to the Public Utility Commission now. And so it doesn’t have to be in the bill. But if it’s not in the bill, the Public Utility Commission is going to have to issue some regulations that stipulate that,” said Bullock.
Bullock said because some power plants weren’t able to receive natural gas during the winter storms, the natural gas facilities and wellheads should also be required to prepare for extreme winter weather.
“So something similar to this addressing natural gas availability, with the Railroad Commission is going to have to be looked at as well,” he said.
Bills to require winterization at natural gas facilities have been proposed in both the House and Senate, but haven’t been referred to committees just yet.
Federal winterization standards are also being developed right now that may be mandatory nationwide as well.