TEXAS — Lawmakers gave final approval to a handful of bills addressing the power grid failures that followed the February winter storm, one of the Texas Legislature's top priorities for this session.
Senate Bill 2 changes the structure of the ERCOT board, so politicians appoint the majority of the members, while Senate Bill 3 requires critical power generators to update its infrastructure to be resistant to extreme temperatures.
Governor Abbott is poised to sign both into law, but some experts warn it doesn’t go far enough.
“We have made a major step in the right direction," said Rep. Chris Paddie, (R) District 9, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
“I feel like the overall product of the various bills that we passed addressed those major concerns of oversight and accountability, of communication failures and also the weatherization issue as well.”
Under Senate Bill 3, power plants and certain natural gas facilities will be required to weatherize, while utility regulators will regularly have to practice for emergencies.
The bill also creates an emergency outage notification system for consumers.
But experts say it isn’t enough to fix the root flaws of the electric grid.
“The fact of the matter is we've got a grid that cannot provide enough reliable electricity," said Ed Hirs, energy fellow at the University of Houston. "I don't think Senate bill three is going to have any real impact on the stability of the grid, the grid is set up to fail. It's set up, so that as generators come offline, the prices spike to extraordinary levels.”
The Legislature also passed bills that will send billions of dollars in loans and bonds to electric companies to make up for its massive financial losses during the storm.
The added cost will ultimately be paid by consumers, who will see higher electricity bills for 20 to 30 years.
But Paddie says it’s meant to benefit consumers.
“That was an attempt to prevent consumers, businesses and ultimately consumers who pay, from getting hit hard, in a very immediate sense as far as high bills and costs associated with extraordinary costs from the storms. And so, this is an opportunity for us to spread that out over a longer period of time," said Paddie.
But some see it as a bailout for power companies.
“I think it's lost on the free market zealots in Austin, you know, the tremendous irony of a government enforced bailout of companies who lost money, who should go bankrupt. You know, that's what a free competitive market is all about. And yet, we've stepped in with I think I saw as much as $9 billion of guaranteed financing to keep these companies out of bankruptcy," said Hirs.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and lawmakers like Senator Roland Gutierrez tried to tack on a provision that would send a $350 dollar utility bill credit to millions of consumers, but it was ultimately struck down by the House.
“We tried in the Senate to ensure real rate payer relief. A real credit, a real check in your mailbox," said Sen. Roland Gutierrez, (D) District 19.
“That was introduced very late in the process, which really didn't allow for much time to fully vet that or see whether or not would be a good thing or a bad thing," said Paddie.
Whether these bills will be enough to prevent a repeat of February’s energy crisis is uncertain, but the consensus is there’s still more work to do.
“There are more things to do going forward, I think to continue to improve our grid and the system overall," said Paddie. "And we're going to dive into those in the interim. And in the future, I think we'll come back with even more solutions to how we make it even more reliable going forward.”
Critics of the bill are also concerned that SB 3’s timeline for requiring weatherization is not fast enough, and say the power grid will still be vulnerable to blackouts due to heat waves as we move into summer.