Gov. Abbott signs ERCOT reform bills — what they will do

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott will sign Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 into law on Tuesday afternoon, both stemming from the February freeze that left millions of Texans without power as temperatures plunged into the single digits in some areas of the state.

SB 2 will reform the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, cut the current ERCOT board from 15 members to 11, and allow the state’s top leaders to weigh in on those appointments rather than just the governor.

SB 3 is the omnibus post-winter storm reform bill, which requires electricity providers operating on the ERCOT grid to weatherize their equipment and improves communication during outages with an alert system.

Abbott made it a legislative priority to address ERCOT’s issues following the February storm.

Abbott said the two bills adequately address the issues Texas’ power grid faced during the February storm.

“Bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Gov. Abbott said Tuesday afternoon.

“[SB 3] addresses coordination, communication, oversight, and reliability,” SB 3 author State Sen. Charlies Schwertner added. “It is an omnibus bill that does, as the governor said, addresses many of the concerns that were brought forth by the winter February storm.”

Author of SB 2, State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R – Bryan), agreed.

“Our ultimate goal was to make sure that those individuals, those consumers, our constituents back home, never ever had to deal with this issue ever again,” Sen. Hacock said.

Under SB 3, power generators who fail to meet new weatherization requirements could face up to a $1 million fine, per violation.

But energy experts, including Michael Webber, said the bills don’t solve all of the issues.

“There’s a lot more we could have done,” Webber, an energy professor at University of Texas, said Tuesday.

He said the bills should have done more to require our gas infrastructure to winterize as well.

“The priority of Senate bill three was around winterizing or weatherizing the power system, not enough was on gas, almost nothing was done for our homes and businesses,” Webber added.

He said the bills also could have improved infrastructure in homes with insulation upgrades, but at a cost.

“We already have programs and incentives for energy efficiency, but we can accelerate them and ramp them up to improve the efficiency of homes,” Webber said. “A well-insulated home will keep a cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.”

Another UT energy expert, Joshua Rhodes, said lawmakers should also consider the future of Texas as a whole, especially with climate change.

“A changing climate is different. We can’t really look to the past to look forward anymore. And so I think we need to take into account the reality of the climate is changing, and what that will mean for infrastructure. So that as we make long term plans, you know, we can be incorporating that so that we don’t, you know, have as many emergencies, like we had in February,” Rhodes said.

Energy experts hope lawmakers will consider more reform before another extreme weather event hits, but said these bills are a good start.

“Kudos to the legislature, they did something which is more than what they can save for 2011. After that blackout, they didn’t do anything. So this is a big step forward,” Webber said.

Mike Collier, Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, also criticized the governor and the legislature. He said they have left Texas unprepared.

“I know that Texas requires wholesale changes and fixes to our grid and crumbling infrastructure,” Collier said, pointing to his previous experience in the oil and gas industry.

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