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Energy & Environment

Lawmakers Have Until Saturday To Make Changes To The State’s Troubled Electric Grid

Multiple bills in response to the deadly blackouts, which killed at least 30 people in Harris County, have already passed — but in different forms. Legislators now have until end of day Saturday to reconcile the differences.

Elizabeth Trovall/Houston Public Media
Houston’s East End during the winter storm of 2021.

This legislative session, Texas lawmakers pledged to overhaul the state's electric grid and make changes to its grid manager — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT — after February’s deadly winter freeze that caused blackouts across Texas.

Legislators have until end-of-day Saturday to make good on that promise.

The Texas House and Senate have both passed multiple bills in response to the widespread outages that killed more than 30 Harris County residents. But lawmakers must reconcile differences in the bills before they become law.

Texas Consumer Association President Sandra Haverlah is among those pushing the state to pass the proposed bills — especially Senate Bill 3, which would require upgrades to the grid so it could better withstand intense weather.

Haverlah spoke with Houston Public Media energy reporter Kyra Buckley about why she thinks lawmakers should hammer out the differences and get the legislation passed by Saturday.

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What did we learn about the Texas energy infrastructure during the winter freeze that helped lead to the proposed legislation?

Among the fallout of Winter Storm Uri were several bills being filed in terms of weatherization of the grid and what we can do to improve operation during either heat or cold. When Winter Storm Uri came about, we discovered our equipment doesn’t do so well when it gets a little cold around here. So here we are with several bills moving further in the legislature, and Senate Bill 3 covers various parts of the mechanics of the system under ERCOT, the mapping and designation of critical infrastructure, which was one of the huge problems we found out that we had during Winter Storm Uri. We don’t know where our critical infrastructure is in many parts of the state, so that will be mandated to be established. It also requires — not recommends, like in 2011 — requires that weatherization be implemented throughout the infrastructure all the way from the wellhead to the light switch.

Are you concerned that companies may not want to come and develop in places like Houston, or in other Texas cities, or there might be other impacts that could impact Texas financially?

Absolutely. Texas needs to take care of this problem. The state Legislature needs to take care of it and for the future growth of the state, we need to take care. Securing our system, our electricity system, and making it more reliable, I think the governor and the legislators are aware of the urgency of it and the importance of it. It is late in the session to be looking at such a large bill. There are other bills out there that have passed on parts or the different buckets in terms of the storm, the payment of the storm and individual bills on supply chain mapping and consumer billing. But SB 3 really needs to pass before Memorial Day. And if it doesn’t, the backup option is the governor will need to call a special session on this issue.

People are concerned that we’re going to see another partial collapse of the power grid. You know, do you have any suggestions for folks?

You can’t guarantee that you’re always going to have electricity or water at your house. You should always keep some sort of supply on hand in terms of water and canned goods. And that’s just for the short term and for your own safety. Long term, though, I do think that legislators and leadership in the state understand the importance of making sure that Texas has a reliable system. Can we continue to do it with the infrastructure that we have? In terms of oversight, I think that remains to be seen.

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