Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs bills responding to power grid failure into law
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law two bills seeking to remedy failures of the state's power supply system that emerged in February, when deadly winter storms swept the state and millions of Texans were left without power for days.
Senate Bill 2 and SB 3 make changes to leadership at the state's electric grid operator, which came under intense scrutiny during the outages, and require other regulatory agencies to develop requirements to shore up infrastructure across the state's electricity supply chain in anticipation of future extreme weather events.
"A top priority we had this legislative session was to fix the power grid to prevent any other power grid failures in the future," Abbott said Tuesday. "The Legislature passed comprehensive reforms to fix all of the flaws that led to the power failure."
Some lawmakers and energy experts have argued that these proposals and other actions taken by the Legislature do not go far enough to prevent a future power crisis because they fail to plan for climate change and leave too much up to state agencies like the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, and the Public Utilities Commission, the governor-appointed board that oversees the state's electric grid operator and all other utilities in the state.
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills — who joined Abbott, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown and Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, at Tuesday's bill signing — touted the Legislature's response to the energy crisis.
"There is no one sitting or standing here who does not remember that week," Hancock said. "None of us. Miserable. We don't want people to go through that again. That's why we passed reforms to fix that to make sure it will never happen again. We're not immune from feeling the hurt and the pain and the loss of people across entities. We know it, we feel it and we'll never forget it."
Senate Bill 2
During the February outages, officials were quick to place blame on the operator of the state's electric grid: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Lawmakers vowed to improve oversight and governance of the entity during the legislative session and a late compromise on SB 2 resulted in significant changes to how ERCOT's board of directors is appointed.
Under the legislation, the number of seats on the board will be reduced from 16 to 11 and the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House would play key roles in appointing board members. Each official will appoint a member of a newly formed selection committee, which will be responsible for appointing eight of the 11 ERCOT board members.
This level of involvement from elected officials would be unprecedented at ERCOT, where board members currently are selected by a nominating committee comprised of ERCOT members or by companies that participate in the electricity market, among other ways.
The bill also requires that all members of the board reside in Texas. After the winter storm, lawmakers questioned why five members of the board lived outside of the state, including the chair.
All five out-of-state members resigned in the wake of the storm and two other board members later left their posts. Bill Magness also was fired as president and CEO.
Senate Bill 3
Abbott also signed an omnibus bill that makes sweeping changes to communication, oversight and operation of the state's power supply chain.
The measure requires all power generators that sell electricity in the Texas market to comply with weather emergency preparedness standards determined by the Public Utility Commission — except for natural gas facilities.
Only some gas facilities will be required to "weatherize," just those deemed critical infrastructure necessary to maintain service. Standards at these facilities also would differ from other power generators, as the Texas Railroad Commission will be responsible for determining what weather preparedness steps natural gas producers must take.
Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, a newly formed nonprofit focused on advocating for changes at the Texas Railroad Commission, said lawmakers "wasted their chance" do to anything meaningful this session to prevent a future power crisis and did not go far enough to ensure that weatherization requirements will happen in time for the next bout of extreme weather.
“In a special session, the Legislature should set firm deadlines for energy facilities to winterize and assure that penalties would exceed the cost of winterization measures," she said in a statement.
Abbott is prepared to call lawmakers back to Austin for two separate special legislative sessions, one focused on conservative priority measures that failed to pass during the regular session and one for members to redraw the state's political maps and allocate roughly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.
Paddie, who carried both SB 2 and SB 3 in the House, said he is aware of criticism that the legislation "took it easy on natural gas."
"I wish you would go and tell them that," he said. "That's not what they're saying."
Critical natural gas infrastructure will be identified by the Electricity Supply Chain Mapping Committee, a new entity created by the bill. The committee will be tasked with mapping the state's power supply chain and identifying these critical infrastructure sources. A first version of this mapping is due to the state by January.
A key provision of SB 3 requires state regulators and electric utilities to determine how rolling blackouts should occur during future energy emergencies.
Rolling blackouts, or load shedding, happen when demand for electricity approaches supply and electric providers are forced to shut down power supply to some customers to reduce the overall strain on the grid.
During the February winter storms, major power generators failed in rapid succession and ERCOT ordered rolling blackouts to protect the integrity of the grid. But instead of temporary outages in targeted areas, millions of Texans were left without power for days.