Published Feb 26, 2021 by Steven Will
Week In Review
Legislators' attention was focused squarely on the response to last week's severe winter weather. Legislative hearings are expected to continue with legislation to follow.
Governor Abbott Responds to Winter Storm
Governor Greg Abbott announced two additional emergency items for the legislature to prioritize this session. First, Governor Abbott identified the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) as a legislative priority and called on the legislature to investigate the decisions made by the state agency to find long-term solutions. Additionally, the Governor declared that winterization of Texas’ power system and related funding be added as an emergency item to ensure the reliability of the state's power infrastructure. In response to Winter Storm Uri, Governor Abbot requested that a Major Disaster Declaration be issued by the federal government, which would allow eligible Texans to apply for financial assistance related to property damage caused by the effects of the storm. President Joe Biden granted that request for nearly half of all Texas counties.
Legislative Hearings on Electric Grid
The Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce and the House joint State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees conducted two days of hearings to examine the conditions leading to the power loss during last week's winter storm. In a break with common practice and a sign of the importance of the topic, even Senators not serving on the committee were able to participate and ask questions. In both chambers, hearings were highly technical, digging into specifics of issues such as legal authority, and the operation of the power grid. Legislators asked tough questions of the witnesses, and witnesses provided substantive testimony. Vulnerabilities to extreme weather events were exposed throughout the system, from regulators to power plants to industry.
Both chambers covered the historic nature of the conditions compared to prior winter weather events and peak summer demand. Legislators questioned ERCOT CEO, Bill Magness, and Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairwoman DeAnn Walker. Legislators asked questions ranging from decisions made before and during the storm to oversight authority and infrastructure winterization. Legislators also heard testimony from agency leaders, industry associations and individual companies from each segment of the sector's supply chain.
Only one week after the storm, witnesses requested more time to conduct their root cause analyses of the events in order to provide recommendations on how to strengthen the electric grid. In many cases, the committees demanded those reports and recommendations be quickly provided to the Legislature. One suggestion that was widely supported by numerous witnesses is a statewide public alert system for the electric grid. More hearings are expected on this topic, with legislation to follow.
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