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Texas energy officials’ proposal to change the electricity grid is under fire – The Gilmer Mirror | Rare Techy


By Joshua Fechter, The Texas Tribune

“Texas energy officials’ proposal to change the electricity grid is in doubt” was originally published by The Texas Tribune, a non-profit media organization that informs Texans – and includes them – about public policy, politics, government and national issues.

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Texas lawmakers and experts studying the state’s power grid aren’t happy with the proposed crackdown by state officials seeking to prevent widespread outages like the one in the 2021 winter storm season.

Last week the Texas Public Utilities Commission unveiled a proposal, sponsored by Chairman Peter Lake, that would essentially pay power producers to ensure they have enough energy reserves to feed the grid. of government in times of greatest need. Producers will receive “performance credits” after proving their ability to keep the lights on during those times – a system that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, according to the commission’s advisor.

In the days since, state lawmakers and energy experts have been skeptical of the proposal, which would cost electric customers as much as $460 million annually, according to the PUC’s decision. They also questioned the complexity of the plan and the time it would take to implement the new system.

“There’s a lot of real money and big dollar bills,” said Alison Silverstein, a former PUC general counsel who runs the Electric Power Trust Council of Texas, the state’s energy regulator. “We need it. But there are ways to make sure it doesn’t cost billions of dollars.”

Texas Legislature last year directed the commission to restructure the state’s electricity market, which was largely out of supply and demand, after the winter storm. Texas’ power grid nearly collapsed as ice and snow blanketed the state. The low temperatures increased the need for electricity, and the power outage left millions of Texans in the dark without heat for days. Hundreds of people died.

Energy providers were allowed to pay higher prices for energy when demand was high during the storm – but utilities froze because they couldn’t meet that demand.

In their first chance to consider potential changes to the market, lawmakers on a key Senate panel this week said they were not surprised by the Commission’s main proposal.

“This plan is very complex, it took a long time to put in place, and it’s designed to fail everyone,” said Gov. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, at Thursday’s Business Forum. Senate and Commerce Committee, and added that the additional costs of the plan will be paid by electric consumers.

“The bottom line is the end user,” Campbell said.

Petitioners raised concerns that the state’s electricity customers would have to pay more for the untested system on top of paying billions of dollars in damages incurred during the storm – the costs energy experts say Texans will be paying for it for decades.

“There has already been a transfer of wealth that we have seen happen [during Uri]perhaps the largest in the history of the state,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

Texas residents will have a tougher time than other states paying for electricity this year. As many people turned on their air conditioners during the hot summer, nearly 45% of Texans told the Census Bureau they had to cut back on other necessities like food and medicine to pay. on their electricity bills – higher than the national average of 34%, according to a LendingTree analysis of statistical data.

Lake testified before the committee and defended the “performance credit” idea as a way to make the grid more reliable by providing incentives, beyond supply and demand, to power producers to increase generating electricity in times of high demand.

“What we have in front of us as a solution on the market is that our analysis suggests that it will be more reliable for less money than … no work,” Lake said in the Thursday meeting.

The commission paid E3, a California consulting firm, more than $600,000 to find out what changes to the state’s electricity market should be made to avoid more blackouts during extreme weather. . But Lake rejected the industry’s recommendation that for grid reform, electricity suppliers should buy “credit credits” from power producers – the idea being that the producers would do their best to provide electricity in in times of great need.

But analysts and some lawmakers pointed out what they called flaws in E3’s report, chief among them the fact that the regulator did not address the nature of weather worse than those caused by last year’s winter storm. Without that, experts say, it’s hard to know how the grid will fare during periods of extreme cold or heat due to the changes — and how consumers’ electricity bills will rise. customer.

“If we’re changing the market because of what happened in Winter Storm Uri, we need to know what changes in the market if we have another Winter Storm Uri,” said Joshua Rhodes, is an electrical engineer and research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.

According to the E3 report, “advisors do not expect the same levels of mortality seen in other weather conditions” due to changes such as the new weather standards made since the winter storm.

A PUC spokesman said the study “conducted thousands of extreme weather scenarios” based on historical weather data.

But climate change is making weather patterns worse, said Silverstein, the former PUC consultant, which could lead to sudden increases in demand like during Uri and this year’s heat wave.

“The reality is that climate change is making things more dangerous, and it’s creating those kinds of disasters at times that we don’t expect,” Silverstein said.

The E3 report also noted that generators will have “unlimited access to fuel” during extreme weather, although many power plants have struggled to get natural gas to keep running during the storm. of winter.

There is also concern that the “job credit” system favored by Lake officials and the PUC will take too long to implement — the E3 report says it could take up to four years to write the rules. which controls that system and sets it – will be abolished. invest in new power generation.

“This is new and all the questions about implementation are unknown,” Julia Harvey, vice president of government relations at Texas Electric Cooperatives, told reporters at the Thursday.

Texas has seen modest improvements to its power grid since Uri but could still see significant power outages if a similar winter storm hits the state in the coming months, an analysis shows. of October by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – despite these findings. which was disputed by government officials.

Pablo Vegas, ERCOT’s new CEO, said Thursday that “there will be an opportunity” to supply electricity if the weather is bad even if the schedule is improved.

“There was a risk we were facing, so the case for change was very urgent,” Vegas said.

Disclosure: Texas Electric Cooperative and the University of Texas at Austin are financial sponsors of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, independent news organization funded by contributions from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial sponsors had no role in the Tribune’s reporting. Find a full list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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