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Bills in response to Texas' big freeze headed to Abbott's desk

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Posted at 2:13 PM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 16:42:22-04

After a deadly winter storm killed more than 100 Texans and left millions without power and water for extended periods, Texas lawmakers have begun approving legislation that aims to address issues that contributed to the overall failed response to the big freeze.

Two bills, if signed into law, would do several things.

  • Power plant weatherization would be required.
  • Texans would be notified of future outages with emergency alerts.
  • Electric, power, and gas companies would be able to seek billions in rate-payer backed bonds and loans.
  • Electric Reliability Council of Texas board members would shrink from 16 to 11, with top politicians appointing eight of them.
  • Renewable energy companies would not be required to cover the cost of purchasing reserve power for the grid.

Texas Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 are headed to Governor Greg Abbott's desk.

What is winterization?

Winterization, put simply, is preparing something for use in cold weather. In communities prone to cold weather, motorists will winterize their cars by switching to winter tires and winter wipers. Those residents will winterize their houses by insulating vulnerable pipes and installing emergency pressure release valves on plumbing systems.

But what does it mean to winterize a power grid? According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the same temperatures that messed up the Texas power grid during the February freeze, are not an issue for the state's winterized system. Their power systems, according to professor of nuclear engineering at UW-Madison Paul Wilson, were initially built with insulation, heated pipes, and crushers to break up frozen coal.

“We designed all our infrastructure for these bitter-cold temperatures,” said Wilson.

These same precautions, or similar ones, would be used to winterize the Texas power grid if Senate Bill 3 is signed into law.

How would Texans be notified of future outages?

Senate Bill 3, if passed, includes a requirement to study and create an emergency alert system that would notify Texans of the possibility of major outages, in the event of drastic weather. The system could be set up like Amber Alerts, with an emergency message sent to cellphones.

With many people without power, television, or internet, keeping Texans up to speed with information and resources during the recent big freeze was a challenge. The Texas Division of Emergency Management failed to use the national Emergency Alert System to notify impacted Texans in specific areas. The creation of an alert system that would warn people and point them towards resources could alleviate some hardships, especially when it comes to water boil water notices or updates on power restoration.

Who would be appointing ERCOT's board members if Senate Bill 2 becomes law?

According to the Texas Tribune, currently, ERCOT's 16-member board of directors were appointed by ERCOT’s own nominating committee while others were appointed by companies and consumers in the electricity market.

If Senate Bill 2 becomes law, ERCOT's board of director seats would change from 16 members to 11 members, and eight of those members would be chosen by a selection committee made up of the governor, lieutenant governor, and the speaker
of the house. Each of them would appoint one board member, while the rest are chosen through an "outside consulting firm."