Bills aimed at adding more natural gas power to the Texas grid have cleared the Senate

Critics say the bills could result in untold billions in additional costs for customers and minimal benefits while ignoring efforts to reduce electricity demand.

Austin, Texas – (The Texas Tribune) The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved two key bills aimed at building more on-demand power generators, such as natural gas-fired plants, in the state. The goal of the bills, the sponsors say, is to prevent another catastrophic power shortage like the death-related one more than 200 People in 2021, when freezing temperatures paralyzed power generation and migrated million texans shiver in the dark.

Legislature passed Senate bill 6 And Senate draft 7 with 22:9 or 31:0 votes. The bills represent a push to channel more money into the state’s natural gas power generation, which proponents say will improve the power grid because these generators can essentially be turned on with the flick of a switch. Lt. gov. Dan Patrick identified both bills as priorities earlier in the session.

Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, reminded fellow lawmakers on the floor that in light of the tragedy of 2021, “they couldn’t go home without working out a deal with a package of bills that will ensure we’re us.” on track to never seeing anything like it again.” Senator Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, the lead author of both bills, requested passage of Senate Bill 6 “in memory of the hundreds of Texans who died and the millions of Texans who have suffered”.

But critics say both bills could result in untold billions in additional costs for customers and minimal benefits, while ignoring the efforts needed to reduce electricity demand and eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. All forms of power generation struggled during the 2021 storm, and gas-fired plants were far from immune, with some not operating or not receiving enough natural gas supplies during the storm.

SB 6 would direct government money or payments from electricity customers to hire one or more companies to build up to 10 gigawatts – enough to power 2 million homes during peak electricity demand – of likely natural gas-fired power plants that come online would and possibly only run for days in emergencies. Schwertner has called it an insurance policy against disasters, arguing it’s the only bill that “absolutely guarantees” new, on-demand power generation.

Sen. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio, has warned his Senate peers against overcorrecting to send a message to voters that they’ve fixed the problems of 2021’s terrible storm. Everyone from fixed-income residents to mom-and-pop entrepreneurs would pay for it in taxpayer money or interest rate hikes, Menéndez said.

“My concern is that sometimes it feels like we’re losing sight of the basic fundamentals,” Menéndez said before the vote on lawmakers. “If much of the electricity we generate is lost, whether it’s in our constituents’ homes due to a lack of weathering, or in our plants due to lack of efficiency… my concern is that we’re building something that might be little more than we needed if we did.” would have already invested in more efficiency.”

Critics have questioned whether government-funded assets would really remain offline until an emergency hits, or instead would be turned on more frequently, hampering competition in the market. Opponents have also argued that letting a gas plant sit idle would be inefficient, and consumer advocates have raised concerns about rising consumer bills.

The Senate Finance Committee has allocated $10 billion in its budget proposal to fund at least some of the cost of building the facilities proposed in Senate Bill 6, but the House version of the budget does not have the same allocation.

“It represents a costly tax on consumers that doesn’t improve reliability,” said Michele Richmond, executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates, which represents natural gas generators. “Unfortunately, it sends a clear message that Texas doesn’t believe in the competitive market and will result in state-owned power generation system-wide.”

In the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ competitive power market, SB 7 would create a financial incentive to encourage private development of power generation resources that can start up in two hours and run at least four hours, such as B. natural gas systems or batteries. The term could be extended in the future. The bill would also establish a complex method for electricity suppliers and power producers to pay for such incentives, based in part on their production and reliability.

Schwertner likened this bill to a “slow-moving ocean liner slowly changing the entire market structure.”

Payments for the new stimulus would essentially be a tax, potentially forcing resources out of the business, said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT’s president and CEO, speaking at a committee hearing on the bill. Vegas said the concept is likely to slow renewable energy development and could drive renewable energy producers out of the market in the short term.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Monday before a Senate committee passed the two bills that she was concerned that SB 6 was too focused on generating electricity and not on solutions like reducing electricity demand. She also feared that renewable energy generation would be unnecessarily penalized. She voted present on the committee for SB 6 and SB 7, as did the other two committee Democrats, and said she wanted to be part of the process. On Wednesday, she praised the final version of SB 7, saying, “It shows what we can achieve when we work together.”

The Senate has already passed other components the packet of utility bills that lawmakers interpreted early in the session. These include Senate Act 1287which would require electricity generators to bear part of the transmission costs for connection to the grid in certain circumstances, a bill aimed at renewable energy developers who build far from the grid, and Senate bill 2014which makes it voluntary for electric utilities to buy renewable energy credits created decades ago to incentivize renewable energy development.

They passed on Wednesday too Senate draft 2015which conversely aims to incentivize on-demand power resources which would not include wind or solar since the wind does not blow constantly and the sun does not shine at night, and Senate bill 2012the guidelines for which would set Solution to reshape the electricity market proposed by the Public Utility Commission earlier this year to provide a financial reason for building more on-demand power generators.

“There is no perfect law,” said Schwertner before the Senate Committee on Economics and Commerce passed the two bills on Monday. “It’s not a one-off solution to what we need to do as a state, but overall I think the package addresses the concerns of the people of Texas and provides a framework to move Texas forward in terms of restoring disposition and balance.” interruptible generation resources and meeting the long-term needs of our grid.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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