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    ERCOT power grid report OK'd wih little public input


    August 15, 2022 - Philip Jankowski

     

      A little-known state committeeconsisting mainly of oil and energy executivesapproved recommendations this past week that lawmakers could rely on in next year's legislative session to reshape Texas' shaky power grid.

      TheState Energy Plan Advisory Committee's 7-5 vote indicated the concerns of several members about the lack of time and deliberation devoted to creating a dense report, which state lawmakers might take as gospel next year when they take a second whack at redesigning Texas' grid.

      The report's approval also gave wide latitude to the committee's chairman, Lower Colorado River Authority CEO Phil Wilson, to revise recommendations that haven't fully been written. Wilson, a former secretary of state under Gov. Rick Perry and a close ally to Gov. Greg Abbott, was the deciding vote to approve the report.

      The substance of the report is unclear. Committee members have been told that all written work is confidential, and Wilson, through the LCRA, has not made any version public, which has some concerned about the potential impact on consumers' electricity bills.

      The Legislature created the State Energy Plan Advisory Committee in 2021's omnibus power grid law, Senate Bill 3. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan each appointed four of the board's 12 members, who are required to submit recommendations on the grid by Sept. 1.

      Including this past week's two-hour meeting, the committee has met only twice and has taken no public testimony.

      "Given the short time frame within which this committee is required to develop and finalize its recommendations, the general focus and conversation is on the issues we believe are most impactful on the reliability and stability and affordability of electric service in Texas," Wilson said after the report's approval.

      Austin-based energy consultant Doug Lewin, who was at this past week's meeting, said that the lack of transparency by the committee is concerning and that its action could lead energy providers to "extract billions more from Texas consumers."

      "The lack of any consumer representative, the exclusion of public input, and the refusal to stream the meetings on the internet even though the room they met in is equipped to do so, speaks volumes," Lewin said. "Texans should watch their wallets."

      Retired investment banker Mike Ammerman of Houston was one of the five members to vote against the report. He said the group's work did not go far enough — that it was tasked with creating a plan, not a report. Ammerman said he voted no to show that the work of the committee is not done.

      "We were asked to do something, and that is not what we did," Ammerman said.

      Committee's recommendations

      The committee's discussion indicated that many of the recommendations appear to reinforce work already underway at the Public Utility Commission and the Railroad Commission.

      The PUC is working to redesign the Electric Reliability Council of Texas energy market to prioritize grid stability over cheap power prices. Meanwhile, the Railroad Commission is creating new weatherization standards for natural gas wells and processing plants to address the failures of fossil fuels during the winter storm.

      The committee added one recommendation that could provide ammo for legislators to undermine the rise of renewable energy in Texas. Committee member Patrick Jenevein, a Dallas businessman, added a recommendation calling for renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, to have some kind of reliability requirement.

      Jenevein did not specify what kind, and he said after the meeting that he hopes the Legislature considers the entire continuum of possibilities. That could include reliability fees Abbott proposed last year or incentives for wind and solar providers to buy backup power or battery storage.

      "Renewable energy companies have done a great job of driving low electricity prices, but they've done so with a decrease in vulnerability and reliability," Jenevein said. "So for Texans, we have to find a way to raise that reliability."

      His recommendation was approved on a 7-5 vote, but he also voted against the final report because he did not feel like the committee had too little time to work on it.

      "The issues are complex enough that it is hard to address them in the time we had available," he said.

      Studies from the University of Texas and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission both found that many of the failures in Texas' electric grid during the 2021 winter storm were at natural gas wells and power plants. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy has remained a major focus of groups and agencies tasked with redesigning the grid, such as the State Energy Plan Advisory Committee and the PUC.

      "I am really proud of the efforts of this committee as members heard from consumer interests and industry experts. We think this is a comprehensive report that hopefully will be of use to the Legislature, the PUC and ERCOT as they consider mechanisms to ensure future reliability," Wilson, the committee's chairman, said in an emailed statement.

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