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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Rep. Dade Phelan trade shots over state response to power grid failure

Jasper Scherer, San Antonio Express-News  


    Dec. 3—Two of the top elected Republicans in Texas traded shots Friday over the state's response to the February power grid failure, rekindling a feud from earlier this year when House lawmakers rejected a Senate proposal to retroactively lower electricity prices charged during the storm.

    The bill, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would have required state regulators to reprice billions of dollars in charges racked up by power companies and other retail electric providers during the storm, when regulators raised the cap on wholesale electricity prices.

    Though the change was aimed at incentivizing generators to funnel more power into the grid, an independent market monitor found that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, had left the higher cap in place for more than two days after the worst period of power outages had passed.

    Patrick, who slammed the House in March after the bill died, renewed his criticism in a statement published Friday by the Texas Tribune.

    "With broad bipartisan support, the Texas Senate passed legislation to require a repricing to return money to ratepayers," Patrick said. "House leadership refused to allow their members to vote on these issues."

    House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, responded with his own criticism of Patrick.

    "Lt. Gov Patrick has held his post since 2015 without making the grid a priority, but in only my second month as Speaker it was the House that first demanded action and accountability after the fatal grid collapse," Phelan said. "The House's approach to grid reform was about saving lives in the future while the motivation behind and who benefits from the Senate's approach remains unclear."

    In March, Phelan defended the pricing decisions by ERCOT, the nonprofit that manages the state's electricity market, arguing that they "were made based on ensuring the reliability of the grid" and "may have saved lives."

    He warned that the Senate's repricing plan was "an extraordinary government intervention into the free market, which may have major consequences for both residential and commercial consumers going forward."

    State regulators argued in the spring that the state may not have the authority to reverse the charges, and said providers likely would not pass the savings from repricing down to customers.

    In his statement, Patrick also touted the Legislature's work to overhaul the boards of ERCOT and the Texas Public Utility Commission, or PUC, which oversees ERCOT.

    Lawmakers ordered the PUC to ensure that electricity generators prepare their equipment to withstand future storms, though they approved less stringent measures for the oil and gas industry, instructing the Texas Railroad Commission — an agency with deep ties to the energy companies it regulates — to draft its own weatherization rules.

    Earlier this week, the agency appeared to respond to widespread criticism over the draft version of its rules, which had included a provision allowing gas companies to opt out of being labeled a critical facility by paying a $150 fee, thus avoiding the cost of winterizing their wells and other facilities.

    On Tuesday, railroad commissioners adopted a version of the rules that restricts which producers are eligible for the $150 opt out, preventing most of the state's natural gas producers from evading the winter preparation requirements.

    But the companies will not be required to weatherize their facilities until 2023, meaning Texas' power grid will remain susceptible to extreme weather for at least the next two winters. A recent ERCOT report found that even a milder storm than the one in February could prompt widespread outages if enough natural gas producers are forced offline.


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