The Back MicThe Back Mic: A Look at Policies Proposed in Response to the Texas Blackouts

This week — here's a look at some early policy reactions from legislators during the week of Texas weather that could've frozen Hell.
February 19, 2021
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As millions of Texans faced prolonged, sustained blackouts during a rare winter storm, calls for introspection crescendoed. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan called for an emergency investigative hearing next week on the matter and a Senate version will follow according to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

But individual legislators have begun positioning for the policy fight ahead. Here are a few proposals that have been called for in response to this week’s frigid affair.

The Grid Security Council

Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) have for the past couple of sessions proposed the creation of the Grid Security Council — a body meant to “monitor economic, environmental, regulatory, and technological developments that may affect the security of the electric grid.”

Stonewalled each time, the bills in each chamber suffocated in committees that essentially pocket-vetoed them.

The Texan Mug

Hall said in a statement Thursday, “Plain and simple — when it comes to electric grid security, state government has failed the people of Texas. Now that even the greatest skeptics see how vulnerable we really are, I want to assure the people of Texas that I am more committed than ever to ensuring our grid security and resilient community legislation passes this session.”

But now with the illuminated, post hoc warning signs, this legislation may have gained new life. “I am happy to report that we are receiving significant support from my senate colleagues, who now recognize the seriousness of this issue,” he added.

“The most important thing we can do for the people is to hold accountable the special interests who have misled legislators into believing that both the natural and manmade threats to the electric grid are not real and that our infrastructure is in exceptionally good condition.”

Infrastructure Weatherization

In his Thursday press conference, Governor Greg Abbott announced the addition to his list of legislative emergency items the funding for “weatherization” of the state’s energy and electrical infrastructure to safeguard against another such event that occurred this week.

Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) announced Thursday he’d file legislation requiring the establishment of weatherization standards for power plants.

“This must not be a suggestion or request for study or report, but a mandate that such weather protections be in place to guard against the freezing consequences Texans are currently experiencing,” Allison stated.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) highlighted House Bill (HB) 2571 by then-Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) on Twitter from 2015 that would have established a process to analyze such vulnerabilities among power plants.

Beckley indicated her staff was working on the legislation for this session.

Target Renewable Subsidies

The fight over fossil fuels and renewables in Texas is sure to continue after this episode. One thing those critical of renewables identify is the large subsidies the wind and solar producers receive in Texas. Through the last decade, federal renewable energy subsidies totaled $71.2 billion — more than for oil and gas, nuclear, and coal combined.

Part of that equation is the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a corporate tax credit worth 1.2 cents per kilowatt-hour produced. Based on wind’s 2019 generation in Texas, that credit was worth over $1 billion.

Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) has introduced HB 1951 that would require the state to “adopt rules, operating procedures, and protocols to eliminate or compensate for any of the price distortion” caused by the PTC.

Patterson holds the position that this tax credit has given renewable producers an unfair leg up in Texas’ energy market.

“The situation from this week in which the Texas grid lacked sufficient power to provide necessary utilities to consumers was absolutely avoidable, and those with their hand on the switch will be held accountable. I understand that wind is not the sole cause of this issue, but it is one of the fundamental reasons that our market does not have sufficient generation capacity,” Patterson concluded.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.