AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Monday, Speaker Dade Phelan (R – Beaumont) announced the House’s first seven priority bills that aim to protect consumers, and strengthen the state’s electric grid after the winter freeze in February left millions in the dark.
“We came up with some ideas that we thought were obvious changes that need to occur as soon as possible,” Speaker Phelan said. “This is just the beginning point of the discussion.”
The bills range from weatherization requirements to improving communication, and come after more than 25 hours of testimony in House hearings over the last two weeks.
“There’s two weatherization bills, House Bill 11, House Bill 14, one will deal with power generation weatherization, other would deal with pipeline weatherization,” Rep. Phelan explained.
It’s all in an effort to make sure Texans never have to suffer through another power failure like the one Texas saw in February. That includes Texans like Allea Harris, whose house outside of Houston flooded that week.
“The entire kitchen ceiling was on the floor there was just like insulation and drywall everywhere. And so I thought I didn’t expect it to be coming from the ceiling. I thought it was under the sink, the pipes burst or something,” Harris explained her surprise when she and her boyfriend returned to check on their home after a neighbor called to tell them water was gushing from the doors.
In the meantime, Harris and her boyfriend moved in temporarily with a relative.
Things took a turn for the worse on Monday, March 8, when her property manager called to tell her they would have to move out of the home permanently.
“They’re gonna have to literally take down all the walls, because all the walls and all the drywall have water in it,” Harris said.
Harris and others who suffered major damage due to the storm and power outages wonder why lawmakers did not address these issues before, when Texas faced a similar winter weather event back in 2011.
“We just were not prepared,” Harris said, explaining her frustration with state leaders’ lack of prevention efforts.
Speaker Phelan points to a different financial landscape, though.
“Back in 2011, the state was in a pretty severe deficit. And we didn’t have the money to do a lot of things we wanted to do,” Rep. Phelan said, adding that Texas is in a much better place now.
“We’re going to right the wrongs of 10 years ago this session,” Rep. Phelan said, “We feel like we may have the resources, especially with the CARES Act, which is emergency spending, and this is an emergency.”
Breakdown of the Bills
House Bill 10, filed by Rep. Chris Paddie (R – Marshall), would restructure the ERCOT board, replacing unaffiliated members with members appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker. HB 10 would also require all board members to reside in Texas, and add a board position to represent consumers.
House Bill 11, also filed by Rep. Paddie, would require electric transmission and generation facilities in the state to be weatherized against all extreme weather conditions in Texas.
There’s also another priority bill requiring weatherization, HB 14. This bill would require the Texas Railroad Commission to adopt rules, requiring gas pipeline operators to weatherize, as well, covering extreme heat and freezing conditions.
“It tasks the agencies who are overseeing both of those areas, both the PUC, and Railroad Commission, it tasks them with coming up with the rules that makes sense for different areas of the state. That does define extreme weather, both extreme cold and extreme heat, but it makes the PUC and rehabilitation to go and ask, ‘What works in the Panhandle, and like what works down in Brownsville?” Speaker Phelan said.
House Bill 12 would establish a statewide disaster alert system, administered by the Texas Division of Emergency Management. The bill was filed by Rep. Richard Raymond, (D – Laredo), and would build off of the same system used for Amber Alerts.
House Bill 13, filed by Rep. Paddie, would establish a council to improve coordination during disasters. It would include ERCOT, Public Utility Commission of Texas, the Texas Railroad Commission and TDEM leaders, who would work together to identify challenges with fuel supply, repairs, energy operations and service interruptions.
Rep. Ana Hernandez, (D – Houston), filed HB 16 to defend ratepayers. This would ban variable rate products like Griddy for residential customers.
“That’s when someone opens up their bill during a weather event like this. And instead of paying $200 a month, they’re paying $2000. So it gets rid of that type of programs, we won’t have those types of issues anymore,” Rep. Phelan explained.
The last on the list, filed by Joe Deshotel, (D – Beaumont), HB 17 would prevent any political subdivision or planning authority from enforcing an ordinance that would prohibit the connection of residential or commercial buildings based on the type of energy source that will be delivered.
“They’re actually some political subdivisions out there that are banning the use of natural gas, which, you know, which is a huge, huge part of our electrical market,” Rep. Phelan said.
Speaker Phelan added that these bills are just the beginning of the discussion. There will be more changes to come.