After near blackout, Texas government is stepping up grid regulation
- Mar 31, 2021 6:24 am GMT
In Texas, the electric utilities and power producers have largely avoided strict regulations over the state’s power grid. But after a near complete failure of the state’s power system that left millions of Texans without electricity for days during a record cold snap, the state’s legislators are stepping in to tighten industry oversight.
The icy temperatures that hit the state in the early hours of Feb. 15 caused issues at unprepared plants. Natural gas and coal plant equipment malfunctioned; wind turbines froze; and snow smothered solar panels. Supply across the state slowed as demand from utilities—their customers cranking the heat—skyrocketed.
Texas, the only state in the U.S. to operate on its own isolated power grid that essentially avoids federal regulation, has notoriously low oversight. Its utilities were not required to weatherized against extreme temperatures. The state’s public utility commission has the ability can only make recommendations and push for weatherization, but they cannot enforce it.
That’s looking likely to change, as a package of bills passed with bipartisan support through the Texas House of Representatives. Included in that package is mandate for all utilities in the state grid system must reinforce themselves against weather extremes. In Texas, to have such bipartisan support for additional regulation is evidence legislators are taking the historic February blackouts seriously.
“The Texas House today took important first steps in passing critical, essential reforms in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement after the vote. “The actions taken by the House will help restore confidence in our critical infrastructure after the catastrophic mismanagement of our electric grid last month.”
Grid resilience is going to be a sticking point in Texas for years to come and has been a top priority during the state’s legislative session, where lawmakers have floated a number of bills. One idea legislators aren’t talking about regarding a resilient power system is connecting to the national electric grid in order to avoid disasters like in February.