HOUSTON - Each Winter in Texas will never be the same after the Big Freeze in February 2021. However, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas Peter Lake made a large, very public pledge regarding the power grid.
Lake was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott in April 2021 and sat down with FOX 26 to explain why he believes the state power grid will hold up in the upcoming winter.
**Read the full transcribed interview below**
Peter Lake: As we said from the beginning, the goal of phase two of the market redesign is to continue to improve reliability while balancing costs for consumers and to incentivize new steel in the ground. We know we need more on-demand power in Texas, and we will achieve that with the second phase of our market redesign.
Rudy Koski: We've heard you say that the cost to consumers with what the PUC and ERCOT's been doing lately is about $1.20 a month extra on the budget, but costs are going up?
PL: We always keep costs to consumers in mind, but as you know we can't do anything about natural gas. Thankfully, Texas is blessed with an abundant source of natural gas and of course, we welcome tapping into that supply.
RK: Yeah but globally, it's now being marketed so globally, so the prices are spiking up. Are you worried about that, as that's happening?
PL: That's a big part of the price increases we've seen in electricity bills. We always try to manage the market and the grid in a way to minimize costs to consumers while maintaining reliability, but we don't have any authority or jurisdiction over natural gas prices- so we'll have to manage it as best we can in the meantime.
RK: You worried?
PL: I sleep perfectly fine at night.
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RK: ERCOT has a new chief, Pablo Vegas. One of the things that you said in introducing him is his background with computers. How critical is that background going to be?
PL: That is an important part of the ERCOT operations and while it's not something that the public sees on a daily basis, there is a lot of critical computer engineering and software programming that goes on behind the scenes to make the grid and the ERCOT market work. So that's why the board was very deliberate in finding a CEO with an extensive background in information technology. I'll also mention that the new independent board is really showing its benefit, because under this new independent board we now have two board members who have entire careers in information technology and computer science, from Dell and Texas Instruments, and those board members have been instrumental in focusing on ERCOT information technology operations. Before we never had anybody on the board or in leadership with that kind of background, so another tremendous improvement to ERCOT the organization.
RK: Fall is here, it's going to get cold. Winter is coming. Explain how the winterization rules that are now in place, it's not just about wrapping things up, pipes up in blankets.
PL: I know the lights are going to stay on because as we showed last winter, our generation fleet is hardened against cold weather. Weatherization is just one part of the many reforms we have put in place. We have built out a bigger margin of safety in our reserves, so we have more generators available than ever before, and if there's any hint of trouble on the grid, we've changed operation to make sure that the control room brings on more generators sooner rather than later. As opposed to waiting until the last minute like they did in the past. In addition, we've reduced the highest price cap in ERCOT by almost 50% to minimize high prices on customers doing everything we can to protect our customers. We've also implemented more control over maintenance schedules. In the past, ERCOT had no idea when generators would go down for maintenance, and we can have a lot of generators clumped up in just a week or two. Now, ERCOT can manage that and spread those generation outages out over multiple weeks and months. So its not any one single thing, but all of these reforms combine to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And that's why we know that we can absolutely be certain the lights will stay on this winter no matter what mother nature throws at us.
RK: You're trying to get individuals to become small power plants. Plug your car in, if you have an electric car, plug it back into the grid if you have a battery system, plug it back into a grid. You just set in motion for that to happen. How soon do you think that's really going to happen?
PL: That pilot project is often running now. It will be limited in scope because there's a lot we need to learn about how all these different batteries and vehicles will work on the grid, but the gears are turning to make that happen, and happen now. But we also are being very careful about identifying any problems that may arise in this new world of distributed resources. And that's why we're doing a pilot project, so we can take small steps first, and identify small problems.
RK: Are you gonna call for the legislature to invest money into building more power lines?
PL: We've done a lot. Last summer, the Commission used its authority to bypass the normal process and order a new transmission line, or series of transmission lines in the Rio Grande Valley. I've directed one of my colleagues Commissioner Glotfelty to work with ERCOT to streamline and update the transmission planning process, so that more transmission projects can be built sooner.
RK: Bottom line for consumers, they're gonna have to pay more for this?
PL: Transmission lines cost money.
RK: But what's being done to protect the consumer?
PL: We're doing everything we can.