Democrats propose integrating Texas power grid with rest of the country

Exactly three years after a brutal winter storm and power blackout claimed more than 200 lives in the Lone Star State, Congressional Democrats are proposing a measure they believe will prevent a repeat. 

"It's time for us to break up with blackouts. We know that we could have kept millions of people out of these mass power outages if we connect the Texas grid to the rest of the country," said Representative Greg Casar, a Democrat from Austin.

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Casar claims his legislation mandating the stand-alone Texas Grid connect with adjacent systems to the east, west, and north will save lives in weather emergencies, limit climate change and ultimately save Texas rate payers on their power bills.

"It would also bring ERCOT under the purview of FERC, which would make sure that consumers aren't getting screwed and that rates are just and reasonable in Texas and beyond," said Casar.

"Not so fast" says Jason Shi, a University of Houston Engineering professor who contends full-scale integration has both limited advantages and significant drawbacks.

"There will be a lot of investment required, and then if you look at the labor costs, construction costs, I'm afraid if we cannot get enough federal support, we might be looking at a very large bill that would eventually be paid by the Texas rate payers," said Shi.

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On the political side, abandoning independent status to achieve complete integration with adjoining systems would subject the Texas grid to complete Federal regulation - oversight that's loathed by both Texas Republican leadership and much of the state's powerful energy industry.

Rice Political analyst Mark Jones believes Casar's bill has little, if any, chance of gaining approval.

"The last thing that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and any Texas Republican is going to do is hand a victory to a Texas Democrat, let alone one of the most liberal Texas Democrats in the delegation," said Jones.

Casar's critics are adamant that interconnection with other grids would not have prevented shortages or blackouts three years ago, because those systems were under the same cold weather duress as Texas and had no extra power to spare.