Governor Abbott signs measures aimed at preventing power grid blackouts
HOUSTON - "Everything that needed to be done, was done to fix the power grid in Texas" - the exact words of Governor Greg Abbott after signing two omnibus legislative measures aimed both at easing the financial damage of the brutal February storm and hardening the state's fragile electrical network against a repeat polar vortex or future summer overload.
"They are fully prepared to insure that the power grid is stable both during the summer as well as the winter," said Abbott.
It's a big, some would say risky, promise from Abbott, who this February side-stepped blame for the disastrous winter blackout.
The reform package pushed through the legislature re-constitutes the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and increases the level of reserve power from 15% to more than 18%.
"We are not immune to feeling the hurt and the pain and the loss of people across Texas. We know it, we feel it, we will never forget it, but we are going to move forward with reforms that fix the system," said State Senator Kelly Hancock, the Republican author of Senate Bill 2.
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Lawmakers also mandated "weatherization" of the grid against cold and extreme heat, with fines of up to a $1 million for operators who fail to comply.
To repair the deep financial damage suffered by some utilities during the winter blackout, the legislature agreed to $9 billion in taxpayer backed bonds and to bail out ERCOT with an $800 million withdrawal from the State's "Rainy Day" savings account.
"It provides the financial stability we need within our system to provide some of the lowest cost electricity in the nation," said Hancock.
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It's electric power that's unlikely to be as cheap as in the past because the cost of paying off the multi-billion bail-out will fall to every day Texans.
"Now rate payers are going to see added fees onto their electric and natural gas bills for the next 20 to 30 years to pay for this," said energy analyst and author Robert Bryce.