Texas lawmakers introduce legislation intended to fix state's power-grid failure

Investigations and legislation are taking center stage as the Texas government responds to pressure to do something about the state's power grid, which left millions without electricity during the Big Freeze.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has expanded his inquiry into energy industry actions, during the winter storm, by demanding a complete paper trail from electricity and gas providers, along with ERCOT and the PUC.

In the legislature, lawmakers are introducing bills designed to improve the way the state's power business is conducted.

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House Speaker Dade Phelan says the first order of business, of seven bills filed in the House, is to ensure that everyone serving on ERCOT live in the state, rather than the interstate and international membership currently allowed.

"The decisions they make affect Texans and they need to be living in this state to go through what we're going through," he says.

After that, legislation focuses on forcing grid-operators to be weatherized for extreme conditions. Speaker Phelan acknowledges 'paying' for it is a matter of negotiation, whether it comes from industry, consumers, the state Rainy Day fund, or even expected federal CARES Act funding.

"That would extend $15-16 billion dollars to the state of Texas," says Speaker Phelan, "If it's for emergency preparedness or response, like a pandemic, then, possibly, some of that could be used for our electrical grid."

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There is also the communication breakdown, during the Big Freeze, that saw disjointed and ineffective connections between regulators, electricity generators, natural gas producers, and consumers. Lawmakers say that must change.

"The fact that there was just sloppy paperwork that caused some generation to go down, is unacceptable," says Phelan, "So, the communication within the agencies is important and needs to improve."

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Still, while lawmakers intend to reign-in the energy industry, they are not looking to re-regulate it. Speaker Phelan insists there is value in the Texas system, that they are looking to improve.

"You have to balance the 'inexpensive' nature that we have, here in Texas, with reliability," he says, That, to me, is the balance we have to strike."

There is also legislation that would outlaw wholesale pricing services, like Griddy, that caught consumers with enormous bills; and a  promise to investigate those, who Speaker Phelan says 'gamed the system', to profit from the crisis.

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