With permission, by Suzanne Bertin and Erica Glenn for Advanced Energy Economy, June 3, 2021
It was a dark and stormy session for the Texas legislature, dominated by electric power issues surfaced by Winter Storm Uri. With the Texas electricity system under more scrutiny – and more up for grabs – than at any time since restructuring in 1999, we at the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance (TAEBA) had our hands full. But when the dust settled and the legislature gaveled out on Memorial Day, the outcome for advanced energy was net positive – even though the legislature missed a golden opportunity to enhance grid resilience with distributed energy resources.
No One Expected a Legislative Session Like This One
Starting on the second Tuesday in January, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Texas Legislature was focused on COVID-19 and passing the state’s required two-year budget, while Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance (TAEBA) was promoting advanced energy as an economic recovery tool. But, five weeks into session, a historic ice storm, Winter Storm Uri, swept across the State. This winter storm blanketed large swaths of Texas in snow and ice, and left millions without power or clean water for days in below-freezing temperatures, causing much suffering and loss of life. From then on, the energy sector was front and center for the Legislature, and TAEBA pivoted its policy priorities to focus more directly on advanced energy solutions for a reliable and resilient electricity system for Texans.
After the February winter storm blackouts, the Legislature held multiple days of hearings questioning leaders at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT), Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), major utility companies, and industry experts to try to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent a future crisis. Then came an avalanche of bills hurriedly filed before the March 12 deadline touching topics such as PUCT and ERCOT reform, wholesale market design, resilience and weatherization, finance and securitization, and bills relating to transmission, interconnection, distributed energy resources (DERs), battery storage, energy efficiency, demand response, electric vehicles (EVs), wind, and solar. As a result, TAEBA found itself directly engaged with or closely watching well over 200 bills. Following are some highlights from a very intense legislative session, the busiest in decades.