Texas Can Do More to Prevent Future Blackouts, Say Former PUC Commissioners

Austin (June 3, 2021)—Texas has more work to do to prevent the kinds of weather-driven blackouts that devastated the state in February 2021.

That is the conclusion of Never Again: How to Prevent Another Major Texas Electricity Failure, a groundbreaking report issued today by five past Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) commissioners and a senior regulatory advisor.

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The report offers 20 recommendations that build on Senate Bill 3 and other legislation passed by the Texas legislature this year—and that lay out improvements regulatory bodies such as the PUC can take on their own. Taken together, these common-sense steps can help the state avoid future grid failures and fortify Texas’ energy future.

“As we fix what didn’t work right this February, we need to be fully focused on the future,” said Pat Wood III, former Chairman of both the PUC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and current CEO of the Hunt Energy Network. “Perhaps sooner than anywhere else in the world, the future power grid is coming of age in Texas—due to our rich wind, solar, and hydrocarbon base and our welcoming open market. Because of that, we must get it right. And with all of us working together, we will.”

The report takes an in-depth look at the factors that caused power outages and contributed to the deaths of more than 200 Texans in February. It also analyzes the underlying weaknesses that could result in future crises. The recommendations include:

  • Power plant and natural gas system weatherization with rigorous enforcement;
  • A clear definition of price gouging for natural gas under emergency conditions;
  • Higher energy efficiency building standards and more energy efficiency retrofits to improve insulation, heating, and air conditioning;
  • More emergency demand response options;
  • Backup power systems for critical facilities;
  • Better planning and forecasting improvements at ERCOT; and
  • More data collection and public release of electric and gas production and market information.

“This type of outage must never happen again,” said former PUC Commissioner Judy Walsh. “The most important recommendations we offer are that generators must winterize in order to run and the gas supply chain must winterize to support power plants and residential gas customers.”

While many of the recommendations can be implemented at the regulatory level by leaders at the PUC and ERCOT in the coming months, the report also represents a roadmap for future state legislation that would strengthen Texas’ electricity system and potentially save lives in future grid emergencies. Such improvements could be considered as early as a special session later this year.

“Texas has been a shining example of how market-driven policies can unleash innovation and lower consumer rates,” said Becky Klein, a former PUC commissioner and chairman who is the founder of the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute and Principal of Klein Energy LLC. “To sustain our robust growth in Texas, we must focus on how to best incent energy resources that are both clean and reliable. I have faith our policymakers will develop market incentives to ensure our energy systems are ready for the future.”

“The world is grappling to understand how Texas—a state with a celebrated electric transmission grid and vast energy resources in natural gas, wind, and solar—allowed this to happen,” said Robert W. Gee, who served as chairman and commissioner on the PUC as well as assistant secretary of energy, and is currently president of Gee Strategies Group. “With a mass power outage and casualties, there can be no mulligans or ‘do-overs.’ Texas’ leadership and its policymakers need to get this right and restore the confidence that the state’s citizens and businesses have a right to expect in their electric system.”

The report seeks to avoid mistakes such as those made in 2011 when Texas was hit by milder but still significant backouts. Precautions recommended then could have helped avoid this year’s outages.

Those incidents and others, as the report states, “should have provided a wake-up call to policymakers and regulators to address reliability issues.”

Over a decade ago, after the 2011 blackout, I criticized the stakeholder blame game that followed and suggested that our gas and power system needed significant reform to improve responsibility and accountability for reliability,” said Brett Perlman, a former PUC commissioner who is now CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “But Texas failed to make the required reforms and unfortunately—but predictably—experienced an even more serious disaster last February. As the energy transition and climate change again raise the stakes for electric, gas, and water infrastructure reliability, this time we must fully identify the systemic risks and reform our governing institutions and public policies to address them.”

“The power system is getting more complicated and is failing in more complicated ways,” said Alison Silverstein, a former advisor at both the Texas PUC and FERC, who is now an independent consultant working on issues related to grid reliability, resilience, and the clean energy transition. “We can reduce the odds of the next disastrous Texas outage by being clear-eyed about the challenges and committing to creative solutions that help all Texans. These solutions must help customers manage electric demand and fix supply and market problems.”

The report was funded by a grant from Energy Foundation and the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

READ THE REPORT >> 


 

For more information, contact:

Steve Scheibal, steve@newwestcomms.com, 512-762-8808

Brett Holmes, brett@brettholmes.com, 713-244-4178

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