Abbott orders utility commission to shore up Texas power grid, targets renewable energy

Source: By Philip Jankowski, Austin American-Statesman • Posted: Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott signs legislation into law at the Texas Capitol on June 8. On Tuesday, Abbott ordered the Texas Public Utility Commission take further action to shore up the state's power grid.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday demanded that the Texas Public Utility Commission take immediate action to shore up the state’s troubled electrical grid.

In a letter to the commission, Abbott directed the board to take steps to increase the amount of electricity produced in Texas. Specifically, Abbott told the utility commission to work to provide incentives for the construction and maintenance of natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

Further, Abbott directed his appointees at the utility commission to take aim at wind and solar power, which have been criticized for their perceived unpredictability in producing power, even as failures at natural gas plants played a significant role in power failures during the February freeze and in last month’s conservation call.

Abbott directed the utility commission to begin assessing “reliability costs,” which could take the form of fines, to power plants “that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power,” the letter states.

“When they fail to do so, those generators should shoulder the costs of that failure,” Abbott’s letter states. “Failing to do so creates an uneven playing field between non-renewable and renewable energy generators and creates uncertainty of available generation in” the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.

Abbott’s letter comes as the Legislature is set to reconvene for a special session this week. It also comes as Texans’ confidence in the state’s independent electric grid has withered after the failures during the recent winter storms and calls last month for conservation from the grid’s operator.

Abbott has not stated whether the power grid should be part of the special session. However, in signing Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 last month, Abbott said “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

Abbott also called on the utility commission to create maintenance schedules for natural gas, coal nuclear and other non-renewable power plants. A sizable amount of those generators being offline for maintenance played roles in both the February freeze and the capacity strain the grid felt in mid-June.

Finally, Abbott ordered ERCOT to speed up the development of power line projects that create additional connectivity between new power plants and areas lacking reliable access to power.

“Governor Abbott has been consistently clear on his desire for a reliable grid and the 87th Texas Legislature laid out a detailed road map to that goal,” Public Utility Commission spokesman Andrew Barlow said in an emailed statement. “While the PUC has been working on many of the items in his directive, this additional clarity is a welcome addition to our process.”