The tragedy of February’s fierce winter storm is fast becoming a distant memory as the Texas Legislature wraps up another session this Memorial Day and politicians head out for picnics with family and constituents. The hurricane knocked out power to 4.5 million Texas for nearly a week, and new research suggests it may have caused 700 deaths directly or indirectly, with some victims freezing to death in their own homes.
Several things were readily apparent from congressional hearings held days after the storm: too many power facilities’ pipes and machinery had not been adequately insulated to keep them from freezing during the intense cold. Other power plants that did “winterize” were unable to obtain natural gas as a fuel source because most of the gas industry, as the power industry, was unprepared for the extreme cold and lack of electricity.
Texas lawmakers approved over the weekend to send Governor Greg Abbott two key bills revamping the state’s electricity market and power grid. SB 3 compels ERCOT’s regulator, the Public Utility Commission, to create weatherization requirements for electric production, transmission, and distribution facilities within six months of the law’s implementation. However, no date has been set for when such guidelines must be implemented.
On the oil and gas front, a newly formed council would have until January 1, 2022, to finish its mapping of the gas supply chain to better plot gas distribution during a crisis. However, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which oversees fossil fuels in the state, would be given the power to choose what would be considered “essential,” and compelled to weatherize.The Railroad Commission would then have six months to enact rules for weatherization when the council completes its mapping work. Again, there is no set a date for when the rules must be implemented.