Zwiener files grid infrastructure bills

By Brittany Anderson

 Two House Bills were filed by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) to provide grants for local infrastructure and ensure resilience in the face of future severe weather events. 

In response to February’s harsh winter storm, Uri, Zwiener filed House Bills 236 and 242 on July 12, which will help take pressure off Texas’ grid by improving local power infrastructure and implementing energy efficient practices across the state. 

“Texas is a global leader in energy production and is more than equipped to provide a stable power supply to its residents,” Zwiener said. “These bills will help get us there.”

Texas witnessed blindspots in the state’s electric grid and its associated infrastructure during Winter Storm Uri, Zwiener said. Hundreds of Texans across the state died largely due to hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning, while at least 4.5 million homes and businesses were without power and 14.9 million people faced water disruptions. 

House Bill 236 would issue grants to support necessary improvements to local infrastructure such as covering wells, purchasing reserve power supply like onsite generation and energy storage systems, installing smart metering and building connectivity to neighboring water suppliers.

House Bill 242 would require the state to take the lead in lowering its energy consumption during power shortages. This legislation comes in response not just to the blackouts during Winter Storm Uri but also the power shortages in June. State-owned buildings would have to implement demand response technologies that would lower energy usage by up to 30%. In the event that the grid is over-extended, state-owned buildings would have their thermostats raised and lights shut off.

Protections at the local level are the critical pieces missing from the government’s response, Zwiener said. During the Legislature’s regular session, legislation was passed that would help with the weatherization of natural gas facilities and rework the structure of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) governing board. However, nothing was passed to help reduce overall pressure on the grid or guard against future severe weather events.

In addition to the bills, the Texas Caucus on Climate, Environment, and the Energy Industry, led by Zwiener, called on Governor Greg Abbott to add the electric grid to the special session agenda. The caucus is requesting that the Legislature focus on a number of grid-related issues, including infrastructure resiliency and reliability. 

 “The Legislature cannot afford to meet in a peak summer month and completely ignore the electric grid,” Zwiener said. “While we took some positive steps through the regular session, we left untouched low-hanging fruit like energy efficiency and demand response.”

 On July 6, before the Legislature’s special session began, Abbott sent a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) and ERCOT to take immediate actions to increase power generation capacity and ensure reliability of the Texas power grid. 

In response, ERCOT sent a letter detailing the strategies they have taken to achieve this. Those strategies include increasing the amount of electric power generation, purchasing more power reserves, releasing power reserves to meet customer demand quicker and procuring additional power reserves during uncertain weather forecasts. ERCOT’s letter to Abbott can be read here.

Additionally, ERCOT will release a plan this week to ensure grid reliability and improve communication.

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