Texas House passes plan to pay for power plant weatherization after winter storm

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House passed a proposal to subsidize weatherization of power plants, in an effort to prevent a electric grid failure like during February’s deep freeze.

According to an analysis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, many of the problems that came with the winter storm earlier this year were a result of issues stemming from equipment unable to handle the frigid temperatures. More than 150 Texans lost their lives, per a state tally.

Part of the plan from state lawmakers to prevent a future catastrophe is House Bill 2000.

The legislation would allot $2 billion in loans and grants for power generation companies to winterize equipment and facilities that failed due to the extreme cold.

“The fund will serve as a utility infrastructure bank to heighten the financial capabilities of the Texas Water Development Board under constitution it’ll create a program and a revenue bond program,” State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who authored HB 2000, said as he introduced the measure to create the State Utilities Reliability Fund (SURF).

Money in the fund would be accessible to “provide any financial assistance, including market rate loans, low-interest loans, longer repayment terms for loans, deferral of loan payments, interest rate subsidies, loan guarantees, grants, or other financial assistance that meets the needs of this state, the recipients…”

Part of Huberty’s plan establishes the state utilities reliability revenue fund “for use in managing revenue bonds issued by the Texas Water Development Board that are supported” by SURF, the bill stated.

“A reliable energy grid, I think is one of the most important things that we have to provide for our communities to survive,” Huberty said.

The money would come from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, known as the Rainy Day Fund, which is set aside for one-time expenses. The Texas Water Development Board would allocate the funding based on a series of criteria, prioritizing projects that “enhance the reliability and
resiliency of water, electric, and natural gas utilities, broadband providers, and power generation companies in this state.”

“We are working through the system and trying to identify what should be done in the way of mandating those type of things, understanding there’s a cost associated with that,” State Rep Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, said Tuesday afternoon. “So, HB 2000 is our answer to creating a resource, if you will, for the cost associated with weatherization.”

Some lawmakers expressed concern the legislation would use taxpayer dollars to bail out private companies that were not as prepared as they could have been during the storm.

“I believe the weatherization effort should be part of the cost of doing business,” State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, said. He ultimately voted in favor of passing the bill.

State Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, voted against HB 2000.

“This particular bill I had concerns about because this particular bill is basically a revolving line of credit with no end in sight,” Spiller said after the vote, noting that he supported several other priority bills that would reform the state’s energy grid.

Huberty said this bill would fulfill one of Gov. Abbott’s emergency items to winterize the power grid, explaining that the legislation would serve as a piece of a larger puzzle.

“We cannot shut the economy down by losing power, having rolling blackouts, and candidly losing lives, which is probably the number one thing that’s happening to us,” Huberty said. “And so that can never happen again.”

The measure passed the House 138-9 on Tuesday.

HB 2000 heads to the Senate. If the bill and accompanying resolution passes out of the legislature, voters would need to approve the plan in November because it makes changes to the Texas Constitution.

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