AUSTIN (Nexstar)— The long-planned transfer of thousands of Lubbock electric customers to the power grid responsible for more than 80% of the rest of the state begs questions about reliability in light of the winter storm.
February’s freeze left tens of thousands of Texans in the cold and dark. More than 150 people died in the state, according to the latest estimate by the Department of State Health Services.
The team at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) welcomes the approximately 80,000 new meters-worth of customers— and the handful of facilities bringing generation power— with open arms.
“The new transmission assets are going to be increasing reliability, not just in the region, but also increasing reliability throughout the grid,” Warren Lasher, ERCOT’s Senior Director of System Planning, said in an interview. “I don’t don’t think there are any specific concerns at all.”
“There’s an enormous amount of engineering work underway,” Lasher said. “There are new transmission lines that have been constructed in order to reliably serve the citizens of the city of Lubbock that are moving over into the ERCOT region.”
ERCOT leadership admits it needs to regain the trust of customers and lawmakers. State Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock, said he was hopeful customers in his district won’t see a real change when the switchover happens.
“When we turn that light switch on, we want power, and we want to be able to afford that bill,” he said.
Lubbock’s State Senator Charles Perry, also a Republican, said his largest worry about the move pertained to preventing future deaths.
“My biggest concern is, we don’t want people to die when their power doesn’t come on,” he explained.
From a regulatory standpoint, lawmakers have proposed several measures to address shortcomings with the electrical grid and ERCOT’s management of it.
One proposal would require weatherization of equipment for power generation companies. Another focused on the makeup of ERCOT’s board of directors and its governing body, the Public Utility Commission of Texas. That bill would require the members of those panels be Texas residents. One of the others sets up an energy disaster reliability council to oversee an electric grid crisis.
“We will have done the things regulatory-wise that will hopefully open up the opportunities to do what needs to be done to not guarantee but minimize the disruptions going forward,” Perry said.
A third member of the Lubbock legislative delegation, State Rep. Dustin Burrows, was not available to be interviewed for this report.
Federally, President Joe Biden’s Administration highlighted the Texas power grid and failed storm response as reasons to invest in energy infrastructure around the country.
“We need to recognize that our power infrastructure is critical infrastructure and needs to have real serious major federal investment,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview this month.
At the Department of Energy, Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the freeze—paired with hacks into technology systems like the East Coast pipeline system and the Austin-based software company— served as a “real wake up call” to work to prevent vulnerabilities.
“We have to — not just in Texas, but everywhere — invest in the grid,” Granholm said in an interview Monday. “We have to invest in making sure that we’ve got a grid that can sustain these weather events.”
“We are seeing these infrastructure meltdowns across the country, whether it’s in transmission or in roads and bridges,” she explained, noting President Biden’s infrastructure proposal would commit more than $100 billion to “shoring up our nation’s transmission grid and expanding its capacity.”
She said the decision to proceed with Lubbock’s transition to ERCOT was “clearly up to the Lubbock area” but added that expanding the grid and “making it more resilient and stable in the face of these climate emergencies is really an important consideration.”
Granholm also suggested Texas consider a method to allow for the transfer of energy in an emergency, while also allowing the state to maintain its independent electric grid.
“I think everybody wants to see Texas have a reliable grid, right?” Granholm said. “Everybody wants to make sure that your energy supply is secure, and that it doesn’t pose problems like we have, like we saw in February.”
“I completely understand the ethos in Texas that they don’t — that Texas doesn’t want to be under the federal government’s regulatory arm,” she noted. “But I do think that there is a way to be able to allow the rest of the country to help in times of need.”
Lasher said the winter storm had little-to-no effect on the planning for the transition, which was approved by the Public Utility Commission in 2018. Lubbock becomes the largest city to join the ERCOT grid in nearly three decades.
Texas Capitol Correspondent Wes Rapaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org