State of Texas: Cost concerns rise over plan to change how electric market functions

State of Texas

Protesters stand with makeshift power lines ahead of PUC’s meeting Thursday, December 15. (Maggie Glynn/Nexstar photo)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission voted to move forward with more changes to improve the reliability of Texas’ power grid.

While much of the focus in recent months has been around weatherization requirements to make sure our infrastructure would be ready ahead of this winter, Thursday’s decision impacts how the electric market operates.

Ahead of the public meeting, protesters gathered at the Capitol before marching a petition with more than 3,500 signatures to the PUC, demanding more transparency and public input.

“They need to listen to the people and they need to have a real public engagement process. We also want them to establish an Office of Public Engagement or public participation,” Shane Johnson with the Sierra Club said Thursday.

Energy experts are also calling for more input, and more analyses, especially when it comes to cost.

“It’s time to tap the brakes,” Tim Morstad with Texas AARP said. “The long-term reforms will have lasting impacts not only to the Texas electric market but to consumers who pay the bills.”

That’s especially important since Texans will already see higher bills due to a law passed in the spring that allows power generators who incurred one-time costs during the February freeze to pass down their expenses to customers over the next 30 years.

“There is a bottom to the consumers’ pocketbook. And every time the Public Utility Commission makes decisions, especially at this level, at the market reform level that are going to impact customer bills, they really need to proceed with caution,” Morstad explained.

Chairman Peter Lake pushed forward with the vote Thursday, though, saying reliability has bumped up in priority after February’s crisis.

“Our market has been historically focused on affordability first, and reliability second. Reliability’s moving up in the ranks of priorities,” Lake said.

The long-term changes to the market, known as Phase II, include plans for backup storage that generators would be able to tap into in future emergencies. The specific plans, though, haven’t been finalized.

With Thursday’s vote, the commission is asking PUC and ERCOT staff to come back to the table by Feb. 15 with more detailed plans and analyses.

“We got to figure out what the specs of the car before know how much it’s gonna cost,” Chairman Lake said. “These cost money. But nothing’s more expensive than losing power again.”

Energy analyst Doug Lewin said cost analysis should have already started, though.

“There clearly should have been more analysis in advance of today,” Lewin said.

There’s also concern that the current plan for backup generation won’t include clean energy resources.

“They’re mostly going to be old plants that we’re about to retire, they’re not making much money, and you’re basically going to pay them to stick around in case you need them. Those are fossil plants. That’s a subsidy for fossil fuels. It, frankly, might be needed,” Lewin added.

Lawmakers previously were criticized for being more lenient toward the oil and gas industry, initially not requiring the same weatherization mechanisms put in place for power plants. They also received big donations from top energy companies.

Lewin also added he was disappointed the PUC didn’t focus on energy efficiency more in Thursday’s meeting.

“The only thing about energy efficiency in the memo is improved performance of existing programs. That’s fine because we should improve the performance of everything, we should be improving the performance of gas supply. But the problem with the efficiency programs isn’t that they’re underperforming…they’re performing quite well. They’re just tiny,” Lewin added.

“77 gigawatts of demand in February, much of it driven by very inefficient heating systems, and that is not going down. More people are moving to this state. There’s also no reason to think that 2021 was not the worst storm we’ve ever had, there were at least two documented storms that were colder,” Lewin added.

Texas anti-abortion law could help gun control plans in other states

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month to leave Texas’ restrictive abortion law in place, other states are already planning to mirror the law but not for abortion.

The way the Texas law (Senate Bill 8) is written enables private citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the womb for a minimum of $10,000. The result so far has been a chilling effect on almost all abortions in Texas, as clinics are too afraid to face any legal challenges at all.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to use part of that clause to effectively ban the sale of assault weapons.

During oral arguments last month, justices, even conservative Justice Brent Kavanaugh, expressed concern over other states using this mechanism.

“Second amendment rights, free exercise of religion rights and free speech rights could be targeted by other states,” Kavanaugh said during the arguments.

It was also cited in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent. “The Court clears the way for States to reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this Court with which they disagree,” her dissent read in part.

“Skeptics on both the left and the right were worried, because SB 8 creates mechanisms for bypassing federal courts and federal review of these laws and creates this novel kind of bounty hunting approach that insulates statewide officials from enforcement responsibility,” Texas Politics Project director Jim Henson explained.

Newsom’s announcement on social media is just the first to do so. In a statement, Newsom said he directed his staff to work with the Legislature on a bill that would “create a right of action allowing private citizens to seek injunctive relief and statutory damages of at least $10,000 per violation … against anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit.”

But constitutional law experts like Josh Blackman call Newsom’s statement a political show.

“As it stands now, California already regulates guns quite heavily. They’re able to do this, because the courts have held those measures. So I’m not really sure what the private enforcement action actually yields,” Blackman said. “I can’t fathom California takes the power away from the Attorney General. They’re not going to remove their own authority to prosecute various acts.”

Blackman said he doesn’t expect other states to use the same construct for other issues until the Supreme Court rules on the Mississippi Dobbs case in the spring, which will decide the fate of Roe vs, Wade.

“This private enforcement mechanism is sort of like a stop-gap. It’s a temporary measure until the court gets to the heart of the matter, which is Roe v. Wade. If the court upholds Roe v. Wade, I think we’ll see a lot more similar laws,” Blackman explained.

If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, states will automatically then have much more latitude with abortion restrictions.

Henson pointed out, too, that although SB 8 is the trigger for these conversations, the hyper-partisan buildup dates back much further.

“What we’re seeing now is both cause and effect. This is not new in terms of the the intensity of these battles and a real willingness on the partisans to ignore both institutional norms and a political culture that has always looked at institutions to soften the edges of these conflicts,” Henson said.

“Checks and balances and separation of powers are supposed to help ameliorate some of those impulses. And but they kind of do, but they do seem to depend on there being less polarization. So I think in the long run, what we’re going to see is continued ideological conflict with this kind of approach,” Henson explained.

The Texas primary picture after candidate filing deadline

This week marked the end of the filing period for the March Primary. That means the candidate field is set for races from Governor to Congress to your county commissioners. Now comes the rush to try to win your vote in an election that’s rapidly approaching.

For insight, we brought together a round table of experts who cover Texas politics, including Scott Braddock from the Quorum Report, Brad Johnson from The Texan, and James Barragán of the Texas Tribune. What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation.

BRADDOCK: The best days of filing period are the first day and the last day, that’s when you figure out who’s really going to do what it’s put up or shut up time, as I like to say, and on the last day, that’s when you really do get the surprises either the person who has talked for months that they’re gonna run for something turns out, they don’t run, or you have somebody just sort of come out of nowhere, like a Rick Perry, who’s not actually the Rick Perry. Everyone knows it’s some random guy named Rick Perry.

MAGGIE: And that got complicated, too. I know, Brad, you had tweeted about that. Walk me through what you first noticed when this Rick Perry, who’s not the former governor, Rick Perry, filed.

JOHNSON: Well, I had heard that someone filed a challenge to his candidacy with the Republican Party of Texas and looked more into it. And after looking through it, the RPT ruled that the challenge to his candidacy was invalid, and therefore he could stay on the ballot. There’s a different section of code that overrules the main section during a primaries. And so that was what they operated for.

MAGGIE: And that’s because he had already filed for a different race. Is that right? precinct chair?

JOHNSON: Yes, yeah. But he also filed the withdrawal letter with the Parker County GOP. And that was accepted.

BARRAGÁN: Probably the challenge is, because if there’s another Rick Perry on the primary ticket for Republicans, that complicates things for the other candidates, right, particularly Greg Abbott. You know, Rick Perry was a very popular governor. He’s the longest-serving governor and that complicated, so that was a very interesting turn, I thought.

JOHNSON:  And he’s still popular. And I think obviously, the question is, how many votes does he siphon off from Greg Abbott? But also how does it affect polling that can that affects, you know, decisions campaigns make throughout the entire campaign? And so that’s another effect that you’ll have.

MAGGIE: Scott, how many Texans do you think who don’t maybe follow politics that closely will go to the polls, see Rick Perry and actually vote for the ‘not Rick Perry?’

BRADDOCK: Well, that’s the thing in any election, you always have at least one or 2% of people who don’t really watch shows like this, or don’t, you know, really get into the weeds of what’s going on, they may just go to the voting booth. And they may not be happy with Abbott right now. And they may not be impressed with the other people who were there and they see Rick Perry, and they think, ‘Oh, well, I like him.’ They go with him. And the deal is, if Governor Abbott is having any problem getting to 50%, this is why it’s actually important. In a primary if you’re forced into a runoff as an incumbent, that is where you do not want to be. There was some reporting, right, that there may be some connections between this Rick Perry and some of the other candidates who are running against Abbott. If he’s having a problem getting to 50% which he would need to get over 50% to avoid a runoff and only that one or 2% of people vote for Rick Perry, well, then all of a sudden he’s in a runoff with a Don Huffines or an Allen West. And that’s a place, if you’re Greg Abbott, you don’t want to be there.

MAGGIE: What about the race for attorney general? Obviously, this is one of the primaries that they’re we’re watching extremely closely, it’s going to be maybe one of the most interesting, Paxton’s got problems. We know he has problems. But do you think voters care?

BRADDOCK: This is a race where I wish it was more nuanced, but it may be as simple as this: he has the Trump endorsement in the primary. That may be all that matters. You know, I think the entrance of Louie Gohmert, the, you know, far I would say far right arch conservative congressman from East Texas who now has to retire because he’s running for AG, he can at least give some conservative credibility to the accusations against Paxton, which I would say they’re already pretty credible. But the voters can’t just dismiss the things that Gohmert and others would be talking about as some sort of liberal plot or anything like that. Nobody’s going to call Gohmert a RINO or the establishment, right. So I think it could get a little more interesting. But if it just turns out that it’s just the Trump endorsement, and that’s it. Well, then that’s it. And, you know, you can pretty much factor in the fact that you had George P. Bush earlier in the year, thinking that’s what it was. Remember the koozies he was handing out that had him and Trump’s picture on the backside? ‘This is the only Bush that got it right. This is the one who likes me, and I like him.’ And then of course, Trump after that endorsed Paxton, and so Bush had pushed in all his chips on Trump, and it didn’t work out.

JOHNSON: And we’ve seen Bush raise a lot of money. But Paxton, we saw he just had a $750,000 fundraiser with President former President Trump at Mar a Lago. And so that advantage is kind of wiped out there, at least for the moment. Does that continue? I don’t know. But it’s also, you mentioned Louie Gohmert. He is incredibly popular among the Republican Party base. And so if he certainly probably will have a better more effect on the race, then like Matt Krause would have, who is a state rep up in Fort Worth and syphoned to a smaller area. So I think, you know, we’ll see what happens. But Louie Gohmert will have some effects on this race.

MAGGIE: Do you think that Gohmert entering could maybe pull some votes that the super conservative votes that would go to Paxton because he has the Trump endorsement, and maybe boost Bush up a little bit, just because Bush could pull some of the more moderate voters and then we could see the conservative vote split a bit and push it into?

BARRAGÁN: You know, I’ll tell you what, I think that’s what George P is crossing his fingers and saying, I hope that happens, because in the limited polling, we’ve seen, general Paxton is still very close to the 50% mark. And the second closest person is George P. Bush, in the high 20s, low 30s. So he’s not that close, he’s got to make up a lot of ground. And look, it’s a full on Battle Royale here. There’s a lot of good competitors, a lot of name recognition, but at a certain point, they’ve got to stop hammering on this on the legal troubles, right? Because it only matters to a certain kind of voter.  They’ve got to sell sort of what are my ideas? What can I do better? And so far, I don’t think that has developed yet. I think that’s going to ramp up in the next couple of months.

BRADDOCK: You know, in all those races where the candidates agree about just about everything, I mean, most of these candidates, they agree 98% on issues, that’s always when the races get the nastiest because it has to be about something else. It has to be about the legal issues. It has to be about the you know the the personal problems or the person or the just the characteristics of the person accusing them of not being a good enough leader… It’s not about issues, it’s about personalities. And those get to be pretty fun races just to cover, but in the end, you know, the voters are going to get to decide and they’re going to, they’re going to probably go with the person that either has the Trump backing or they see as the most conservative.

BARRAGÁN: And I think that’s the challenge for the challengers. They’re all saying, I am the conservative option that doesn’t have the legal troubles. But if all the if the voters are saying, well, they’re all saying the same thing, they may get confused and say, well, I might just stick with this guy, because he’s the incumbent and I know him.

Legislation gives Texas athletes a chance to make money off the field

Up until this year, signing day has typically just meant a chance to play at the next level, but thanks to new name, image and likeness legislation, also known as NIL, that allows college athletes to make money from endorsements and appearances, it now also means this crop of recruits has a chance to cash in off the field.

When Texas lawmakers considered the legislation in April, State Sen. Brandon Creighton warned that sports in the state could suffer if lawmakers did not act.

“If Texas wants to maintain its place at the top of the NCAA recruiting and at the top of the competitive level, we need to be prepared,” Creighton said during a hearing of the Senate committee on Higher Education. “This could have long-term damage to our athletic programs and the students that are considering coming to Texas,” he continued.

In the end, state lawmakers approved the legislation. The Texas law, and others like it around the country, are already changing the landscape for college sports.

“It’s awesome,” Regents quarterback and Vanderbilt signee said of the new NIL rules. “It’s a great opportunity for these student-athletes that work very hard. It’s obviously huge that student-athletes get to be rewarded like that and it’s something I definitely look forward to in the future.”

“I’m never gonna be mad about making a little bit of money, but I think it’s an interesting thing they’re doing and I think, honestly, they’ll probably start a little domino [effect] sort of deal,” Connor Robertson, said.

For Robertson, an offensive lineman who will play for a state title with Westlake on Saturday, he’s guaranteed $50,000 per year thanks to a new NIL deal at Texas just for offensive linemen.

“I’m sure some other schools will probably try to do it, but it’s a cool thing,” Robertson said.

With position-specific deals and multiple outside organizations creating NIL deals for individual schools, the potential for guaranteed money, like offensive linemen get at Texas, could start swaying prospects to certain schools.

“I think it changes everything,” Will Stone, a kicker at Regents and Texas signee, said. “I think that some of the new programs Texas has made and funded has really actually just fueled all of the recruits to potentially commit to UT. I think that’s gonna really help the University of Texas with all of its funding in the future.”

While the potential for making money may affect some decisions, the biggest factor is still seems to be what happens between the lines.

“My big focus is football,” Manor receiver and Pittsburgh signee Che Nwabuko said. “Getting my starting spot, learning what to do, learning the mechanics of Pittsburgh. That’s really it.”

“To me, it’s definitely not the most important thing, not anywhere close to the most important thing,” Robertson said. “I would still be coming to Texas if there was no NIL deals or anything like that.”

“For me, it hasn’t changed really anything,” Westlake QB and Clemson signee Cade Klubnik said. “I know that I’m there to play football and NIL will just kinda, it’ll come and go based on how you do. It’s not a guarantee.”


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