Now that the Texas legislature has adjourned sine die, it’s appropriate
to take stock of what has and hasn’t been accomplished. The 86th legislature
made much-needed progress in some
such as flood insurance and occupational licensing. When it comes to
electricity, however, the state has been left with many unanswered questions.

Texas has a strong, robust electric grid that provides
reliable and affordable power to millions of citizens and businesses. But
that’s not to say that the grid doesn’t face challenges. For example, advances
in batteries and other storage technologies raise questions about how to
integrate these technologies into the electricity market. The state’s Public Utility
Commission has an open project on this question, but put it on hold to seek
guidance from the legislature. It looked like that guidance would be
forthcoming in the form of SB
, filed by Senator Kelly Hancock, which would allow electric
utilities to purchase power from storage facilities. Unfortunately, while SB
1941 passed the senate and made it out of committee in the House, time ran out
before the bill could make it to the House floor.

A second issue facing the Texas grid has to do with its
electric “reserve margin.” Due to the current absence of widespread storage on
the grid, Texas must have enough electric capacity on hand to meet electric
demand during the hot days of summer. And given that not all plants can operate
fully at all times, an excess “reserve margin” of capacity is preferred.
Economic analysis suggests that a reserve margin of around 10 percent is most
efficient. Recently, however, Texas’ reserve margin has dipped
below that level
, creating much consternation
about the cause of and possible solutions to the problem.

Some have blamed subsidies for renewable energy. SB
, also by Senator Hancock, would have mandated that the PUC
study the effect of renewable subsidies on the reserve margin and overall grid
reliability. The legislation was criticized for singling out one possible cause—renewable
subsidies—while ignoring other factors. In fact, increased deployment of
renewables could
help alleviate
Texas’ reserve margin problems over the long term. In
any event, SB 2232 also died in the House.  

The lack of legislative action on these issues won’t make
them go away; it just means that the venue for discussion will move to the PUC
and ERCOT, as well as the market. It also means, though, that any action taken
on these issues will occur without the formal input of the legislature.

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