Five potential long-term impacts of the recent snow storm in Texas include changes to the Texas electric grid, changes to power pricing in the state, a potential decrease in funding for renewables in the state, improved disaster planning, and a review of the water system’s disaster preparedness.
1. Changes to the Electric Grid
- Texas citizens and officials are calling on their legislatures to introduce regulation that could help avoid another major power outage during future winter storms in the state.
- Governor Abbott has already launched an investigation into The Electric Reliability Council of Texas to gain understanding into what happened during the storm.
- Steps that could be taken to prevent future power outages in rare cold-weather events would include winterizing equipment and moving away from their current stand-alone grid, which did not allow for power from other areas of the country to be routed to Texas during the storm. This caused a huge lack-of-supply of power, at a time when demand peaked due to the increased need for heat during the storm.
- To make these changes, Texas would likely have to pass new laws to add at least some regulations to their currently extremely deregulated power grid. Potential changes include legislating consumer protections, requiring companies to retain a reserve margin of extra power, and requiring Texas power companies to “submit an annual planning report to ensure adequate electricity supply.”
- Governor Abbott stated: “First, to be clear, we will not end this session until the State of Texas and all of its power generation capabilities is fully winterized so we never go through this again. As to how it’s going to be funded, every possibility is on the table. We will consider whatever options. We need to figure out a strategy first.”
2. Changes to Power Pricing
- After the storm, some Texans faced exorbitant electric bills; a Texas veteran living on social security owed $16,752.
- Governor Abbott stated: “We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages.” On Saturday, Governor Abbott held a meeting with other state leaders, including the heads of the Senate and House, the chairs of the budget-writing Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, as well as chairs of the Senate Business and Commerce and House Energy Resources committees, in order to identify ways to help those facing huge electric bills as a result of the storm and the supply-demand pricing that exists in Texas.
- Lawmakers are looking for ways to help consumers currently facing these huge bills, as well as potentially changing the pricing system to avoid these types of bills in the future. Changes that could prevent such bills is preventing customers from signing up for wholesale pricing power plans, or mandating a lower power price cap as set by the Texas Public Utilities Commission.
3. Potential for a Decrease in Funding for Renewables
- According to Michael Bradley, managing director at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, an energy investment bank in Texas, it is likely there will be a decrease in funding for renewable energy projects in Texas due to the recent winter storm.
- This is not because of the bad publicity the renewables got during the storm, but instead due simply to the fact that they are an intermittent power source. Renewables, especially in Texas’s isolated grid, have no way to cope with the increase in demand that occurs during winter storms or extreme heat.
- Instead, according to Bradley, investment will likely focus on improving the natural gas and coal infrastructure in the state.
- Other investors disagree, arguing that “the Texas blackouts could also lead to faster buildout of storage options” for renewable energies in the state.
4. Improved Disaster Planning
- Multiple Texan lawmakers, including Rep. Vikki Goodwin and Rep. James White, have called for a revised look at the state’s disaster planning and preparedness strategies after the recent snow storm.
- One issue was the lack of information coming from the Governor’s office for citizens, including necessary information about warming shelters and orders to boil water. This information, some argue, should have been sent out by the Texas Division of Emergency Management on the national Emergency Alert System, but instead, citizens were told to use Google or social media, something that is challenging to do when the power has been out for days.
- Another issue that the storm highlighted is the lack of regular meetings between state agencies and the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which currently only meet as an “as-needed basis.”
5. Changes to the Water System
- The recent storm in Texas caused massive disruptions in the state’s water supply system, leaving at one point more than 11 million residents with compromised access to drinking water.
- According to Kristen Schlemmer, legal director for Bayou City Waterkeeper, “A denial of climate change means no real planning has been done to prepare infrastructure to meet increasingly extreme weather, from hurricanes like Harvey to the current freeze — but also more ordinary heavy rain events that our region faces.”
- Executive Director Toby Baker of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which manages water supply, stated that his agency is “bracing for a full-scale review of what regulation changes and requirements they can institute moving forward.” Potential changes could be increased infrastructure spending on the water supply system and improvements at water supply plants.