Gov. Abbott directs state utility regulator to pursue further electric grid changes

Gov. Abbott directs state utility regulator to pursue further electric grid changes

Gov. Greg Abbott forwarded several directives related to management of the state’s power systems to members of the Public Utility Commission of Texas on July 6. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)

More than one month after the close of a legislative session that saw the passage of several bills aimed at improving electric grid operations and management, Gov. Greg Abbott pushed regulators at the Public Utility Commission of Texas to take several additional actions he said could further enhance grid reliability statewide.

In a July 6 letter to the three sitting members of the PUC, Abbott touted the slate of new laws that came out of the 87th Texas Legislature as measures that “significantly reform” the state electric power market. Abbott also recently stated that “everything that needed to be done was done” to fix the grid during his signing of Senate Bill 2, covering the operation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, and Senate Bill 3, covering a range of changes to grid systems and safeguards.

On top of those legislative adjustments, Abbott on July 6 said “more can be done” to improve Texas’ grid reliability through actions by the state’s top utilities regulator. In his letter to PUC Chair Peter Lake and Commissioners Will McAdams and Lori Cobos, Abbott covered four additional priorities related to ERCOT’s market structure and power generation, which he directed the commission to take on immediately.

“The objective of these directives is to ensure that all Texans have access to reliable, safe and affordable power, and that this task is achieved in the quickest possible way,” Abbott said.

Among Abbott’s directives was the instruction to further streamline ERCOT market incentives for the development of “adequate and reliable” power sources, which he listed as including coal, natural gas and nuclear. Additionally, he said the PUC should make ERCOT speed along any transmission projects that would better connect generators using those sources of power.

Abbott also said the PUC should mandate ERCOT’s creation of a new maintenance schedule for electricity generators using those and other nonrenewable sources to avoid too many generators going offline at the same time. The buildup of such generator outages due to maintenance was a top factor in ERCOT’s most recent brush with a statewide energy emergency that resulted in a weeklong call for power conservation last month.

While highlighting gas, coal and nuclear as areas of improvement for the Texas power system, Abbott also directed the PUC to shift “reliability costs” to generators using renewable sources such as solar and wind due to their changing output based on weather conditions. Abbott said the new costs could help level an “uneven playing field” between renewable and nonrenewable generators, and cut down uncertainty in market predictions.

“Through clear communication, transparency and implementation of these critical changes, the PUC and ERCOT can regain the public’s trust, restore ERCOT’s status as a leader in innovation and reliability, and ensure Texans have the reliable electric power they expect and deserve,” Abbott wrote.

Abbott’s July 6 directives will not be the only changes playing out at the PUC, ERCOT and Texas power generators this year. With the implementation of several new laws still ongoing, Abbott also said regulator working groups and the new interagency Texas Energy Reliability Council established through SB 3 could produce additional proposals for grid reforms in the near future. Senate Bill 2154’s passage this spring will also facilitate Abbott’s appointment of two additional members of the PUC with the commission now expanded to five seats.

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