LISTEN: Texas House Speaker On Getting ‘Very Honest’ About Texas’ Power Grid Failures

Just like hurricanes, Dade Phelan says “we have to write a book on how to respond to this. And it starts with being an open dialog, in a bipartisan discussion.”

By Jill Ament & Caroline CovingtonMarch 9, 2021 11:35 am,

The Texas House of Representatives is considering several bills aimed at preventing future failures of the state’s electric grid.

House Speaker Dade Phelan joined Texas Standard to talk about those bills, and what the Legislature is doing to hold the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, accountable for widespread power outages during February’s extreme winter weather.

On holding ERCOT accountable:

“Most Texans didn’t know what ERCOT was three weeks ago. It was something that didn’t exist in most Texans’ minds. Well, it was at the center of this disaster. … We’re going to restructure it. We’re going to make certain that is more transparent and that it is more reflective of Texans.”

On some ERCOT board members living outside of Texas:

“It was a surprise to me to find out that the [director of the board] did not live in Texas; lived in Michigan. And [there’s people] on the board that don’t even live in the United States. So we will make certain that they’re more transparent and they’re honest brokers, and there are going be appointees in this bill, in the House, Senate, a public member that represents the taxpayers.”

On proposed bills aimed at fixing the electric grid:

“There’s weatherization bills to deal with the weatherization of generators, weatherization of the pipeline industry. There’s also a bill to ban the wholesale payment plans … to get rid of the ‘shock’ bills where someone was paying $100  a month for electricity, or $200, and then they turn around and get a $5,000 bill.”

On a SWIFT bill to incentivize new electric infrastructure:

“The SWIFT [State Water Implementation Fund for Texas] was a bill passed in 2013 to incentivize freshwater and wastewater facilities to be built across Texas. It was a revolving loan program; very low rates backed by Texas. It was $2 billion from the rainy day fund to create this revolving loan program. And as those loans are paid back into the state with interest, they’re able to go out and loan it to other communities. We’d like to do the same thing for power generation from the grid to try to incentivize more generation and new technology.”

On helping renters locked into leases in apartments damaged by the storm:

“I have not seen legislation filed on that, that is a very interesting idea. And I would love to interact and discuss this with any legislator who wants to introduce that. … If they have a constituency, if they have voters and taxpayers, who are locked into a lease and there’s no date certain that it’s going to be fixed where they can raise their family in a safe manner, then absolutely we’ve got to take a look at that. That’s not fair; that’s not fair to Texans.”

On using the rainy day fund and CARES Act money to strengthen the grid:

“We’ve gone into the ESF – Economic Stabilization Fund– the rainy day fund, for one-time expenses, non-recurring expenses, just like we do at home. You don’t use your savings account to pay for your cell phone bill; you use your savings account to pay for a new hot water heater, you know, kind of a one-time expenses. So there’s opportunity there. There’s also opportunity through the federal CARES Act, and there could be $16 to $17 billion federal dollars coming to Texas. And the ideal use for that will be a one-time expense because we won’t get this federal CARES Act next session. … And they’re saying, use it for emergency purposes, and this is an emergency purpose: making our grid more reliable.”

On getting honest about the state’s failures during the storm:

“It was a failure. There was a lack of communication, there was a lack of preparedness. I think we got caught flat-footed in a lot of regards. There was just flat-out sloppy paperwork, to be honest with you. Just kind of costly mistakes that we don’t make. Again, we don’t make them in a hurricane – we’ve gone through it over and over again, and we’ve written a book on how to respond to those type of disasters. Well, we have to write a book on how to respond to this. And it starts with being [in] an open dialog, in a bipartisan discussion.”

On recovery being a bipartisan effort:

“My greatest goal in all of this, whether it’s this storm or something else, is to give everybody an equal opportunity to have their ideas heard and not to put my thumb on the scale, deciding winners and losers. It’s whoever has the best idea and whoever has the most consensus to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and that we all serve all our fellow Texans equally.”

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