With about a month remaining in the Texas legislative session, AARP Texas today called on legislators to sprint to action on consumer-focused utilities reforms so that avoidable power disruptions like the deadly winter storm blackouts never happen again.
AARP Texas Director Tina Tran identified several reforms that the Legislature has time to approve. Those ideas, she said, can be finalized this session to bolster the state’s electricity market, protect consumers from outrageous rate hikes and boost accountability and oversight of the state’s utilities industry. Several of the objectives, she said, would fit appropriately in various bills already being considered in the Legislature.
“In February, the winter storm struck, the electric grid failed, and Texans were left in the dark,” said Tran. “Communities across the state were abandoned in frigid temperatures without power to stay safe and warm. Nearly 200 Texans died. It’s vital that the Texas Legislature act now so avoidable disruptions like we saw never happen again.”
Tran said AARP Texas calls for urgent legislative action on several reforms to ensure grid reliability and protect electricity customers. The reforms seek to:
Weatherize -- AARP Texas supports requiring electricity generation and transmission and distribution facilities to weatherize infrastructure to withstand extreme cold and heat as outlined in House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 3. Steps should be taken to ensure the reliable supply of natural gas to electricity generators during extreme weather.
Improve planning, coordination and communication -- AARP Texas supports ERCOT planning for both summer and winter electricity usage peaks so that more resources are available when needed. AARP Texas also supports improved coordination through the creation of the Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council as outlined in House Bill 13 and Senate Bill 3. Additionally, AARP supports House Bill 12, which would study a statewide disaster alert system to better inform electricity customers of potential and actual emergencies.
Create a backstop mechanism -- Texas deregulated electricity market relies on high prices to serve as incentive for power generators to build new capacity. This approach leads to periods of very high electricity prices and it has not delivered sufficient new capacity. Several billion-dollar proposals have been presented to address this problem. AARP supports a mechanism where grid managers adhere to a required reserve margin, adequacy plans account for summer and winter peak electricity load and an annual determination is made whether a solicitation is necessary for additional capacity.
Establish customer protections – The February electricity emergency highlighted deficiencies within the current system to designate and protect people who are medically dependent on electricity.
AARP Texas supports House Bill 4475 to make it easier for electricity customers to be designated as critical care electricity customers. HB 4475 creates a path for priority restoration of electric service for these customers during outages. AARP Texas also supports House Bill 16, which bans wholesale indexed electricity plans.
AARP Texas also urges the Legislature to ensure that all residential electricity customers in deregulated areas of the state have access to a standard electricity plan. This step would make apples-to-apples price comparison possible, help consumers avoid plans with hidden or confusing terms and would make the market more competitive.