Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan unveils slate of bills in response to winter storm power outages

Snow at the Capitol in Austin on Feb. 15, 2021. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas House Speaker Dade Pehlan on Monday announced seven priority bills responding to the winter weather crisis last month that left millions of Texans without power.

The proposals include overhauling the governance of the state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas; mandating “weatherization” of power facilities and establishing a statewide disaster alert system. There is also legislation to ban variable-rate electricity pricing plans such as that offered by Griddy, which was recently effectively shut down in the state after customers were hit with bills in the thousands of dollars.

Phelan’s office called the proposals the “first phase” of the House’s proposed reforms in the wake of the winter storm. Not all the bills have been filed yet, so the specifics of some proposals have not yet been made public.

“We must take accountability, close critical gaps in our system, and prevent these breakdowns from ever happening again,” Phelan, a Republican, said in a statement.

The package of bills comes days after marathon hearings on the crisis by House and Senate committees that left many lawmakers unsatisfied. After the hearings, the chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, DeAnn Walker, resigned, and ERCOT CEO Bill Magness was fired.

The House’s ideas generally reflect the priorities of Gov. Greg Abbott, who has called on lawmakers to reform ERCOT and require — and fund — the winterization of the Texas power system. After the storm, he made both those proposals emergency items, meaning legislators can vote on them within the first 60 days of the session.

House Bill 10, for instance, aims to reform ERCOT by restructuring its board. The legislation would replace the board’s “unaffiliated” members with members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker. The bill would also mandate that all board members live in Texas. And it would add a new board member to “represent consumer interests,” according to Phelan’s office.

Some ideas could prove challenging. For example, retroactively equipping power plants and the state’s energy system to withstand cold temperatures is likely to be very difficult and costly, energy experts have said. Building energy infrastructure to perform in winter conditions is easier and cheaper, they have said.

Mitchell Ferman contributed reporting.