Texas energy companies push back against Berkshire Hathaway’s $8 billion plan for backup power

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The Texas Capitol during February's winter storm. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

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An $8.3 billion idea by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy to build 10 new natural gas power plants across the state for emergency use turned into formal legislation Thursday, when the proposal was introduced during a state Senate committee hearing.

Berkshire executives, who pitched the plan to lawmakers in the weeks following February’s deadly winter storm, said revenue for the massive project would come through an additional monthly charge on Texans’ power bills.

Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, put forward the legislation, saying it would create “a backstop” of “emergency supply” that would only be tapped when demand on the power grid is so great that the state may be forced into electricity blackouts.

“We should look at all options to ensure Texans never have to face the devastation caused by the failure of the electric grid again,” Schwertner said.

While Schwertner said Senate Bill 2109 is a starting point and that he welcomed expertise to improve the legislation, more than a dozen energy industry stakeholders testified in opposition to the bill.

“This proposal creates an unfair economic advantage, undercutting existing participants that have made the decision to invest in Texas over the past 20 years,” testified Bill Barnes, director of regulatory affairs at energy company NRG, one of the legislation’s opponents.