Texas House Advances Plan to Offer Low Interest Loans to Survive Power Grid and Improve Broadband

AUSTIN – The House on Monday introduced legislation that would allow voters in Texas to decide this fall whether or not to create a low-interest loan fund to encourage electricity and gas companies to tamper with their factories, cables , compressors and pipelines.

While it is not clear whether the Senate will accept the idea, the bill is part of the response to the February winter storm by President Dade Phelan and his leadership team.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Paddie R-Marshall pointed out that the power outages, which were a factor in the deaths of at least 151 Texans, had several causes.

But “the No.1 contributor” was an inability to operate in sub-zero temperatures, which accounted for 30% of the power generation capacity that was offline in the crucial days of February 15-19, Paddie said.

Republican Dan Huberty, a Republican from Humble who drafted the two measures, urged the legislature not to fail again to protect the state’s electricity grid, as he said ten years ago.

“A reliable electricity grid is one of the most important things we need to provide our communities to survive,” he said.

Referring to an ice storm that caused blackouts across much of the state but became known as the “Super Bowl storm” because it sparked festivities surrounding the game this that year in Dallas-Fort Worth, Huberty said lawmakers should offer a portfolio, not just suggestions.

“We have to have the resources to start because… in 2011 we made a huge mistake, right? he said. “We should have fixed the grid in 2011 and we didn’t.”

The constitutional amendment proposed by Huberty, Joint House Resolution 2, was sent to the Senate by a vote of 126-18. House bill 2000, an enabling bill, obtained interim approval by the same margin. The 18 opponents of each were Republicans.

If approved, the legislation would create a revolving fund similar to the water infrastructure fund that lawmakers launched in 2013. The State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, has helped stimulate more water reservoirs and water conservation and reuse projects.

Huberty’s plan would create the State Utilities Reliability Fund, or SURF. It would also be administered by the Texas Water Development Board.

In the House’s version of the two-year state budget, a contingency rider parked in the “wish list” section of the bill would exploit $ 2 billion in rainy days to start SURF if voters approve. .

For lawmakers, mostly in rural Texas, whose voters struggled with telecommuting and distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic due to poor or no internet connections, the new funding mechanism would help broadband providers , not just water, electricity and natural gas utilities. and power generation companies.

The fund’s objective would be to “support projects aimed at altering facilities and providing resilience during periods of high demand,” the bill says.

Representative Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, got wording passed that would allow “demand side” reduction projects to qualify for attractive funding.

As an example, she said it could make loans to induce Walmarts to install equipment that gives them the ability to shut off all power in an emergency except that used for refrigerators and freezers. necessary to prevent food from spoiling.

“There are a lot of gigawatts on the demand side that can be reduced at critical times,” said Doug Lewin, an independent energy consultant at Stoic Energy who applauded Zwiener’s amendment. “The demand side is a big part of the potential reliability solution.”

HB 2000 could receive a final House vote as early as Tuesday.

About Christopher Easley

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