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Austin congressman introduces Connect the Grid Act

February 21, 2024 - 05:00
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  • Austin congressman introduces Connect the Grid Act
    Courtesy Photo/Office of Congressman Greg Casa Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, announced during a press conference Feb. 14 he filed the ‘Connect the Grid Act’ in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the third anniversary of Winter Storm Uri, an Austin-based congressman says he is pushing for a bill to secure Texas’ power grid, save money and prevent future deadly blackouts.

Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, introduced the Connect the Grid Act during a news conference Feb. 14. The bill essentially requires the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to connect to the United States’ other major electric grid networks.

Critics said the bill, if passed, would make the state subject to federal regulatory authority, which is one of the reasons why Texas lawmakers in the 1990s decided not to be a part of the national power grid.

“It makes so much sense for us to finally connect to the grid and bring power to the people and stop caving in to these massive political and economic interests that benefit from keeping us separated,” Casar said.

Winter Storm Uri, which crippled Texas from Feb. 13 to Feb. 17, 2021, resulted in widespread power outages in Texas and other states, as well as hundreds of weather-related deaths.

The Connect the Grid Act would also allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to oversee ERCOT’s pricing and transmission planning.

Under the measure, when Texas has a surplus, it can sell the power.

In addition, the bill would have FERC and the Department of Energy conduct a study on possible benefits of an interconnection with Mexico.

Casar’s bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.

“Three years ago, we saw firsthand how the infrastructure failures in Texas affected the most vulnerable communities, resulting in the deaths of 246 people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We need to do everything in our power to ensure a preventable tragedy doesn’t happen again while simultaneously fighting the climate crisis.”

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, is leading efforts for a similar bill in the Senate.

“Representative Ocasio-Cortez recently said that Texas can ‘help support the grid of the rest of the United States,’” said U.S.

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who is seeking reelection to the House District 31 seat. “Texas will support Texas and I want to keep Washington out of Texas as much as possible.”

Carter lives in Round Rock and his district includes Taylor, Hutto and other parts of Williamson County.

ERCOT has an operations center in Taylor.

Casar said it would save Texans money in electric bill costs since the state could receive power when needed from places where the prices are lower.

The former Austin City Council member said not connecting the grid to the nation’s other networks would cost Texans $20 billion in payments during periods of national disaster.

Christy Penders, a spokeswoman for ERCOT, said the overall impact of adding direct current ties on Texas pricing is difficult to quantify.

“During periods of high ERCOT prices, a DC tie to another region not experiencing the same conditions would tend to benefit ERCOT ratepayers with less expensive energy,” Penders said. “At other times, when ERCOT prices are lower than the neighboring region, the ERCOT ratepayer could end up paying more for energy.”

Penders added that quantifying the overall financial impact of additional ties will require new analysis and the development of detailed models that have not been developed yet.

The ERCOT spokeswoman also said giving the state’s grid additional import capacity does not necessarily equate to greater reliability.

Penders said that many weather-related events are regional in nature and a disaster adversely affecting Texas is more than likely having a negative impact on surrounding states.

“This would have been the case during Winter Storm Uri,” Penders said.

During his press conference in front of the Capitol building, Casar said that the 10% of Texas not controlled by ERCOT largely did not suffer mass power outages during the 2021 storm.

The area includes El Paso and Beaumont, which are connected to other grids in neighboring states.

Ocasio-Cortez said she supports the bill because it protects Texas from “future climate emergencies, improves the grid's reliability, saves billions of dollars and dedicates $13.5 billion to creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”

Penders said the Public Utility Commission of Texas is considering issues relating to interconnections to other regions and ERCOT is participating in those proceedings.