On February 15, 2021, Texans were shocked to wake up in the cold and dark during an unprecedented winter storm. The grid we all depend on for survival failed just when we needed it most and turned what should have been a few memorable but benign snow days into a deadly threat for hundreds of Texans.
With many still reeling from the blackouts that shook their confidence in our electric grid — plus gas prices and inflation still on the rise — it’s not unreasonable to wonder how we can get back on the right track.
With a clear focus on long-term solutions, the Texas Legislature can right the ship, fix our grid, and even lead America back to the path of energy dominance. The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s newly announced energy policy priorities for the 88th Texas Legislature offer seven proposed reforms.
First, our leaders must continue to focus on the health and strength of our grid. Senate Bill 3 and the market reform proposal recently unveiled by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) were critical first steps in restoring balance to the grid. However, more must be done to heal the systemic weakness created in our grid by decades of bad policy decisions that allowed politically advantageous talking points and sound bites to supersede Texans’ well-being — creating an overreliance on unreliable renewable energy and shrinking capacity of reliable thermal generation. Especially as our state continues to grow, we must keep a weather eye on the horizon, focused on enduring solutions rather than quick fixes.
The legislature can support this long-term strategy by first codifying the important changes the PUC has made to our electric market to ensure reliability takes priority. Second, it should go one step further by enacting a strong “firming requirement,” requiring all electric generators to guarantee a certain amount of power to the grid during peak periods, to ensure that intermittent generators like wind and solar no longer threaten Texans’ access to electricity.
While these strategies will improve electric reliability, a more effective approach would be to eliminate market-distorting subsidies passed down by the federal government. Decades of lavish subsidies for wind and solar, paid for by our tax dollars, all but guarantee profit for the renewable industry, whether they actually produce the power we need or not. Because wind and solar are subsidized at such a high rate when broken down per unit of electricity produced, it’s almost impossible for natural gas, coal, and nuclear to compete — even though these generators offer much more reliable (and therefore valuable) power.
Without eliminating these market distortions — unlikely given their longevity and the current administration in Washington — Texas and other states experiencing frequent outages will be stuck treating the symptoms instead of curing the disease. Though a repeal of federal energy subsidies is far from likely, Texas can come close with legislation charging the PUC with compensating for the financial distortion in electricity pricing caused by federal tax credits.
Texas should also continue to lead the charge combating the woke anti-fossil fuel agenda proliferating in our financial systems. The legislature should expand on the common-sense provisions of Senate Bill 13, which prohibits companies that boycott fossil fuels, a critical industry to all of our lives, from doing business with the State of Texas. It should expand SB 13’s provisions to include related industries now being targeted by corporate leftists for their supposed climate incorrectness such as petrochemicals, mining, forestry, and agriculture.
Texas should also ensure that our taxpayer-funded pensions, which support our public servants and teachers, invest based on fiduciary responsibility, not political motivations.
Finally, the state should curtail overreach by urban municipalities pursuing “climate action plans” that increase cost of living and create a patchwork quilt of arbitrary regulations — but don’t deliver any of the promised environmental benefits. The State of Texas should have exclusive authority over greenhouse gas emissions to restore regulatory certainty and protect Texans’ pocketbooks from activist city councils.
Texas leads not just our nation, but the entire world, in producing, exporting, and embracing the fuels that power our modern lives. While the blackouts one year ago today left a black eye on the Lone Star State, our elected representatives have a rare opportunity. The 88th Texas Legislature should learn from past mistakes and boldly lead Texas toward a future where affordable, reliable energy is never in question and the people of Texas are free to prosper.
This commentary originally appeared in The Cannon Online on February 15, 2022.