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Texas Senate plan to finance power plants would cost $8 billion more than lawmakers said

Gabriel C. Pérez
Republican state senators have proposed pushing public money toward the construction of natural gas power plants as a way to increase energy reliability.

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A plan passed by the Texas Senate this week to finance the construction of natural gas power plants with public money could cost $18 billion, according to a document obtained by KUT via an open records request.

That puts the price tag of the so-called “Texas Energy Insurance Program” around $8 billion over what proponents had previously said and could complicate efforts to get the proposal passed by the state House of Representatives.

The bill proposed setting aside $10 billion of state money to finance 10,000 megawatts of natural gas power plants. The LCRA document says that would cost "approx. $18 billion."

For the initial $10 billion price tag, the report says, only enough power plants to generate 5,800 megawatts of power could be constructed.

The document is a slide deck from the Lower Colorado River Authority, outlining how that agency might help implement the construction of power plants if the proposal moves ahead.

The LCRA is a quasi-state entity that manages water and some power generation in regions along the Colorado River basin.

For weeks, rumors of the document's existence have swirled around the Capitol, along with suggestions that some lawmakers supportive of the power plant funding had chosen not to quote its higher-than-anticipated price estimate.

KUT obtained the document from an open records request to the LCRA.

Sens. Charles Schwertner and Phil King, authors of Senate Bill 6, are seeking a ruling from the attorney general’s office saying they can withhold documents related to the request.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s office had not officially replied to another open records request by Friday afternoon. He has made the legislation a priority this year.

"While LCRA did not initiate this effort, we are committed to working with the legislature and the executive branch in any way they direct us to help,” the LCRA said in a statement provided to KUT.

Proponents of the plan say the fleet of power plants would be used only in case of power grid emergencies. They have likened it to a backup generator for the entire state power grid.

The proposal has many opponents. Environmental groups are concerned with the amount of extra carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuel generation it would lock into the state's energy mix. Existing power plant companies say it would destroy the Texas competitive energy market. Meanwhile, consumer advocates point out it would greatly increase already-rising Texas electricity bills.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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