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Fractured But Influential: Texas Energy Companies Want A Say In Electric Grid Improvements

Frozen electricity meters during February's winter storm.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
Frozen electricity meters during February's winter storm.

From Texas Standard:

The Texas Legislature is considering new measures to improve Texas’ electric grid after February’s devastating winter storm and widespread power outages.

But so far, there’s a wide gap between what the House and Senate consider reform.

Chris Tomlinson, columnist for the Houston Chronicle, says there’s a “stark difference” in approaches, with the House passing “very vague bills” while the Senate has been much more explicit about the changes it wants.

“Sen. Charles Schwertner’s bills are very direct; they are specific about what electric companies must do,” Tomlinson told Texas Standard. “And he also includes fines.”

Both sides will have to reconcile differences to come up with a final bill, and Tomlinson says energy industry lobbyists will likely continue to have a lot of say during that process. Already, during a Senate committee hearing, one lobbyist for electrical power generators threatened that her industry would stop building new plants if they faced too many new restrictions.

Tomlinson says money is the driving force behind the pushback. Industry leaders are worried their companies will lose money if they have to spend more on weatherization or are forced to limit how long maximum prices can stay in effect. And their complaints aren’t taken lightly; the industry is highly influential in state politics.

“When you take a look at who spends money in the Legislature, who spends money on campaign donations, the energy industry is still, they’re the reigning champion in terms of influencing legislation,” he said.

But when it comes to improving the grid, the industry isn’t united, which could be a weakness. Tomlinson says electrical generators want different things than natural gas producers do, and oil producers “don’t really care about any of this.”

A final bill isn’t expected to reach the governor’s desk until May.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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