Push Continues for PUC to Stop Resisting Commonsense Grid Solutions

Linemen repair a utility line in a field covered with snow.

Winter is coming. Photo by Jonathan Cutrer.

By Cyrus Reed

We’ve been actively working toward an energy future that harnesses clean generation as well as energy efficiency. But the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has largely ignored these affordable solutions that help residential consumers and make our grid more reliable at a time when fossil fuel electricity prices are spiking. 

Fossil Fuel Dependence Doesn’t Help Grid or Consumers

Several recent reports have supported the view that clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency might be better for our state and pocketbooks than doubling down on fossil fuel solutions. This is what we’ve been saying all along. Here’s what the reports found.

  1. Released by the Texas Consumer Association, the first report shows that because of our state’s previous decision to allow access to renewable energy on our transmission lines and the investment we collectively have made, consumers have saved billions of dollars in electricity costs and billions more on healthcare and environmental costs from reduced emissions. And, without renewables, power plants would have consumed an additional 244 billion gallons of water over the last 12 years, adding water stress to regions that are often in drought.
  2. A second report – produced by consultants for the Consumer Fund of Texas – found that none of the PUC’s so-called Phase 2 market reform proposals (focused on paying more to existing and new – largely fossil fuel – generators) will cause enough new resource construction to reduce possible customer outages in the ERCOT grid to industry standards by 2030. And it found that all of the measures studied will raise total wholesale market costs by billions of dollars between now and 2030. 

    We expect the PUC to release proposed Phase 2 recommendations for grid reforms in November for comment and potential action by January of 2023. 
  3. Finally, a federal report found that Texas is not prepared for another storm and that extreme winter weather could very likely shut down our grid again, largely because fossil fuel power plants would continue to have trouble operating, even with new weatherization requirements. 

So basically, we’re in very much the same place we were as Uri took hold and the state went dark, except that it will be much more expensive.

On top of this, just a few weeks ago we received the disappointing news that the PUC unanimously rejected our petition for a rulemaking that would double the energy efficiency goals and programs that private utilities are required to offer Texans. Though PUC Chair Peter Lake said, “It’s not a no, it’s a not yet,” we can’t help but ask “If not now, WHEN?” It’s been almost two years since Winter Storm Uri, and the commission has taken no action on energy efficiency – the cheapest, cleanest, and quickest way to help strengthen the grid.

Sunset: Our Chance to Be Heard and Urge Reform

Fortunately, the PUC, ERCOT, and the Office of Public Utility Counsel are in the midst of being reviewed by the Sunset Advisory Commission, with a draft report expected around Nov. 17. In the meantime, we are preparing Texans to participate in the discussion. 

  • Here’s the meaningful changes we and 15 other organizations are asking the Sunset Commission to make to the PUC, ERCOT, and OPUC.
  • Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m.: Virtual Statewide People’s Hearing hosted by the Texas office of Public Citizen. Comments gathered at this townhall will be documented and submitted to the Sunset Advisory Committee. We want to hear your stories and experiences as well as what you want to see happen at the PUC. Register here
  • Dec. 6th: Sunset public hearing at the Texas capitol in Austin. We must convince the 12 commissioners to listen to the public’s voice. More information coming soon to the Sunset website
  • Learn more about the PUC and the Sunset process by reading our slides or watching the recording (passcode: a@S*Bm4y) from our Oct. 12 virtual townhall, held with Public Citizen and the Houston-based Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER). About 40 folks participated, and we were even joined by a staff member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. 
  • And, of course, we will then turn our focus to the legislative session, where legislators will consider the agencies’ sunset bill and can make changes. 

Next Steps on Energy Efficiency

We’ll also keep pushing for the PUC to embrace energy efficiency (EE). We recently participated in the PUC’s stakeholder meeting on EE and presented a clear path to achieving lower bills and less energy consumption. 

Though we’re happy the conversation is happening, we’re discouraged about the following:

  • Staff indicated a new EE rulemaking likely wouldn’t happen before spring, meaning that utilities’ next round of EE plans again will not be influenced by stronger policy. 
  • When asked if the PUC had plans to include the public and hold listening sessions, they seemed somewhat open to the idea but clearly hadn’t considered it before.
  • The PUC will be conducting a survey on potential changes to the energy efficiency programs, though it is mainly meant for PUC insiders. 

The important thing is that we all stay tuned and stay engaged despite these big decisions happening, perhaps strategically, during the busy holiday season.