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Texas House OKs bill aimed at preventing future blackouts, but experts warn it falls short 

click to enlarge Millions of Texans went without power last month as the state's electrical grid buckled under the strain from the prolonged cold front. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Millions of Texans went without power last month as the state's electrical grid buckled under the strain from the prolonged cold front.
Texas House of Representatives over the weekend gave initial approval to a sweeping bill intended to stabilize the state's power grid and avoid a repeat of the February blackouts that left millions in the state without power.

While the House added new, more stringent requirements to Senate Bill 3, which already passed by the upper chamber, critics argue that it still doesn't go far enough in requiring "winterization" of the state's natural gas infrastructure.

Senate Bill 3 requires upgrades to power generating plants and some natural gas facilities to make them less vulnerable to shutdowns during freezes. Among other things, it also sets up an emergency alert system to warn when the power grid is under strain.

Luke Metzger, executive director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said the bill is an improvement on the status quo. But he's concerned it's not stringent enough to stave off a repeat of the February disaster.

"As global warming makes extreme weather more frequent and more severe, we need to batten down the hatches to protect Texas families from blackouts and worse," Metzger said in an emailed statement. "Unfortunately, big energy companies have resisted efforts to build a cleaner, more resilient grid. This bill will lead some to invest in measures to protect against extreme temperatures, but loopholes and weak fines will likely lead many gas wells and power plants to do nothing."

The revised bill would only require some of the state's natural gas infrastructure will be winterized, critics charge. What's more, they say it's unclear how the upgrades will be financed and what ability the state will have to enforce the proposal, according to a Texas Tribune report.

“I fear that it's just not going to be enough,” Dan Cohan, a civil engineering professor at Rice University told Austin public radio station KUT. “Whoever has those direct lines into the power plants and winterizes those is going to point upstream and say ‘well those upstream people couldn’t get us enough gas.’"

Even so, Metzger said he's encouraged that the House version of the bill didn't shift some of the cost of maintaining the grid to renewable energy providers, something contained in the Senate bill.

"[I’m] pleased the House stood off attacks on solar and wind power, which the state desperately needs to help cut pollution and which polls after the blackouts show Texans want more of, not less," he added. "On balance, the bill is progress and we hope the Senate follows the House's approach to focus on our core vulnerabilities and not take potshots at renewable energy."

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