SENATORS DELVE INTO GRID RELIABILITY
(AUSTIN) — Members of the Senate Business and Commerce committee considered a number of proposals to ensure electric reliability in Texas, including one its author says is a guarantee for 10,000 megawatts of new gas generation. SB 6, by committee chair and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would create the Texas Energy Insurance Program, allowing companies to bid to build power plants that would only be used in an emergency. "It would be a true back-up," said Schwertner. "This program, with these ten-thousand megawatts, would serve as an insurance policy that Texans can count on…that in times of crisis, it would be there for them." These new plants would be sited around the state, and would sit idle until state power reserves are nearly exhausted and rolling blackouts loom. Then, these plants would come online to stabilize the grid, and go off-line once that happened. This last-on, first-off model, says Schwertner, would keep these insurance generators from interfering with the state's competitive electric market managed by ERCOT. The bill would also create a zero-interest loan program to pay for maintenance and repairs at existing power plants.
SB 7, also by Schwertner, would incentivize construction of thermal generators by requiring intermittent generators to bear a greater cost of what are called "ancillary services"- a set of resources intended ensure a stable power grid - and can be generally considered as an emergency supply for when demand exceeds expectations. The bill would create a "firming requirement", which would direct wind and solar power generators to purchase enough of these ancillary reserves to cover customer demand, regardless of if the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Schwertner believes that dispatchable thermal generators are disadvantaged in the market by federal subsidies paid to renewable generators, and this requirement will better balance the market between those intermittent generators and thermal power plants.
Also Thursday, the Senate Border Security Committee considered legislation that uses the threat of arrest and prosecution to try and reduce the number of illegal border crossings and cartel activity. Pleasanton Senator Pete Flores says with border arrests approaching two million a year and hundreds of tons of illegal drugs crossing the border, the state has to step up. "While the federal government continues its inaction, Texas must continue to implement policies that strengthen immigration laws and protects our state from future abuse by cartels," he said. His bill, SB 1427, would reclassify Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations and set 10 year minimum sentences for any members caught trafficking drugs or humans in Texas.
Committee chair and Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell offered SB 2424, which would create a new state crime for illegal entry from a foreign nation. This would permit local and state law enforcement to arrest and prosecute people who cross the border illegally. On a first offense, the offender would be charged with a class A misdemeanor, but subsequent arrests would raise the penalty, all the way up to a second degree felony. If a detainee has a prior arrest for a serious felony, they would be looking at a first degree felony. Birdwell said that his hope is the new laws would make cartels think twice before they try to do business in Texas. "We've got to make the cartels pay a price for plying their wares [and] protect the citizens of the state of Texas," said Birdwell. "For those that have already committed terrible acts, you are potentially subjecting yourself to a potential second- or first-degree very long period of time in the [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] facilities in Texas. You'll pay a significant price, so go elsewhere." The bill would only apply to crossings over the international border with Mexico, and doesn't give state officials immigration authority to deport people arrested for entering illegally.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 27, at 2 p.m.