Texas Legislates Undercover Gas Bail-Out

May 18, 2023

Remarkable effort by the Texas State Legislature, a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil/gas industy, to pass a huge tax-funded giveaway to the gas industry, and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway in particular, completely out of public view.
University of Texas’ Michael Webber has been pounding this on twitter for the last day or two, and Mose Buchele of KUT, Texas Public radio, has been tracking the story.

The roaring success of solar and wind energy across the state of Texas has the fossil fuel industry running scared, and clearly the order has been given that this foolishness has to stop – we have money to make, and ratepayers to fleece.
The putative reasoning goes back to the Valentine’s day blackout of 2021, which the Fox News crowd blamed on renewables, (but everyone else knows better – see video below) Supposedly the new legislation will “save” the grid with a massive buildout of unneeded gas generators, and draconian penalties on wind and solar developers, even retroactively.

KUT Austin:

A plan to use $10 billion of taxpayer money to help finance natural gas power plants in Texas was approved Monday by the Texas House Committee on State Affairs. The proposal is controversial — so is the way it was voted out of the committee.

At the time of publishing, there were even rumors it will need to return for a second vote.

The vote happened first thing in the morning — in the state Capitol Agricultural Museum. No recording was made.

How’s that possible?

When a committee meeting is considered a public hearing, it typically takes place in a hearing room at the Capitol. It also must be recorded. Wednesday morning’s vote was not classified as a public hearing, allowing it to take place in the agricultural museum, where no AV equipment is installed.

Because it was classified as a “formal meeting” — not a public hearing — it also did not need to be recorded. While no audio or video exists of the vote, tensions apparently ran high.

Dallas Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchía said committee members were not given enough time to read the new version of the bill before voting.

“Members of the committee didn’t even know what was in the documents because we got them at the 11th hour,” said Anchía, who opposes the plan. “And then [we] weren’t able to ask any questions.”

The bill, Senate Bill 2627, provides $10 billion in low interest loans to companies to build gas power plants in Texas. 

Supporters say the plan would help bolster the Texas grid. Opponents call it a costly and unnecessary giveaway to energy companies. It passed out of the State Affairs Committee on a vote of 4 to 8, with one committee member absent.

Anchía, who has sponsored bills to improve energy efficiency in the state, said he worries SB 2627 is getting pushed through without proper consideration.

“Bills are getting cut in the dark in the Legislature,” he told KUT. “The Legislature is treating $10 billion in this cavalier fashion when that [amount] represents about a third of our budget surplus.”

Later on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the legislation told KUT on background the committee will need to vote on SB 2627 again because of the way it was approved the first time around. But, at the time this story was published, the bill is still shown as “reported favorably,” from the committee.

Once it’s passed out of committee, a bill still needs to pass the full chamber to move forward. 

KUT emailed Corpus Christi Republican state Rep. Todd Hunter, who chairs the committee, to ask about the bill’s status. This story will be updated with any response.

Chris Tomlinson in the Houston Chronicle:

The top regulators of the Texas electrical grid confirmed last week that they will put short-term profits for the state’s largest Republican donors over the future of life on Earth by misleading the public about the clean energy transition.

Public Utility Commission Chair Peter Lake proved himself to be a politician’s tool by declaring that reliance on clean energy threatens Texans. In one breath, he swears to the Legislature that he is agnostic about the technology used to generate electricity and in the next misleads Texans about grid reliability.

At last week’s press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointee said he wants to burn more coal and natural gas and ignore climate concerns. While the rest of the world is successfully transitioning to primarily renewable energy, Lake made Texas’ success sound like a failure.

“For the first time, the peak demand for electricity this summer will exceed the amount that we can generate from on-demand, dispatchable power, so we will be relying on renewables to keep the lights on,” he said ominously. “On the hottest days of summer, there is no longer enough on-demand, dispatchable power generation to meet demand in the ERCOT system.”

What are the odds of a blackout due to the wind not generating enough electricity at night? Less than 1 percent, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas explained, about the same odds of a blackout from the failure of natural gas and coal power plants, such as the one that killed hundreds of Texans in 2021.

“The grid is as reliable as it has ever been,” Vegas said, trying to inject some reality into Lake’s fearmongering. “We expect the grid to be reliable this summer.”

The biggest donors to Texas’ Republican party own or work for fossil fuel businesses. Despite data and a half-dozen engineering reports showing the natural gas network triggered the 2021 blackouts, political appointees like Lake have tried to demonize wind energy.

One example of his ignorance is that Lake keeps calling them “windmills,” which no energy professional would ever do. The devices that turn wind into electricity do not mill grain; they spin turbines large enough to electrify dozens of homes.

Lake is not alone in his desire to keep warming the plant with carbon dioxide; he is only a cog in a Republican machine seeking to raise natural gas demand.

If successful, Republicans will ensure Texas consumers will over-invest in a fading technology that will weigh on their electricity bills, contribute to a hotter planet, trigger more drastic climate action later and massively under-invest in the clean technology that will dominate the next century.

The fossil fuel industry’s mojo remains powerful at the Legislature, if not totally unchecked.

A plan to spend $18 billion on 10 natural gas power plants that we should never need is foundering. Insiders say Senate Bill 6 will die in the House after almost every industry group opposed it, though resuscitation is possible before May 20.

Another plot to give for-profit corporations $10 billion in interest-free loans to build more natural gas power plants is alive and well. Senate Bill 2627, which a House committee will consider today, would also provide generators with a completion bonus for putting new megawatts on the grid.

Last year, fossil fuel generators told lawmakers they wanted more money, and they’ll likely get it. But bigger issues around the wholesale electricity market remain undecided.

Washington Post:

But instead of embracing the green boom, Texas’ Republican-controlled legislature has introduced a spate of bills that could slow the growth of wind and solar industries, which has their leaders alarmed.

“Every state has legislation related to the placement of projects, but what we’re seeing in Texas is far beyond anything we’ve seen anywhere else,” said Jeff Clark, chief executive of the Advanced Power Alliance, an Austin-based trade group for renewable energy companies. “The aggressiveness of some of this legislation and the volume is unprecedented.”

Texas embraces a famously laissez-faire approach to energy development, but now some of its most anti-regulatory lawmakers are pushing new rules and permitting requirements for solar and wind, while backing measures that would bolster natural gas. Some Republicans have justified these moves by arguing that renewable energy is inherently unreliable and that more fossil fuels are needed to avoid another electricity blackout crisis — even though most of the loss of generating capacity during the 2021 outage came from gas power plants.

Other GOP officials say they are acting, in part, because the rapid expansion of solar and wind projects threatens the scenic character and way of the life of the state’s rural communities.

Solar and wind developers and environmental groups say these arguments are a cover for a politically driven effort to penalize renewables. After years of enjoying a hands-off environment, they say renewable energy has gotten caught up in a polarized culture war that has conservative state lawmakers attacking the industry to establish their national bona fides.

One of the bills in question would require large-scale wind and solar farms to win the approval of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, whose members are appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a staunch supporter of fossil fuels. New projects would be subject to a state environmental impact review, developers would have to pay a yearly fee, and they would need a new permit anytime they made significant changes to existing projects. Senate Bill 624 would also require wind turbines to be built at least 3,000 feet from any property lines — a little more than half a mile — a distance Clark called “absurd.”


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