Texans could see utility sticker shock from GOP push against renewable energy

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Texans could see utility sticker shock from GOP push against renewable energy

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New bills being considered in the Texas legislature that would shift the state’s power generation away from renewable energy and back toward natural gas could also drive up energy costs for consumers living in the state, threatening price pain on top of environmental consequences.

The package of bills, which was approved by the Texas Senate last week, seeks to increase the amount of so-called dispatchable sources of energy, such as natural gas, on the state’s power grid that can be quickly brought online in emergencies.

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They would add combined billions of dollars in public funds to finance operations and repairs of fossil fuel plants in a bid to “firm up” the grid, or increase guaranteed sources of power that can be brought online in an emergency.

Proponents of the legislation, most notably GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate and has led the charge for adding more gas-fired power to the grid, have argued the bills are necessary to attract investment in natural gas projects. They also see the bills as crucial to helping protect against threats like Winter Storm Uri, the 2021 storm that caused 4.5 million Texans to lose power and triggered a near collapse of the state’s power grid.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation said in a November 2021 joint analysis of the disaster that 58% of the plants that failed or struggled during Uri were natural gas-fired.

“The Senate’s grid reform package levels the playing field between dispatchable and renewable energy sources by elevating dispatchable energy sources to put ratepayers first,” Patrick said in a statement last week.

Critics say the bills in question would hurt the state’s massive renewable energy industry and deter wind and solar project operators from bringing business into the state or keeping existing projects online and ultimately raise prices for households.

Last fall, the consultancy ICF, at the behest of the Texas Consumers Association, published an estimate that found the planned overhaul would entail higher monthly power bills for consumers and could drive up wholesale energy costs by more than $22 billion between 2025 and 2030.

Texas generated a whopping 180,145 gigawatt-hours of electricity from carbon-free sources last year, by far the highest in the country, according to Energy Information Administration data. It also leads the United States with the highest rate of oil production, at 43%, and natural gas, at 25%, according to the EIA. California, by comparison, had just 124,055 gigawatt-hours of carbon-free generation, which includes nuclear and renewable sources.

This abundance of resources has had the benefit of saving residents money each month on their power bills.

In particular, “wind and solar have saved customers a lot of money by being lower-cost resources,” Michael Jewell, an attorney and advisory board member for the Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, said in an interview.

Texas has also benefited from the federal incentives for wind and solar power, which would go away if these renewable energy projects are taken down, noted Jewell, who has worked in the Texas legislature in various capacities since 1985.

“Do the lower [energy] costs come as a result of federal tax incentives? Yes, that has absolutely been part of the equation,” he said. “Texas has been benefiting from other taxpayers’ money from all across the U.S. to have lower-cost energy. ”

“And that impact on reducing the wholesale cost of electricity absolutely has been something that income generators have not liked because that goes directly against their bottom line,” he said.

Disincentivizing renewable energy projects while boosting natural gas and investing billions in new fossil-fueled infrastructure, as the legislation seeks to do, would also all but ensure higher monthly energy bills for residents in the state as a result.

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“I think if we were to pass all these bills and they were to go into law and be signed by the governor, it would create a huge expense on residential consumers that’s not needed,” Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Sierra Club, told the Texas Tribune last month. “And it would create a chilling effect on renewable energy development.”

The bills in question in Texas would “impose massive costs on renewable energy that would either drive it out of business or stop it from growing,” Jewell said.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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