AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Despite the fact that experts say Texas' power grid remains vulnerable, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott
declared Tuesday that new reforms will "fix all of the flaws" that caused the deadly winter blackout in February, which left more than 4 million people
without power in subfreezing temperatures.
He was joined by Republicans
who defended it as a good deal
for consumers, despite the fact that it provided no direct financial relief to families who were left with high energy
bills or lost income while the lights and heat were turned off for days.
Abbott asserted that he and the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature
had delivered following one of the worst crises in his six years as governor
, signing two sweeping overhauls into law in response to one of the largest power outages in U.S. history, but even members of his own party say there is still work
to be done.
When temperatures dropped into the single digits over Valentine's Day weekend, icing power generators and buckling the state's electric grid, more than 4 million people lost power. State officials say at least 151 deaths have been blamed on the freeze and resulting outages, but the true toll is believed to be higher.
“The legislature passed comprehensive reforms to address all of the flaws that contributed to the power outage,” Abbott said, adding, “The bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to repair the Texas power grid.”
Energy experts disagree, claiming that while lawmakers made significant changes, such as mandates to “weatherize” power plants
for extreme temperatures and new processes to prevent communication failures, the reforms do not go far enough to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur again in one of America’s most prosperous states
Among the criticisms is that Texas has left enforcement and key decisions about which parts of the state's oil and gas
industry must now weatherize — and which don't — to regulators who have long been accused of being too easy on operators. Last week, five former Texas regulators issued a report saying that safeguarding the grid requires going beyond the bills signed by Abbott, including acknowledging that
The reforms also do not provide direct financial relief to consumers; one proposal, which called for a $350 one-time credit for residents, was not included in the final bill.
Asked why there was no direct financial assistance in the reforms, Republican state Rep. Kelly Hancock
said there was in the form of sparing residents from high charges to their utilities during the blackout —- $9,000 per megawatt hour — and others lost income because they couldn't get to work or their work was shut down due to no power.
Hancock also stated that 98% of Texas customers were on fixed-rate plans, which did not see price increases during the storm, and that they could shop for cheaper plans once their contracts expired. However, Doug Lewin
, an energy consultant in Austin, stated that there is no guarantee that electric rates offered to consumers will be cheaper in the future.
“If I tell you, ‘Here's a car for $20,000, but you can spread the payments over six years,' that's not the same as the car dealer saying, 'I'll take $3,000 off the price,'” Lewin explained.
Other changes include a reorganization of the Texas power grid's governing board and a new emergency alert system.
Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie, a key architect of the reforms, said he was confident gas suppliers would comply with new weatherization mandates, and he pushed back against criticism that lawmakers were too easy on Texas' powerful oil and gas industry, which he said resisted the requirements.
“I wish you'd go tell them that,” Paddie remarked.