img

Texas regulators mull ending disconnect moratorium, implementing legislation

June 6, 2021
Click here to view original web page at www.spglobal.com

Highlights Liabilities pile up on consumers Weatherization workshop likely in July Resource adequacy assessments questioned Texas utility regulators discussed June 3 the possibility of ending the moratorium on electricity disconnections for nonpayment that had been implemented after the mid-February winter storm, and they discussed timelines for implementing reforms passed […]

Click here to view original web page at www.spglobal.com


Highlights

Liabilities pile up on consumers

Weatherization workshop likely in July

Resource adequacy assessments questioned

Texas utility regulators discussed June 3 the possibility of ending the moratorium on electricity disconnections for nonpayment that had been implemented after the mid-February winter storm, and they discussed timelines for implementing reforms passed during the legislative session that ended May 31.

Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.

Register Now

In a June 1 memo, Public Utility Commission of Texas member Will McAdams advocated ending the moratorium during the June 11 open meeting, as extending it further could lead "to an unsustainable impact on a significant number of financially at-risk Texas consumers."

Under current rules, consumers continue to accrue financial liabilities associated with unpaid utility bills, McAdams noted, but utilities only spread those bills out over five ensuing months, which could become prohibitive, if the liabilities continue to accumulate during a moratorium.

"Until the moratorium is lifted, the costs are just compounded," McAdams said during the June 3 PUC meeting, which was a workshop at which no votes were planned.

Ending the moratorium in June would allow that five-month period to end in November, which is usually mild, weatherwise, in Texas, McAdams said, but extending the program until September, as has been suggested, could potentially cause people to lose power in February "in the teeth of winter."

Bobby Wilkinson, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Assistance, said his agency manages the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income consumers with their utility bills, and the 2021 budget of $161 million for this purpose was expanded by more than $220 million through federal coronavirus relief legislation.

Catherine Webking, an attorney representing the Texas Energy Association for Marketers, which includes competitive retail electric providers, said her members "are interested in keeping their customers on."

"There's every incentive to work this in the right way," Webking said.

Rulemaking plans

PUC Deputy Executive Director Connie Corona presented later her staff's plans for implementing legislation recently passed that is designed to address issues arising from the mid-February storm, during which about 4 million Texas customers lost power for several days.

The most comprehensive such bill is Senate Bill 3, which addresses several subjects already on the PUC agenda, including Project. No. 51840, a weatherization standards rulemaking initiative. Corona said the rulemaking on this subject would be included in a July workshop and a proposed rule in August so it would meet the Senate Bill 3's November deadline.

PUC Chairman Peter Lake emphasized that the rule should take into account the wide diversity of weatherization needs across Texas, the nation's second-largest state after Alaska.

"What works in Amarillo wouldn't be relevant for Brownsville or El Paso or Beaumont," Lake said.

Lake also suggested that the process should take into account what other jurisdictions have done on the subject, no matter the location.

PUC staff plans a similar timeline for the implementation of a process for identifying and ensuring continued electric service for critical loads, especially natural gas facilities that supply gas-fired power plants, Corona said.

NPRRs to need state regulatory approval

An even quicker deadline is included in Senate Bill 2, which makes big changes in the governance of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, including requiring that nodal protocol revisions receive PUC approval. Such a system should be in place by Sept. 1, Corona said.

Lake noted that senate bills 2 and 3 await Governor Greg Abbott's signature.

McAdams said the PUC should also consider revising ERCOT's resource adequacy assessment processes in light of what has happened in the Legislature and how market resources are expected to change. For example, Senate Bill 415 authorizes transmission and distribution utilities to own battery storage capacity.

"We now have batteries coming into the market, and solar is forecasted to come in to an intense degree over the next two years," McAdams said. "We need some type of venue where everybody can come together and start working that out, because after that 20 GW — or two-thirds of it — is on the ground, it's going to create policy considerations."

Article Categories:
Texas

Comments are closed.