In a stunningly quick turnaround, legislation was filed and passed in the Texas Senate in just a matter of hours, addressing electrical pricing during the recent winter storms.
After the lone commissioner of the Public Utility Commission, with Gov. Greg Abbott’s backing, told Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and senators during a Senate committee hearing that he did not have the power to retroactively reverse high energy prices last month, Patrick and the Senate got to work.
In just a few hours, a bill to urge the PUC to revise energy prices was rammed through the process, interrupting an ongoing Senate State Affairs Committee meeting deliberating a slate of pro-life bills.
For casual observers of the Texas Legislature, the actions the Texas Senate took today might look confusing but are a testament to what can be done in the legislative process when things are prioritized.
Here’s what happened.
- Tuesday, March 9: Senate convenes briefly and adopts resolution allowing them to adjourn for more than three days between Wednesday, March 10, and Tuesday, March 16.
- Tuesday, March 9: Gov. Greg Abbott names ERCOT billing error correction as an emergency item.
- Thursday, March 11: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick questions Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Commissioner Arthur D’Andrea in a Senate Jurisprudence Committee hearing convened to examine billing errors resulting from recent winter storm.
- Friday, March 12
- 5:19 p.m.: Patrick submits letter to Abbott asking for him to intervene in dissatisfaction with PUC commissioner’s testimony and refusal to take action in billing error correction.
- 6:09 p.m.: Abbott responds to Patrick’s letter indicating he agrees with PUC commissioner and believes it is the Legislature that would need to consider the issue.
- Monday, March 15:
- Morning: Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola) files SB 2142.
- 11:10 a.m.: Senate convenes to suspend rules and reconsider the resolution they adopted allowing them to adjourn until Tuesday, March 16.
- 11:16 a.m.: Senate reads SB 2142 for the first time and refers it to the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence.
- 11:17 a.m.: Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) moves to suspend rules to allow for the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence to meet immediately after the Senate adjourns to consider SB 2142.
- 11:40 a.m.: The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence convenes for a total of three minutes to take up and consider SB 2142. The bill passed out of committee with a total of three votes in favor and one opposed in Sen. Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe).
- 12:30 p.m.: Senate convenes and suspends multiple rules to take up and consider SB 2142 for second reading.
- 1:35 p.m.: The Senate ultimately passes SB 2142 from the overall Senate on both second and third readings (27 in favor, three opposed, one absent). The nay votes were Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills), and Sarah Eckhardt (D–Austin).
What Does the Bill Do?
Senate Bill 2142 by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Tyler) seeks to “correct” the prices of wholesale power sold in the ERCOT market during the period of 11:55 p.m. on February 17 through 9 a.m. on February 19, 2021. It does this by acknowledging that the PUC does have the authority to correct the “billing” errors and ordering them to correct the “mistake” so the prices that were charged reflect the actual market price of wholesale power and ancillary services that would have been paid had ERCOT not intervened by artificially setting the prices.
It would require this to be done no later than March 20, 2021.
What Does it Mean?
Abbott ultimately left it to the Legislature to consider whether the PUC has the ability to retroactively set prices. He did this in his announcement of an additional emergency item and reinforced his position in his reply to Patrick’s letter in defense of the PUC chairman’s position of not having the authority to do so.
Patrick has responded by quickly passing a bill that defines that disputed authority clearly and prescribing that something be done quickly.
Ultimately, in a matter of only hours, the Senate not only had a bill filed after the normal bill filing deadline but saw it shepherded through the legislative process in the Senate.
The actions of the Senate today are just another chapter in what seems to be a developing saga between Patrick and Abbott in how to address perceived billing errors in the wake of February’s severe winter weather and the actions of the regulatory bodies thereafter.
After passing SB 2142 out of the Senate, Patrick said, “The Senate has acted. We are asking the governor to join us.”
It is unclear how quickly the House of Representatives will act in response to the quick passage of SB 2142. It had already previously scheduled the House State Affairs Committee to meet Tuesday, March 16, to receive invited testimony on any potential billing errors correction. The House State Affairs Committee had already also scheduled a hearing on House Bill 16 by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D–Houston), which seeks to address pricing differences going forward. Speaker Dade Phelan announced that bill as one of his legislative priorities on March 8.