The Texas Senate on Monday unanimously approved a sweeping proposal that addresses issues with the state’s electric grid, after February’s deadly blackouts that left millions of people without electricity and heat for days in subfreezing temperatures.
Senate Bill 3, which now heads to the House, would impose daily fines of up to $1 million against natural gas and electricity firms that object to the process of weatherizing facilities or upgrading equipment for extreme weather.
It would also establish a system to alert Texans about the risk of potential blackouts.
The state’s brutal cold snap and frozen infrastructure brought days of power and water shortages for residents last month. It triggered rolling blackouts across the state leaving more than 4 million Texans without power. Meanwhile, a lack of power in water treatment facilities led to a water boil advisory for around 7 million Texans.
The bill was filed by GOP state Sen. Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, who told the Senate floor Monday that “a multitude of failures” occurred during the deadly winter storm last month.
“We’re fixing the problems,” he said.
“Senate Bill 3 comprehensively addresses the root issues that led to the major failures that occurred during the Valentine’s Day winter storm, namely weak oversight, poor communication, and a lack of coordination,” Schwertner continued. “This bill offers reforms that will strengthen the state’s prevention of and preparation for energy emergencies, to ensure that this never happens again.”
The majority of state gas facilities and power generators weren’t equipped to handle the freezing weather conditions. Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather—it’s done routinely in colder, northern states.
The issue arose in the state after a 2011 freeze that also led to power plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow, but they are strictly voluntary and also require expensive investments in equipment and other necessary measures.
However, industry groups and natural gas regulators have claimed that power outages caused the majority of the issues connected to natural gas shortages last month. They say that weatherizing natural gas facilities isn’t necessary.
Senate Bill 3 addresses this concern, and states that the Texas Railroad Commission, a regulatory body, may choose what changes would have to be made by natural gas fuel facilities in the state.
“The proposed changes in SB 3 will revolutionize Texas’s prevention and preparation strategies for any energy emergencies we encounter going forward,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. Patrick, a Republican, presides over the Texas Senate.
The bill does not outline how the weatherization process will be funded, or how much the price tag would be, however experts have said it could cost as much as $1 million per electric generation unit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.