Written on: April 13, 2017
We’re now beyond the halfway mark in the 85th Texas Legislature. More than 100 energy-related bills have been filed, and many of them — if adopted — could impact your home utility rates. Some important energy bills have come up in legislative committees, and others have begun to bubble up to the full House or Senate.
Here are a few bills we have our eyes on, plus projections as to their chances to eventually become law:
• Senate Bill 735, by Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, would require the Public Utility Commission to establish a schedule under which it would periodically review the fairness of electric utility rates. It also includes other changes to rate-setting procedures that, taken collectively, would be something of a mixed bag for consumers. Senate Bill 735 has been approved in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, but it has not yet been taken up on the Senate floor. The Telicon legislative tracking service gives SB 735 a 58 percent chance of ultimate success.
• House Bill 2576, by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, removes an expiration date from current law under which the PUC has authorization to consider certain sorts of electric rate cases. Although this change seems arcane, it nonetheless is important because it could keep the door open to a steady stream of rate hikes in the future. This bill is scheduled to be considered in the House State Affairs committee on April 19th. Currently, the Telicon service gives SB 2576 a 34 percent chance of success.
• Senate Bill 83, by state Sen. Bob Hall, spells out a number of potentially expensive measures to strengthen the grid against cyber and electro-magnetic attacks. The Senate Business and Commerce considered this bill during a public hearing on April 11, but so far has not voted on it. Telicon gives this bill a 32 chance of ultimate success.
• Senate Bill 1976 would ensure the continuation of a process whereby the Public Utility Commission identifies low-income customers. This is important because low-income customers are eligible for various customer protections. The Senate Business and Commerce committee considered this bill during a public hearing on April 11, but so far has not voted on it. Telicon gives SB 1976 a 32 chance of ultimate success.
• Senate Bill 947, by state Sen. Lois Kolkorst, facilitates the creation of municipal hike-and-bike trails on utility rights of way — but at little or no cost to cities for the underlying land. Senate Bill 947 accomplishes this by lifting some liability exposure for the electric utilities that own the land. The Senate Business and Commerce committee unanimously approved this legislation on March 14, but it so far has not been considered by the full Senate. The Telicon bill tracking service puts this bill’s chances at 45 percent.
• Several bills, including House Bill 237 by Rep. Rafael Anchia and House Bill 642 by Rep. Larry Phillips, call for changing the name of the Texas Railroad Commission. This would clear up public confusion about the agency, which does not have responsibility for overseeing railroads. Instead, the commission regulates gas utility rates. It also has responsibility for other energy issues. None of the Railroad Commission name-change bills have been voted on in committee, and the Telicon service puts their chances at success at no more than 32 percent.
• House Bill 1818, by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, is the Railroad Commission “Sunset” bill. That is, the bill authorizes the continuation of the agency for several more years, and also spells out various adjustments to the agency’s operations. However, House Bill 1818 does not include several recommended reforms — such as the use of independent administrative law judges for the adjudication of gas utility cases — that were included in versions of this bill during previous legislative sessions. HB 1818 has been adopted in the Texas House and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development. The Telicon service puts its chances at 70 percent.
R.A. Dyer is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.