It’s All Connected: ‘Fix the Grid’ Must be Comprehensive

It’s All Connected: ‘Fix the Grid’ Must be Comprehensive

Remember the old days, when the only way to find the burned-out bulb in your string of Christmas lights was to unscrew each one? I recall asking my father why he was going one-by-one down the strand of bulbs. He explained to me that electricity operates as a circuit. If the circuit is broken at any point, the lights won’t work.

That’s still true. I learned more about electricity in my six years in the U.S. Army, serving as a systems operator, and then in my 30-year career with CenterPoint Energy, where I worked on the industrial large commercial management team to provide specialized service arrangements for Fortune 500 companies and residential consumers. But the principle holds even with the Texas electric grid. If any component of the system fails, it all fails you—and Texas. That’s why the focus of “fix the grid” must be on strengthening each component, from generation to the Public Utilities Commission to transmission to the end user—the entire circuit.

Let’s start with power generation. The fact is that Texas is growing, but we’re not growing our reliable generation. Instead, we’re investing the vast majority of our capital into adding more unreliable wind and solar energy into the mix.

In the last five years, Texas has added about 20,000 megawatts of installed capacity of wind and solar while losing a net of 4,000 megawatts of coal and natural gas generation. We all know the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine—but Texans need their electricity to be reliable regardless of the weather. That was true in Winter Storm Uri, and it will be true this summer.

It’s time to require wind and solar providers to pony up for the reliability deficit they’re causing. The natural gas generation we’ll need to offset their unreliability shouldn’t be paid for by you, the consumer.

When nearly all of Texas lost power in that February 2021 deep freeze, critics were quick to point fingers. And there were lots of mistakes made—including human error—that led to the tragic loss of life. The Legislature last year made some reforms.

But the PUC, the next component in our circuit, is working on market design proposals that will require ratepayers, not unreliable generators, to pay for extra dispatchable generation. We’ve invested more than $60 billion of capital into new wind and solar generation while losing gas and coal generation on net over the past several years. I don’t believe that we have to pay more money to achieve a more reliable grid; we just need to use the money we’re now spending more wisely.

The PUC must impose some discipline on wind and solar generators with a “firming” requirement, ensuring they can and will provide power when Texans need it most.

Next is transmission—how the electricity gets to you. Did you know you’re paying about double for transmission than you were just 10 years ago? Again, we can look to the overbuilding of wind and solar generators as the culprit. We used to build thermal generators close to population centers; now we build windmills out in West and South Texas. You’re paying the higher transmission costs.

And that brings us to the end user—you, and the thousands of businesses, big and small, that drive the Texas economy. When the system fails, you lose power. We’re trying to increase reliability for our growing economy, but we’re doing it in the most expensive way possible—by subsidizing reliable generators to chase the growth of subsidized unreliable generators. You shouldn’t have to bear the burden of paying for two electric generating systems.

Like those Christmas tree lights, this only works when every component is sound. That will be my focus in the next Legislature. I’ll use my experience and expertise to ensure that Texas has the energy it needs to power its future.

State Rep.-elect Charles Cunningham will represent District 127 (the Kingwood/Humble area) in the Texas House of Representatives. He has no Democratic opponent in the November election.

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