The Texas House on Monday voted to make sure Texans have the final say over who gets to connect to the state's near-island of an electric grid.
Aside from Hawaii, Texas is the only state that has its own electric grid, a source of pride for policymakers.
In a voice vote, the chamber tentatively approved Senate Bill 933, which would give Texas regulators authority to sign off on efforts to build major power lines connecting the Texas grid to multi-state grids elsewhere – projects that would allow grid operators more options for meeting electricity demands.
Currently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has authority to approve such connections, and lawmakers – led by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay – say Texas should make such decisions, which could majorly impact electric reliability and prices.
“These interconnections can create tremendous risk for our electric system,” Fraser said in a committee hearing in March, “including having Texas lose control over its own electric system.”
The state's grid – operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – covers about 75 percent of the state’s land area and carries 90 percent of its electric load.
For now, Texas has just a few small out-of-state links grid operators have tapped at times when electricity demand outstrips supply. But the state could eventually see bigger ties.
The planned $2 billion Tres Amigas transmission project in New Mexico would tie the Texas grid to the two others in the lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection and Western Interconnection.
The Southern Cross project – which gained federal approval last summer and would be smaller than Tres Amigas – involves a transmission line that could send enough electricity to power hundreds of thousands of homes between East Texas and Mississippi.
Under current law, state regulators have no mechanism for evaluating and approving such projects, leaving the federal government to decide. Under SB 933, the Public Utility Commission would evaluate the proposals like it does for those completely within the Texas grid.
Some experts say connecting to other grids could benefit the state's large renewable energy sector.
"Texas could benefit, because it does have tremendous resources – like wind,” Jon Wellinghoff, a former FERC chairman, told The Texas Tribune in March. “At times, Texas can’t use all of it, and it could be sold other places.”