The Public Utility Commission of Texas (Commission) plays a vital role in regulating the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wholesale market, and retail energy markets throughout all of Texas. This article identifies key projects and initiatives at the Commission that are ongoing in 2022 and have a major impact on the electric power grid and energy markets in Texas. The Commission continues to move rapidly as it implements the 2021 post-Uri legislative mandates, and we expect it to continue changing regulations affecting a wide swath of the market and the ERCOT system to bolster reliability.  Everyone engaged in the ERCOT market should continue to pay close attention to these reforms.  Husch Blackwell is following these key matters at the Commission and represents or advises clients on many of them. We are happy to answer any questions related to any item outlined below.  

Regulated energy sector entities routinely submit confidential and proprietary business information to Texas state agencies, including the Railroad Commission (Texas’s incongruously named oil and gas regulator), the General Land Office, the Public Utility Commission, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas  (“ERCOT”), often assuming it is “for regulators’ eyes only.” But Texas agencies have limited power to prevent the disclosure of information sought pursuant to the Public Information Act (“PIA”).

Confirming landowners’ signatory authority is crucial when preparing renewable energy leases or conducting due diligence in a renewable energy financing transaction. It is not enough to rely on a landowner’s word that he or she owns a proposed project area and has the right to encumber it with a renewable energy lease. While some leases include language certifying that the landowner executing the agreement has signatory authority, failing to properly confirm that authority can result in title issues, potentially requiring lease amendments or resulting in the denial of title insurance.

In Texas, title insurance forms are promulgated by the Texas Department of Insurance (the “TDI”), with policy types, premium amounts, and the issuance of endorsements being regulated by standardized procedural and rate rules. Thus, title deliverables required for debt and equity financing transactions tend to be generally uniform in Texas renewable energy transactions.

In the wake of winter storm Uri, ERCOT market participants are grappling with the resulting financial fallout. Many are now familiar with actions the Texas Public Utility Commission took during the February weather event with the intent to bring and maintain as much generation online as possible – notably ordering ERCOT to implement a temporary adjustment to the scarcity pricing mechanism designed to result in real time prices reaching the system-wide high offer cap at the statutory maximum of $9,000/mWh during the height of the generation forced outages.

Now, more than two months removed from the storm, the resulting financial impacts are having serious repercussions across the ERCOT market. Several retail electric providers have filed for bankruptcy, lawsuits are underway against a wide swath of market participants and regulators (ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission, generators, REPs, gas utilities, etc.), and countless market participants are faced with paying record-high bills for a range of reasons, including the need to procure energy in the real-time market during scarcity conditions, to obtain high priced gas supplies, to cover positions when their resources incurred outages, or exposure to uplift of default amounts owed to ERCOT. Complicating that, ERCOT has failed to pay many who did perform during the storm due to the short payment of some market participants, which means those who performed may not soon realize revenue associated with that performance. Additionally, the higher prices for power and ancillary services prompted ERCOT to substantially increase Counter-Party collateral requirements. Last month, the Public Utility Commission issued an order in Docket 51812 extending the deadline to dispute ERCOT invoices related to the winter event from 10 business days (under the current ERCOT Protocols) to six months. Since this order, the Commission has taken no additional action to address issues related to settlement invoices resulting from the storm.

Bottom Line Up Front: The Department of Energy (DOE) will implement new cybersecurity programs to enhance energy sector resilience. DOE’s announcement coincides with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s support for the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). Expect to see resilience to cyber attacks in future government procurement activities.

On March 18, 2021, CESER announced several new research programs designed to enhance the safety and resilience of the U.S. energy sector. The Trump administration established CESER to protect critical energy infrastructure by assisting oil, natural gas, and electricity industries secure their infrastructure. Currently, energy infrastructure faces threats not only from climate and natural hazards, but also evolving and increasing physical and cyber threats.

On Friday, May 1, 2020, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (the Bulk-Power Order) to prohibit transactions within the U.S. for the acquisition or installation of certain “bulk-power system electric equipment” which is sourced from foreign adversaries. In the Bulk-Power Order, President Trump expressed a determination that “the unrestricted foreign supply of bulk-power system

Lawmakers of the 86th Texas Legislature passed several bills in regular session related to storage and cybersecurity, as well as a bill extending the expiration of a Chapter 312 tax abatement program that benefits renewable energy. These energy-related bills passed by the Texas Legislature are discussed below, as are notable bills that failed to gain traction this session.

By the time the March 8, 2019 bill filing deadline for the 86th Texas Legislature passed, many bills concerning the electric industry had been filed. Storage, cybersecurity of the electric grid, and capital project tax abatements are among the energy issues Texas lawmakers are considering. This reviews the major filed bills before the current Texas Legislature.

At the January 17, 2019 Open Meeting, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (Commission) addressed several highly contested issues, including storage, Operating Reserve Demand Curve, Real-Time Co-optimization, and Marginal Losses. First, in Project No. 48023, Rulemaking to Address the Use of Non-Traditional Technologies in Electric Delivery Service (the Battery Project), dealing with utility ownership of battery storage, the Commission decided to defer further action until Texas Legislature’s regular session concludes. This decision comes after 63 comments were filed with the Commission, expressing widely varying views on whether a transmission and distribution utility within ERCOT may legally own and operate battery storage facilities. The Commission previously submitted through its Scope of Competition Report a request for the Legislature to enact legislation clarifying this legal point.