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”).

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.

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.

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.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has finalized the recommendations it will include in its upcoming 2019 Report on the Scope of Competition in Electric Markets in Texas to the 86th Texas Legislature, which goes into session January 8, 2019. The Commission voted on the recommendations at its December 20, 2018 meeting; the most significant

Potomac Economics, the Independent Market Monitor (IMM) for the ERCOT market, released its “2017 State of the Market Report for the ERCOT Electricity Markets,” which contains several important insights for market participants and offered seven recommendations for market improvements.

Prices and Demand Move Higher in 2017

First, the IMM found that energy prices increased 14.7% over 2016, to $28.25 per MWh. This price is still significantly less than 2011’s average annual price of $52.23 per MWh and even 2014’s average annual price of $40.64 per MWh. The 2017 price increase correlates with a 22% increase in the cost of natural gas, the most widely-used fuel in ERCOT, as fuel costs represent the majority of most suppliers’ marginal production costs.  The IMM also found price convergence to be very good in 2017, with the day-ahead and real-time prices both averaging $26 per MWh.  However, the absolute difference between day-ahead and real-time prices still increased from $7.44 per MWh in 2016 to $8.60 per MWh in 2017.

Average demand also increased, rising 1.9% from 2016, with demand in the West Zone seeing the largest average load increase at 8.3% (possibly due to oil and natural gas production activity in that zone). Despite this increase in average demand, peak demand in ERCOT reached 69,512 MW on July 28, 2017, which is lower than the ERCOT-wide coincident peak hourly demand record of 71,100 MW, set on August 11, 2016.  Even with general price and demand increases, market conditions were rarely tight as real-time prices didn’t exceed $3,000 per MWh and exceeded $1,000 per MWh for just 3.5 hours in all of 2017.

Congestion Costs Skyrocket

Surprisingly, the IMM found congestion in the ERCOT real-time market increased considerably, contributing significantly to price increases in 2017 with total congestion costs equaling $967 million – a 95% increase from 2016.  The IMM stated that this increase is due to three main factors: (1) limitations on export capacity from the Panhandle; (2) planned outages associated with the construction of the Houston Import Project; and (3) the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

While congestion was more frequent in 2017 than in 2016, congestion on the North to Houston constraint declined after June due to the completion of a new 1,200 MW combined cycle generator located in Houston. The completion of the Houston Import Project in 2018 should reduce congestion in this area even further.

It appears the Texas Legislature has taken note of the several news articles and industry insiders sounding the alarm bells for ratepayers to brace for record high electricity prices this summer in a market applauded for its consistently low prices. The Committee convened because the Lt. Governor charged it to study/respond to the reserve margin

On October 25, 2017, Commissioner Keith Anderson of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUCT) released a memo regarding the draft Preliminary Order in which he expresses concerns over the application submitted by Sempra Energy to purchase Oncor Electric Delivery (the state’s largest utility) for $9.45 billion.  The memo, which results from Commissioner Anderson’s continued concern regarding the financing of the deal, requested that the Commission add to their preliminary order in order to require Sempra to clarify several issues during the hearing on the merits.

In the memo, Commissioner Anderson states

On September 1, 2017, after two years of extensive studies conducted by multiple stakeholders, Lubbock Power & Light (“LP&L”) submitted its formal application to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“PUCT”) requesting to leave the Southwest Power Pool (“SPP”) and join the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”). Because the City of Lubbock is one of the largest municipalities ever to leave another power region and attempt to join ERCOT, the transition has been an important topic in Texas since its introduction in 2015.