At least a dozen similar bills have been filed in states such as Kansas, Minnesota, and Ohio. But in Texas, the bill was pushed forward in response to the power outages caused by last month’s winter storm.
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House Bill 17, now a priority for lawmakers, would prevent cities and towns from banning, restricting, restricting or “discriminating” the type or source of energy used for utility connections. It was included in a bill that the Texas House State Affairs Committee quickly selected from the committee Thursday to address the storm-induced power outages that left more than 4.8 million people without power and killed dozens of people in Texas.
The bill was first tabled in January as House Bill 1282. The sponsor, Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the legislation was a response to “what’s happening on the west coast,” where cities have passed energy efficiency plans that prohibit new subdivisions from offering natural gas heating to heating new ones instead Require houses with electricity.
“The purpose of this bill is to prevent a city from banning the choice of fuel for homes,” Deshotel told the House State Affairs Committee.
Using electricity to heat houses instead of natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the emissions from residential and commercial buildings in San Francisco are attributed to burning natural gas, which fueled the city’s efforts to initiate a transition, Inside Climate News reported in November. In Austin, the city’s original Climate Change Plan would have virtually eliminated gas use in new buildings by 2030, but was changed after the Texas Gas Service opposed the measure, the Texas Observer reported earlier this month.
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Elected officials have promoted Deshotel’s bill in response to the trend towards electrification of new homes and defended the use of natural gas to heat homes and buildings. During his visit to Midland in January – where oil and gas exploration dominates the local economy – Governor Greg Abbott railed against the San Francisco ban and announced his support for laws banning counties from restricting the use of natural gas appliances.
However, after the power outages in Texas in February, the bill has taken on new meaning. Deshotel’s bill was incorporated into legislation, which was seen as a priority to ensure the state did not experience such prolonged and fatal blackouts again.
The House State Affairs Committee on Thursday tabled a number of bills responding to the power outages, including one requiring power plants to be upgraded and built for extreme weather events and another reforming the board of directors of the Texas Independent Electric Reliability Council Operator of the power grid that covers most of Texas.
Environmental and consumer groups that supported the other blackout-responsive bills opposed Bill 17, expressing concerns that, as tabled, it could be construed as preventing cities from offering discounts and other incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy.
Environment Texas chief executive Luke Metzger described the bill as “grossly irresponsible”. Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bill was too broad.
“We are nervous that the bill could be used to prevent good programs like discounts on heat pumps or code changes promoting electric vehicles from happening in cities across Texas,” Reed said during the hearing.
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Deshotel promised to add an amendment at a later date to address environmental groups’ concerns that the language was too broad and reiterated that the bill would not prohibit discounts or other incentive programs for renewable energy sources. Separately, Reed said the Sierra Club would continue to oppose it because the bill “deprives local political divisions the right to pursue the actions they wish to pursue”.
Companies supplying households with natural gas have expressed their support. Jason Ryan, senior vice president of regulatory services and government affairs for CenterPoint Energy, said at the hearing that the company was “proud” of the way its natural gas utilities served customers during last month’s blackouts and that there was little disruption.
Legislators agreed, pointing to the ability of natural gas suppliers to continue to deliver largely gas to households during the February storm. Gas stoves cannot operate without electricity, but some people with gas supplies could use gas fires and stoves.
“Lots of people have lost electricity,” said Rep. Chris Paddy, R-Marshall, chairman of the committee.
During the storm, a shortage of natural gas made the blackouts worse. While delivery to households was the first priority, the second priority was providing gas to natural gas-fired power plants to generate electricity. However, several power generation executives testified in hearings last month that their facilities may not be operational due to a lack of fuel. Many plants were also offline because of the cold weather.
James Cisarik, chairman of the Texas Energy Reliability Council, testified last month that the fuel shortage was partly due to increased demand for natural gas to heat homes during the winter.
Before the committee vote, some democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the legislation. Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said her office had received dozens of emails about House Bill 17 – all against.
Deshotel replied that there was “misinformation” about the bill. “I understand [the] People who call you and complain, ”he said, referring to reports and testimony from environmental groups that characterized the bill as a flyer for the natural gas industry.
“I would also call and say, ‘Is this guy crazy?'” He said. “But you know, that’s not what this calculation does. So I am definitely ready to work with all parties here. It’s not about forcing something on anyone. “
Disclosure: CenterPoint Energy and Texas Gas Service were financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, impartial news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. A full list can be found here.