Sen. Charles Perry raising questions about ERCOT reliability as Lubbock prepares to join

Updated: Feb. 18, 2021 at 9:49 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - We are less than four months out from Lubbock Power & Light flipping the switch and joining the Electric Reliability Council of Texas [ERCOT]. The city has spent years updating its infrastructure in preparation and has already spent $200 million so far.

But after this recent storm, many customers are concerned and wondering if there is time to pull out, after millions of ERCOT customers were left in the dark this week.

“Decisions this big you usually have to commit and you have to commit the resources, because you’ve got to get a lot of buying to get this done,” State Senator Charles Perry said. “That said, because of what’s happened in the last five days, I think there’s a window, if you will, for reasonable conversation as to, do we want to do this?”

Senator Perry has spent hours this week speaking with Texans without power or heat. Something Lubbock mostly avoided, since we currently get our power from a different source than the rest of the state.

“Had Lubbock experienced what my districts experienced around the state, you bet your bottom dollar there would be heads rolled,” Sen. Perry said.

The Hub City is on the Southwest Power Pool, but that is now changing.

It all started seven years ago. LP&L was forced into making one of two choices when its contract with Xcel Energy was set to expire in 2019.

It could either build its own power supply, which may have cost $1 billion or join the state’s largest provider ERCOT, for only $400 million.

The latter seemed the more cost-effective and reasonable choice, that is, until Mother Nature unleashed a record-breaking winter storm on the state.

“I think we came dangerously close to blowing up the grid, I mean, literally having a grid implode to where we couldn’t start it back up for months if not years,” Perry said.

ERCOT provides power to 90% of Texas and Senator Perry questions its reliability.

“Every year that I’ve been in the legislature, every summer, I’ve had rolling brownouts. Now, brownouts are not that bad of a thing... but that indicates a grid that is not whole,” he said.

The issue dates back to 1999. That’s when the state passed Senate Bill 7, deregulating the energy market in Texas.

Former Lubbock Representative Carl Isett says it did not make sense for the city to join at the time.

“When we crafted that bill, Lubbock was already under competition. We had two providers and we had a choice,” Isett said. “He had very cheap electricity already, so I didn’t see any way being in competition would do anything but raise our prices.”

Some say the system was unprepared for this spike in demand because of deregulation, as energy providers only produce enough to meet typical market demand. ERCOT also cannot pull resources from other states, like the Southwest Power Pool can.

The hope is, the current energy crisis will create a more reliable grid that Lubbock will soon be a part of, come June.

“Time will tell, and being in an ERCOT grid has its advantages, you just have to kind of weigh the risk. Is it worth it in these kinds of events?” Perry said.

As the plan stands now, not every LP&L customer will be switched over right away. 30% will remain on the current provider to fulfill an existing contract, meaning some people may be paying different rates.

Everyone is expected to be switched over by 2023.

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