AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - In an extraordinary political move, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick called on Governor Greg Abbott to reverse billions of dollars in overcharges by ERCOT for electricity during last month's winter storms.
During a mid-afternoon news conference, Thursday, March 18, Patrick said he's on the same page as Governor Abbott 95% of the time, but not in this specific case involving the power outages that have consumed the Texas Capitol for the past month.
Patrick said the Governor has the authority to change ERCOT's pricing.
"He has renewed the emergency order and under an emergency declaration, the Governor has extraordinary power. He is the Commander in Chief. He is the ruler of all of the agencies. He can make this corrective action if he so chooses."
But the Governor previously told Patrick that he didn't have the authority to do so and declared this issue an emergency item for the legislature to work on.
This week, Patrick championed the quick passage of a bill by the State Senate that would reverse ERCOT's overcharges.
The Lt. Governor said that could save ratepayers in Texas as much as $5 billion.
"The Texas Senate has made this clear. We're standing up for the ratepayers on this. We believe it needs to be corrected. So hopefully the Governor will take the action. We believe he has the authority to do so. The Governor of Texas is a very powerful person. He can do anything he wants."
Patrick has said timing is an important issue because ERCOT's overcharges could no longer be reversed after 30 days, which is Friday.
While the Senate bill has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee for consideration, a hearing hasn't been set yet, making its passage by the full House impossible before the deadline.
Speaker Dade Phelan announced Tuesday, March 16, on Twitter he opposed the Senate bill, calling such a reversal an "extraordinary government intrusion into the free market."
An independent firm hired by the state, Potomac Economics, has concluded ERCOT mistakenly kept charging the maximum rate for wholesale electricity two days after the immediate crisis ended, and urged the state to correct that.
Late Thursday afternoon, Governor Abbott's Press Secretary Renae Eze issued a statement saying, "In response to the winter storm, Governor Abbott made three issues emergency items for the legislature to consider: winterization of the power system; reform of ERCOT; and inaccurate and excessive charges. The Governor made these emergency legislative items because that's exactly what they are. He will continue working with the House and Senate to ensure policies are put in place that will protect Texans from excessive charges, help them recover from the storm, and ensure this never happens again... The Governor has been in conversations all week with Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Chris Paddie, and Senator Kelly Hancock on these and similar matters."
Paddie is the Chair of the House State Affairs Committee where the Senate bill was referred.
Senator Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, one of Governor Abbott's strongest allies in the legislature, is one of three Senators who voted against this week's Senate bill championed by Patrick.
The House Democratic Caucus Chair, State Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie said in an interview Thursday that regardless of whether lawmakers pass a bill before the deadline passes, he believes the legislature can take action at a later date.
"That doesn't mean that the legislature can't take action to protect consumers next week or the week after and make that retroactive to make sure that customers aren't bearing the cost of any overcharged. Whatever happens, the legislature needs to ensure that no costs are from these overcharges are passed onto our constituents or to the ratepayers who are paying for electricity in their homes or for their business for that matter."
WATCH FULL INTERVIEW WITH STATE REP. CHRIS TURNER HERE
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