AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — A decision could come early next year about how Texas plans to help ensure its energy reserves meet rising demand for power amid the state's booming economy and population, a top official said Tuesday.
Brandy Marty, the newest member of the Texas Public Utility Commission, said she and her colleagues were waiting on two reports to better track power capacity and future power needs statewide.
She told the state Senate Business and Commerce Committee during a hearing that those reports should be ready in December or January. After that, she said, "I would predict that a decision would be made on this certainly by very early into the next year."
The three-member commission is believed to be split between two different plans on how to boost energy reserves. Marty is a former chief of staff to Governor Rick Perry, and he appointed her in August to her new position. She is likely the deciding vote — but has given no indication on how she's leaning.
The issue hasn't generated much public attention. But what the commission decides could have a major impact, possibly even causing consumer power bills to spike, rising as much as 20 percent by some predictions.
In past years the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state's electric grid operator, bought electricity from Mexico and several U.S. states, at prices that some call exorbitant, to prevent blackouts.
Electricity generators favor creating a market where providers bid to offer capacity energy since the recent price of wholesale energy has been too low to encourage investment in new power plants. Supporters say the "capacity market" is the only way to ensure it remains cost-effective to boast reserves that are essential during the sweltering months of summer and other times of peak demand for electricity.
But major consumers like supermarket chains and manufacturers say the approach would drive power prices up too quickly. Instead, they favor letting the market work, arguing that as reserves dwindle with increasing demand, power prices will more gradually rise and power generation will become more viable.
Environmental groups oppose a capacity market and have instead called for higher contributions to existing reserves from wind-generated power and other alternative sources. Meanwhile, some conservative groups have opposed a capacity market as mandating too much government intervention.
Sen. John Carona, who chairs the Business and Commerce Committee, asked Marty if Texans worry only about paying more for electricity or if they fear demand for power could soon outpace current reserves.
"Nobody wants higher prices, obviously, but does the threat of a brownout or increased brownouts weigh heavily on the minds of these people?," the Dallas Republican asked.
Marty said she'd seen concerns about both issues, noting that peak times for electricity use are in the mornings, when families prepare for their days, and at night when they are back home preparing dinner.
"Heaven forbid you've got a teenage daughter at 7 a.m. and your power goes out. That makes everybody's day bad," she said, drawing chuckles from the packed hearing. "So it's not just an economic issue."
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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