AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - The Texas Senate introduced and passed a bill in one day that would reverse billions of dollars in overcharges by the state's electric grid operator, ERCOT.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick declared a legislative victory, saying, "I'm so proud of the Senate. Every member who stepped up to have their voice heard on behalf of the people of Texas."
The legislation, SB 2142, was introduced by Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola Monday and passed 3-1 in the Committee on Jurisprudence.
Within the hour, it was considered by the full Senate, where it passed by Republicans and Democrats alike by a 27-3 margin.
One Senator was absent.
Senator Hughes said, "We're talking about billions of dollars. The characterization is that this is just money changing hands. No, this is lost value. If we don't fix it, it'll ultimately be borne by the ratepayers and our people, the taxpayers."
Senator Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio agreed ERCOT should correct its mistake. "You made this error, fix it. We believe they have the authority to do it."
The legislation says the Public Utility Commission, which regulates ERCOT, has the authority to reverse billions of dollars in overcharges for electricity in the wholesale market during last month's widespread power outages.
An independent firm hired by the state to keep an eye on the electricity market accused ERCOT of charging the maximum rate for too long of a time period.
The bill also orders the Commission to correct the mistake.
Senator Angela Paxton, R-Collin County said, "It's a lot and it's incorrect, and so as those who represent the people of Texas who are on the hook for this at the end of the day, it's really important that we do this and we do it now."
Senator Kelly Hancock, R-N. Richland Hills was among those who voted against the bill.
In a statement he said, "There are right ways and wrong ways to address the financial fallout of the winter storm and protect consumers from sky high bills. I believe SB 2142 is the wrong way."
He said government re-pricing "may ultimately disincentivize the investment Texas needs for real electric reliability."
Last week, the Chair of the Public Utility Commission, Arthur D'Andrea, told Senators he didn't have the authority to reverse the overcharges.
The Lt. Governor strongly disagreed, and Governor Abbott made it an emergency item for the legislature to sort out.
During an unrelated news conference Monday, the Governor repeated lawmakers needed to assess the situation. "These are very complex issues, and that's why the legislature is the right body to investigate this."
Jim Niewald is a former consultant to the electric power and gas industry, and he says the Senate did the right thing, because ERCOT's overcharges were a mistake. "It created problems or situations that never should have occurred. For us not to go back and fix them really would create a crisis of confidence in our market."
The Lt. Governor said now that the Senate has acted, he hopes the House will follow suit and pass the legislation and that the Governor will sign it. "I don't think there's daylight between us. There's been some question over process, who can do it, who can't do it. I believe he wants to address this situation as well. I hope he will, like he often says, get that bill to me and I will sign it."
for more features.