This Election Day, Texas voters will decide whether or not to open up billions of dollars to support natural gas power plants.
Proponents of the measure tout it as a way to improve the state’s electric grid — which infamously failed in a massive winter storm in February 2021, leading to the deaths of 246 people, or over 750 by one investigation.
“After Winter Storm Uri, it was clear for all to see that Texas needed more reliable dispatchable power because renewable energy sources failed to keep the lights on for millions of Texans,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said in a statement earlier this year.
Opponents argue that it’s a taxpayer giveaway to the polluting fossil fuel industry, and they raise doubts about whether it will actually improve reliability.
The measure, known as Proposition 7 or “Prop 7” creates the “Texas Energy Fund.”
This fund would provide $7.2 billion in low-interest loans for the construction of new gas-powered plants, completion bonuses for that construction and for repairs to existing gas plants. This would apply to the majority of the grid that is controlled by the power operator known as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
It would also set aside $1.8 billion for backup power and $1 billion in grants for power infrastructure outside of ERCOT’s jurisdiction. The funding follows a budget surplus in the state.
Patrick said legislation that resulted in the ballot amendment “will make sure that our grid is more resilient and levels the playing field between dispatchable and renewable energy.”
Bob Hebner, director of the University of Texas’s center for electromechanics said that putting more plants on the grid could help reliability when there’s extremely high demand.
“When we have extraordinarily high temperatures and we were running out of supply or extraordinarily low temperatures and we run out of supply, then more supply will help,” Hebner said.
However, he said he doesn’t think the proposal is the best way to bolster reliability, describing it as “more of a showpiece than a solution.”
“When you put in a plant, you’re making a 20-year investment and technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before,” Hebner said. “We may not want to make a 20-year decision to use old technology. We may want to make smaller decisions along the way to get to the best solution over time.”
In a follow-up email, Hebner concluded: “We are not likely to get the resilience improvement per dollar invested from simply building these plants than we would from a more strategic approach.”
Sandra Haverlah, president of the Texas Consumer Association, said her organization opposes the proposal because of questions about how good of a fix Prop 7 actually is for the grid’s woes.
“Our main concern is that the language gives citizens and the voters the idea that potentially this is going to solve our grid generation issues, which it is not” Haverlah said. “This is really a loan fund and not the state of Texas buying generation for ERCOT.”
The proposal is also riling environmental advocates, who don’t want to subsidize planet-warming fossil fuels.
“Scientists are clear that to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we need to get off of fossil fuels and so this is heading in the wrong direction,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas.
The editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, a newspaper serving Texas’s largest city, gave the proposition a tepid endorsement.
Citing the need for power when supply tightens while lamenting that it “tilt[s] the energy market against renewable power,” the Chronicle told its readers to “hold your nose” and vote for it.
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This story originally Appeared on The Hill