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Texas passes bill giving PUC wind transmission oversight; bill to end RPS dies

Boston — A Texas bill to give the state Public Utility Commission oversight of transmission projects designed to export wind power from or into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas region is headed to the governor's desk after being approved by the state's House of Representatives.

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However, a Senate-passed bill that would have eliminated the state's renewable portfolio standard and forbidden the PUC from either establishing new "competitive renewable energy zones" or approving new CREZ transmission lines was derailed by the House and is dead for this session.

Both bills were introduced by Senator Troy Fraser, a Republican who was instrumental in enacting Texas's landmark electric industry restructuring law in 1999 and who said repealing the RPS and freezing the CREZ program were needed to keep ERCOT's deregulated market on track.

SB 933, the bill on PUC oversight of transmission projects that would cross ERCOT's boundaries, will require the developers of such projects to secure a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the commission.

The bill was amended by the House in late May to limit the PUC's review of Pattern Energy's proposed Southern Cross project, a 400-mile high-voltage, direct-current line that would run from within ERCOT to eastern Mississippi. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Pattern's plan for the project in May 2014.

Under the House amendment, which the Senate then agreed, any conditions the PUC may attach to its certificate of public convenience and necessity for Southern Cross must be "consistent with the order of the [FERC]."

The PUC also would be expected to review the proposed Tres Amigas project, which would connect ERCOT with both the Eastern and Western interconnections at a proposed "superstation" in Clovis, New Mexico.

Neither Tres Amigas nor Pattern could be reached for comment.

As for SB 931, the House declined to advance the bill. Fraser tried to attach RPS-repeal and CREZ-freeze provisions to two other bills, but neither of those efforts succeeded. Will McAdams, Fraser's legislative director, said Monday that the senator's office had no comment on the bill's demise.

Fraser had argued that Texas generators already have installed far more renewable capacity than the RPS calls for and that the RPS was therefore no longer needed.

The RPS calls for Texas to have at least 5,880 MW of renewable capacity online by January 1, 2015, and a total of 10,000 MW by 2025.

Already, more than 13,000 MW of renewable capacity -- most of it in the form of wind farms -- is in operation, and several thousand more MW of wind and solar capacity is under construction.

The Texas Legislature meets every other year. It returns for its next session in January 2017.

--Housley Carr,
--Edited by Lisa Miller,