Once power is restored across Texas, state and federal policymakers will have to address several tough questions to make failures like this less likely.
First, does preparing the power system for severe storms represent value for electricity customers? What types of events should people be protected from? Who determines the scenarios that go into reliability assessments? Since consumers will pay the costs, they should also benefit.
Second, how should people pay for this resiliency? Costs could be assessed based on the number of kilowatt hours each household uses or charged as a flat fee per customer — an approach that could benefit heavy electricity users. Or they could be covered through new taxes. How will decision-makers respond a year from now, when the crisis has passed and people ask, "The weather is great and the system is doing fine, so why am I paying more for my electricity?"
Third, how does that money that consumers pay to improve the system translate into projects? Should it go directly to generators or into a fund that generating companies can draw on? Who would administer the fund? Who is ultimately responsible for implementing changes to the system and accountable if things don't improve?
Finally, how will these changes affect the market's central goal: inducing energy companies to provide power at the lowest cost?
Ultimately, the public pays the costs of electricity service, either through higher rates or service interruptions during events like this week's Texas freeze. In my view, utilities, regulators, government officials and people like me who study them have a responsibility to ensure that people get the best value for their money.
Theodore Kury is the director of energy studies at the University of Florida's Public Utility Research Center, which is sponsored in part by the Florida electric and gas utilities and the Florida Public Service Commission.
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