Thursday, March 01, 2007

Recapping the Week

I know it's not Friday yet, meaning there's plenty of time for strange things to happen, but I figure it's a good time to recap what's happened this week.

First, the TXU deal was a shock to me, especially since I was convinced that they'd build all 11 of their plants, come hell or high water. They've now, after striking a deal with Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Fund, agreed to only three. Well, I guess if you're negotiating, you always want to start high so that you get only what you wanted in the first place. (TXU just didn't seem the type to negotiate in the first place..)

On Tuesday, Phil King and the House Regulated Industries Committee had their own (read: light) version of Sen. Fraser's lashings of TXU and CEO John Wilder. I was a little underwhelmed by their tough talking, such as King saying 'Some people want to put the toothpaste back in the tube and re-regulate the energy market in Texas' (I'm paraphrasing here) and Rep. Turner saying that if TXU is allowed to profit at the expense of ratepayers, then he'd "regret his vote in 1999," alluding to the vote to deregulate the market.

It was interesting, though, when Rep. Turner took his turn grilling KKR's Fred Goltz. First, Goltz said that they were providing a 10% price decrease to current customers, but Turner, and later King, pointed to the fact that this isn't a new price break since some customers are already getting the break. Then came the prospect that CEO Wilder may gain another $200 million from the deal. Not only did Goltz and Co. back down from addressing this, but they couldn't say just how much Wilder has made over the past 12-24 months. Last, Rep. Turner asked repeatedly if the TXU deal meant that only three plants would be built, and if KKR was willing to sign a moratorium saying so.

Although TXU's previous tactics included striking fear into state officials by saying that Texas will lack adequate energy to meet new growth, Goltz got up said that three -- not eleven -- plants was all TXU needs to stay above the reserve margin line. They did say that they'll increase their investments in alternative energy, but Goltz made it clear that this deal in no way limits them from building more coal plants in the future......

This meeting comes the same day as the Senate Business & Commerce heard testimony on SB 483, which limits market power of an energy company to 25 percent in each of the four main energy regions of Texas, and 20 percent overall in ERCOT. In North Texas, TXU is rumored to control upwards of 70 percent; minimum 45 percent. Fraser, rightly so, says this bill "increases competition."

It's obvious that Fraser and his colleagues such as Kevin Eltife are furious with TXU, saying that they're "pillaring" their customers, so I guess I wanted to see more from Regulated Industries. I mean come on, Phil King would never re-regulate the energy market. However, King did tell TXU that the Lege can pass some bills that would not favor TXU if he felt they weren't cooperating with him, and TXU responded by tacitly threatening their pledge not to sell TXU for at least the next five years.

Phew, that was longer than I thought it would be, but I guess coal plants are one of the biggest issues right now (I say that as I listen to the Senate Transportation committee's hearing on Trans-Texas Corridor). I was hoping for more space to give a shout-out to Paul Burka for his praise of the House yesterday since for once the debate didn't take place along party lines. I'd have to agree.

Rep. Gary Elkins has a bill that would call a special session if the Governor goes on another veto rage. Sen. Wentworth is carrying the companion in the Senate, which has yet to get a hearing. On a completely unrelated note, HB 1098 is now in Calendars, much to the delight of its 92 authors.

Capitol Annex has a post about a back-end deal for vouchers: autistic kids. Sen. Shapiro, the author of SB 1000, says that she expects a "zero" fiscal note, mainly since it has sunset provisions. I have a little cousin who's autistic, and no I don't think that he should get a voucher. Voucher would bankrupt the schools that the students would leave, so I'm thinking about the others left behind.

Two other main points of contention: this would simply be a gateway for vouchers for other disabled children, using them to pass an anti-educational program. And second, Florida has already tried a voucher bill for kids with autism, and it failed tremendously.


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