President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has finally passed through Congress, and that means a significant chunk of improvement for the state of Texas. We’re currently slated to receive $35 billion for improvement projects. Further money will be available through grant applications.
Among the items in the massive bill is $3.5 billion being made available to weatherize power grids. The Weatherization Assistance Program will be run by Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, who will oversee an Energy Jobs Council. States will be able to apply for grants to improve the ability of their power grids to handle extreme weather, such as when Winter Storm Uri crippled the Texas power grid in February.
The cost of weatherization (and who should bear it) was a prime reason that the matter was not addressed in any of the legislative sessions in Texas this year. Some estimates put the cost of updating Texas’ gas wells alone at $95 million, and that’s not even including the $400,000 per wind turbine that would also be needed.
Though Texas Republicans are well-known for throwing federal money away on matters of principle, such as when they have continued to turn down the Medicaid expansion, Governor Greg Abbott seems to be more open to accepting money for projects like this. On Monday, he signed into law Senate Bill 8, which allocated funds drawn from Biden’s previous legislative accomplishment, the American Rescue Plan.
The law allocated $16 billion for various projects including broadband expansion, support for rural hospitals, aid for tourism industries still struggling with the pandemic, and expanded mental health services. The move indicates that Abbott may be willing to explore asking the federal government for help in one of his most glaring failures so far. Thus far, Abbott has neither confirmed nor denied that there will be a fourth special session. It’s possible that he will call one after the holidays and make applying for the funds a part of the agenda, but that would obviously leave no time to actually perform improvements before the cold weather sets in.
Realistically, Abbott will have to call some sort of session, probably in 2022, in order to distribute the funds from the infrastructure bill and, if it passes, the Build Back Better Act. The Texas legislature is not set to meet again regularly until 2023, which would leave the money earmarked for Texas improvement lying around for more than a year.
While some improvements will be directed by local municipalities and counties, the larger projects such as highways and port infrastructure, are going to need the approval of the state congress to move forward. The process is likely to be messy, though if Senate Bill 8 is any indication there will also be broad support across party lines. Still, for weatherization, it’s clear that Texas will have to convince the Department of Energy of the plan to fix the grid before the money flows. That will hopefully take some control out of the energy industry insiders who largely guide the state’s power policy.