The Texas Energy Summit 2022 was recently held in Austin, TX at the Capitol. Seeing as how this was my first time at the summit, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. Our initial keynote, for instance, was with Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith. He opened the conference by discussing the state’s recent primary election results and what that could mean for policy cycles moving forward. Unsurprisingly, Texas is predominantly a conservative state, and based off of the primary’s results it looks to remain that way for some time. So, from an energy policy perspective (among others), much will stay the same–unless an unprecedented event takes place, such as another extreme weather event, like winter storm Uri, or a pandemic.

Following Smith’s keynote was a fantastic overview of Transitioning to a Clean Energy Economy at the federal level by US Department of Energy’s Kelly Speakes-Backman. In her address, Speakes-Backman talked about several key initiatives coming out of the Biden administration and how the Department of Energy was prioritizing resources across 60 programs or more throughout the country. This helped set the stage for the rest of the day’s discussions around shifting economic models, pricing structures, new technologies and policies, etc.

One of the most interesting points of conversation, however, was in the next panel, Increasing Resiliency Post Uri, that Evan Smith moderated. This discussion was full of information on how the legislature responded to historic price gouging by ERCOT during winter storm Uri, though blame was shuffled between the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT), Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC). This panel called for stronger and more ethical and transparent policies in Texas regarding weatherization of the grid and highlighted the complexity of the challenges associated with the availability of natural gas during the event as well. 

After a few breakout sessions and lunch, the rest of the afternoon was spent focusing on environmental concerns, such as air quality and environmental justice. The EPA had a special keynote with Region 6 Administrator Earthea Nance that outlined six priorities for environmental protections and policies moving forward. Equity was central to the discussion and focused primarily on how disparate communities bear the biggest brunt of environmental hazards associated with energy generation and more. 

The final plenary discussion for the day was on the Intersection of Air Quality, Public Health, and Equity. In this conversation, the focus was around communities that have often carried the load when it comes to pollutants and poor air quality. While new policies and thresholds have been established for new facilities and pollutants, many have been  “grandfathered” in or largely become part of the day-to-day. One thing to point out is that many of these pollutants are not isolated from others, so that thresholds are variable and often co-mingled with each other. This panel continued to address the need for equity and environmental justice when it comes to air quality and public health outcomes as a result of poor quality and environmental disparity.

Ultimately, Day 1 set the stage for open conversations regarding energy,environmental justice and transparency in Texas as well as the federal level. While Texas policies may remain as is, the industry itself is beginning to shift and legislation may need to soon catch up.