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August 22, 2002     (512) 463-0300

Water Advisory Board Examines Funding, Groundwater Management and Mexico Issues

AUSTIN - The Texas Water Advisory Council is examining a wide range of issues concerning how the precious resource is managed in Texas. The Council is expected to develop recommendations to be presented to the Legislature in January.

Given the tight budget, funding any new water projects will be a challenge. Kevin Ward from the Texas Water Development Board told the board that Texas needs 18 billion dollars to implement the 2002 water plan, but that funding is in place for only a fraction of that. Funding sources range from a tax on bottled water to assessments on agriculture. Tom Ray, from Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, testified that federal funding is vital if Texas is to meet its water needs and that the Legislature and congressional delegation will have to work hard to ensure that the state gets its fair share. He warned that other states are currently much more successful than Texas in getting new water funding. Lynn Sherman of the Texas Water Development company testified on what role the private sector can play in water development financing.

Regarding groundwater management, T. Boone Pickens of Mesa Water Consultants testified, saying that his group is prepared to deliver Ogala Aquifer groundwater to several large urban areas in the state that are currently facing water shortages within five to seven years, if he can get permission to pump the water.

Other subjects touched on were the shared Texas-Mexico environmental issues and the role of dispute resolution in water management.

The Texas Water Advisory Council is chaired by Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown. Members include Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, General Land Office Commissioner David Dewhurst, Commissioner Kathleen White of the TNRCC, Senator David Bernsen, Representatives David Counts, Gary Walker and Ron Lewis, Jack Hunt of the Texas Water Development Board, Commissioner Joseph Fitzsimmons of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and public members James Box, Manuel Ibanez and Ruth Schiermeyer. The council recessed subject to call of the chair with its next meeting to be announced at a later date.

You can access the archived audio webcast from the Senate's web page of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

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Joint Committee Delves into Electric Market Deregulation

AUSTIN - The Electric Utility Restructuring Legislative Oversight Committee met August 22, 2002, at the State Capitol. The joint panel was created to oversee the implementation and monitor the effectiveness of Senate Bill (SB) 7, approved by the 76th Legislature. As established under SB 7, the electric utility market was deregulated and open to competition in January of 2002, after the implementation of a pilot program.

First, the committee heard the testimony of electricity providers from areas outside of ERCOT’s jurisdiction. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) is the corporation charged with ensuring the smooth transition to a deregulated electric market, and the proper distribution of electricity around the state. The Panhandle, El Paso, and small sections of the Northeast and West of Texas are outside the jurisdiction of ERCOT. The representatives of this first panel included Rebecca Klein of the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), Jess Totten also of PUC, Terry Bassham of El Paso Electric Company, Frank Gallaher of Entergy Gulf States, Stewart Solomon of American Electric Power, Gary Gibson of Xcel Energy, Robert Brown of Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, Jim Torgerson of Midwest Independent System Operator, and Nick Brown of Midwest Independent System Operator.

One of the main challenges of the state system discussed in the meeting is that electricity cannot flow from ERCOT’s grid to the others. In the eventuality of a terrorist attack, the affected region may not be able to supply energy until is fixed. Another issue of concern is that some of these pockets are managed by out-of-state companies. Legislators showed concern about a Texas public utility being overseen from Indianapolis. The companies’ agents were asked about the composition of their boards of directors, selection process and distribution of functions. Asked about their delayed integration to ERCOT’s jurisdiction system, the Panhandle representatives said their fares are the lowest in the state, and deregulation could increase customer’s prices. Other issues discussed relate to regulation authority and the urgent need of oversight funds.

Following these witnesses, it was time to talk about ERCOT, the corporation that manages most of the state’s power grid, serving 85% of Texas customers. The grid has a capacity of 75,000 megawatts, with only 10,000 megawatts outside of its jurisdiction. The peak of this summer demand has been of 54,000 megawatts, with the rest kept as reserve.

The committee also addressed the organization mission and goals, job responsibilities, and solutions found to some of the initial problems of deregulation. The committee co-chairs said they are pleased about the direction of the competitive market. Compared with the serious problems experienced by states like California, the legislators were elated at “how well things are going.”

The Electric Utility Restructuring Legislative Oversight Committee is co-chaired by Senator Troy Fraser and Representative Steven Wolens. Members include Senators Teel Bivins, Frank Madla, Jane Nelson and John Whitmire, as well as Representatives Kim Brimer, David Counts, Debra Danburg and Sylvester Turner. The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.

You can access the archived audio webcast from the Senate's web page of the Electric Utility Restructuring Legislative Oversight Committee.

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Senate Subcommitte Combs the Desert

FORT STOCKTON - The spacious horizon of West Texas; some see the vast backdrop as a state treasure, others may call it a wasteland. Likewise, similar viewpoints can be found about the current state budget. Legislation created in the 77th Session helped to allocate funds to conduct a study on the feasibility of a spaceport in Texas, and citizens of West Texas are hoping the spaceport will find a home in their area.

The Senate Finance Subcommitte on the Spaceport Trust Fund met Thursday, August 22, 2002, to examine the Fort Stockton/Pecos County region as one of the possible sites of a planned new Texas spaceport. Once a mail carriers' hub between San Antonio and El Paso, the area has suffered economically, and is now competing with Brazoria and Willacy Counties for a chance to be the site of the spaceport. Pecos County has the second largest area of any county in the state, but only has a population of about 16,800. Having available area for the spaceport wouldn't be a problem as county. Judge Delmon Hodges jokingly put it, "you could crash something out here and wouldn't hurt anybody worth anything."

Following opening remarks by city and county officials, testimony began on educational programs. Lupe Franco of Fort Stockton ISD brought a group of students who had recently participated in a shuttle camp under the migrant student program. The students spoke of their experiences building rockets and weightlessness training in pools. They, along with Ms. Franco, testified that they felt a spaceport site in west Texas would help give other students a more knowledgeable sense of aerospace studies. Fredricksburg High School instructor Brett Williams, who teaches an aeroscience program, then provided the committee with a presentation outlining his program and how it has helped his students succeed in general math and sciences. Representing regional efforts were Brenda Lee of Midland College Technical Training Center and Amber McNew of the Regional Education Initiative. "West Texas is literally moving backwards," said Lee as she noted that a space center and engineering programs working side by side could help to advance students in all areas, and help advance all of West Texas.

West Texas Spaceport Development Corporation representatives George Riggs and Alex John Gonzalez appeared before the committee, vowing to work with the Legislature in every way to help make Pecos County the new site. Paul Birkeland of Space Technology Group presented a Trajectory and Market Analysis and explained how a launch site would operate. They added that West Texas is an ideal site in a presentation of the dynamics of a launch site, and the economic possibilities would be a great opportunity for the area. John Powell and Norman Brock of JP Aerospace also testified, with a slide show of the type of crafts they propose to launch if the spaceport is established. Doug May also appeared, representing the Fort Stockton Economic Development Corporation.

The Subcommittee is led by chairman, Senator Mike Jackson, and members include Senators Eddie Lucio and Troy Fraser. "It's gonna be a big battle over the money, but you guys are way out in front and I want to congratulate you on that," Jackson told the crowd at the close of the meeting. The subcommittee recessed subject to the call of the chair.

You can access the archived audio webcast from the Senate's web page of the Senate Finance Committe.

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