Buffett’s Berkshire Floats $8.3 Billion Fix for Texas Grid
(Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is proposing an $8.3 billion plan to help Texas avoid a repeat of February’s blackouts: Building a lot of new natural gas plants.
The conglomerate is asking state lawmakers to approve a plan for a new company that would add about 10 gigawatts of gas plants and emergency gas storage, according to a presentation seen by Bloomberg. The Texas grid operator would control the plants and could tap them to prevent blackouts like the one that left more than 4 million homes and businesses in the dark.
“We really want to make sure that this never happens again. So we’re really wanting to partner with the state,” Chris Brown, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Infrastructure Group, said in an interview. “The proposal is simple: state residents should have a reliable source of backup power.”
If Berkshire is successful in its lobbying, Texas would be adding a massive amount of new gas-fired capacity at a time when President Joe Biden is trying to shift the country away from fossil fuels -- and in a state that’s invested heavily in wind and solar power.
Under the proposal, Texas power customers would pay a fee to cover the costs of the plants. In exchange for making the investment, Berkshire is proposing to earn a 9.3% rate of return, which would need to approved by state regulators.
A spokesman for Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan confirmed that the office had received the slides and had met with Berkshire regarding the plan.
“We see little to no chance of Texas approving that Buffett proposal,” said Andy DeVries, a utility analyst at CreditSights. “If they were going to spend that amount of money -- which is a big if -- they would do it with Texas companies.”
Berkshire Hathaway’s plan was first reported by the Dallas Morning News.
The historic Texas outage hit during a rare and powerful winter storm that sent demand for electricity skyrocketing. At least 110 people died in the cold, and economic losses total as much as $129 billion.
Berkshire is calling its proposed company the Texas Emergency Power Reserve and could have its plan operational by the winter of 2023, according to the slides. The proposal would cost less than winterizing the state’s power generators or creating a so-called capacity market where generation units are paid to provide supplies in future years, according to Berkshire.
The additional capacity created by Berkshire would ensure that no customer would be without power for more than three hours, the company said. The Texas Reliability Corp. would offer a $4 billion performance guaranty provided by an investment graded counterparty.
Height Securities analyst Josh Price said he was “skeptical” that the idea would have traction with lawmakers.
“The key question will be whether policymakers are willing to forego market-based principles if a non-competitive approach would be more cost-effective,” he said in an email.
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