‘Frustration, disappointment’: Texas lawmakers to grill ERCOT on statewide power problems

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texans face widespread power outages following deadly winter storms which swept across the Texas, state lawmakers are preparing to grill the managers of the power grid over what led to power problems.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas coordinates the flow of energy to approximately 26 million Texans — more than 85% of the population. The council, a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation, is governed by a 15-member board of directors. The board members answer to the Public Utility Commission (the three members of the PUC are appointed by the governor) and the Texas Legislature.

House and Senate leaders announced upcoming hearings to address ERCOT’s storm response and what transpired in the time leading up to the winter weather. Gov. Greg Abbott named reforming the council as an emergency item for the legislative session and called for resignations.

“Whatever the future holds, the priority for us now is to get the power back on,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said when asked about Abbott’s resignation remarks.

“Obviously, this has been a tremendously difficult situation,” he added, stating any assessment should be done “after we get power back on.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Abbott said the council “is kind of opaque.”

“The way that it runs is not transparent,” Abbott said.

Anna Reyes-Clute, who lives in Abilene, lost power as power was cut to her neighborhood.

“What’re they doing about it?” she asked. “I don’t care weather you are very rich or very poor we need heat, and we need our electricity back.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, used the words frustration and disappointment to describe how he felt about the widespread outages.

“We’re the legislature, we make the laws, we’re gonna take responsibility and get this fixed,” Hughes said. “We don’t know exactly what happened.”

State Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, said lawmakers would take a serious look at possible changes to ERCOT while the legislative session is underway this year.

“Let’s take care of people right now, take care of our neighbors or friends, get the power back online,” Frank said. “And then, and I’m not saying there doesn’t need to be a day of reckoning, but that reckoning needs to start probably next week, in terms of trying to figure out what happened and how we make sure this doesn’t happen ever again, in the future.”

Public Utility Spokesperson Andrew Barlow said it was too soon to say whether anyone at ERCOT or at the PUC should lose their position over the storm preps or response.

“We we are as anxious and committed to finding answers to this challenge as much as anyone is,” Barlow said.

“The process is a deliberative process, it’s a discovery process, and it’s a discussion process that needs to happen,” he said.

“I think in the heat of the moment, when people are upset, when they’re sitting in their homes without power, and they’re cold, and they’re frightened, it’s natural to want to take as many measures as possible to somehow get, you know, what might be considered justice for them,” Barlow said. “But at the end of the day, the process exists to work through it and really find out what were the contributing factors and then make decisions.”

One of the emerging criticisms has been what practices were implemented after power outages following a 2011 storm. Each individual generator can follow industry best practices developed after the 2011 storm to winterize equipment. PUC spot-checks approximately 100 out of 600 generators to look whether generators voluntarily follow the guidance (which is not mandated). Last year, the checks were virtual due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. ERCOT leadership said the council is ultimately not in charge of keeping power generators up to speed on that guidance.

ERCOT’s board chair called for a virtual meeting on Feb. 24 to address “critical actions” relating to the storm and outages. Chair Sally Talberg said she expected the members, going forward, to “take the necessary actions to assure Texas residents and businesses never again experience power outages on this magnitude.”

Brittany Cottingham, Avery Travis and Todd Bynum contributed to this report.

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