House subcommittee launches probe into ERCOT’s role in February power crisis

Texas

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness testifies during this Feb. 25, 2021 Texas Senate hearing about the statewide power grid failures resulting from winter storm Uri that left 4.5 million Texans without power and heat.

WASHINGTON (KXAN) — The House Subcommittee on the Environment launched a probe Wednesday into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and the agency’s role in February’s power crisis brought on by winter storms.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, sent a letter to Bill Magness, the president and CEO of ERCOT, requesting information and documents “regarding their lack of preparation for the recent winter storm that caused millions of power outages across the state.”

Khanna said recommendations in a joint 2011 report by two energy industry regulators, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation, were not followed and that generation sources in the state were not ready for the extremely low temperatures.

“Extreme winter weather events in Texas have occurred repeatedly over decades, and ERCOT has been unprepared for them,” Khanna wrote in the letter. “ERCOT’s own consultant has predicted that such extreme winter weather events will continue to occur every decade. The Subcommittee is concerned that the loss of electric reliability, and the resulting human suffering, deaths, and economic costs, will happen again unless ERCOT and the State of Texas confront the predicted increase in extreme weather events with adequate preparation and appropriate infrastructure.”

In the wake of the storms and ensuing energy disaster, seven ERCOT board members have resigned, and all but one of those weren’t even residents of Texas. The most recent board member to quit was Clifton Karnei, the executive vice president of Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, and his company also filed for bankruptcy due to owing ERCOT $2.1 billion.

ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas have been subject to intense Texas Congressional hearings over the past week. PUCT chair DeAnn Walker also resigned and said, “others should “come forward in dignity and courage and acknowledge how their actions or inactions contributed to the situation.”

Testifying in the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said ERCOT could have done more to communicate with the public before and during the storm.

“We were solving problems, but I think we should have been talking more to people about what this was starting to look like,” Magness said.

“What we did not anticipate was losing, you know, up to 48% of the generation available on Monday night, and that that is on us,” Magness testified.

The subcommittee seeks documents “relating to ERCOT’s preparedness for extreme weather events,” and communications about how they figured out to implement blackouts and other electric supply disruptions from Feb. 13-17.

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