“Top Texas lawmakers call for investigation and action on state’s energy grid operator” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Texas’ top elected officials called for legislation and investigations into the operation of the state’s power grid after a massive winter storm caused millions of residents in the state to lose power for long spans during frigid temperatures.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday declared the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session. The declaration marks the issue as a top priority and allows lawmakers in the House and Senate to approve bills on the subject during the first 60 days of the session. ERCOT is a nonprofit that manages the grid used by about 90% of the state.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”
The governor’s latest announcement came hours after Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, asked two committees in the lower chamber to hold a joint hearing later this month to review the outages. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, requested the House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees convene for the hearing on Feb. 25.
“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues and what steps regulators and grid operators are taking to safeguard our electric grid,” Phelan said in a news release.
Later Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the head of the state Senate, said the Senate Business & Commerce Committee would also hold hearings “to get answers to our questions.”
“Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable,” Patrick said in a statement. “We must get to the bottom of this to be sure we are better prepared even if an unprecedented weather event happens again.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins blamed the power failures, however, on Abbott and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry. He argued they prioritized commercial entities over residents by not requiring equipment to be better equipped for cold weather.
“We made a choice to get the lowest price possible for large commercial customers without doing the things that are necessary — that all the other states do — to protect residential customers in extreme weather,” he said.
“Bad policy predictably always leads to very bad results,” he added.
None of the three leaders proposed specific fixes for ERCOT or the state’s energy supply, and it’s unclear what ideas they might have in mind.
Other state officials have expressed concerns — and, in some cases, outrage — over ERCOT’s handling of the power outages. Millions of people have lost power, many for multiple hours or longer as temperatures remain well below freezing. At least 10 deaths have been reported. More freezing weather was expected for much of the state into Wednesday, and some areas are expected to see more snow.
“This whole situation is beyond infuriating. Completely unacceptable,” state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning. “I am making it my personal mission to find those responsible for this and hold them to account. You deserve nothing less. You deserve better.”
One lawmaker, state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, called on Twitter for ERCOT’s CEO and board to resign.
— José Menéndez (@Menendez4Texas) February 16, 2021
And during a phone briefing with ERCOT later Tuesday, a number of state lawmakers demanded answers into what went wrong — and what the Legislature may be able to do to prevent similar failures in the future.
“While I hear the explanation of the weather, it’s just not acceptable to me,” state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, said on the call. “It’d be different if we were getting weather that no one else has ever experienced in the history of this country.”
Jolie McCullough contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-power-outage-ercot/.