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Five Texas electricity board members to resign amid winter power failures

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Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Five board members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), including the chairman and vice-chairman, announced their resignations Tuesday after the state's energy grid failed to provide power to much of the state during last week's devastating winter weather.

The members will formally resign after ERCOT’s Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Wednesday. ERCOT, which manages roughly 90 percent of the state's power for 26 million customers, made national news for its large-scale failure to provide millions of Texans with power, and subsequently no heat or water for many days, during sub-zero temperatures.

Of the resignations, ERCOT said in a statement, “We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing Board Members for their service.”

The resignation letters were filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which along with the Legislature oversees the organization.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who called on the Legislature to investigate ERCOT’s failures, said he welcomed their resignations.

“When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power,” Abbott said in a statement. “ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false. The lack of preparedness and transparency at ERCOT is unacceptable, and I welcome these resignations. The state of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.”

Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he was launching an investigation into ERCOT and 11 power companies for extensive power failures. He issued Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) regarding power outages, emergency plans, and spiked energy pricing.

“I’m using the full scope of my Constitutional powers to launch an investigation into ERCOT and other entities that grossly mishandled this week’s extreme winter weather,” Paxton said. “While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark. We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”

CIDs were issued to AEP Texas, Calpine Corporation, CenterPoint Energy Services, Griddy Energy, La Frontera Holdings, Luminant Generation Company, NRG Texas Power, Oncor Electric Delivery Company, Panda Sherman Power, Temple Generation I, and the Texas-New Mexico Power Company.

Jason Isaac, Director of Life:Powered, at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said it’s almost as if ERCOT managers “were asleep at the wheel. They woke up at the last second right before hitting a deer and hit the deer and swerved at the same time. Then, they continued to make bad decisions … that impacted gas supply for residential users, for other power plants that hadn’t tripped offline … essentially cut natural gas supply by implementing rolling outages in the Permian [Basin] to less than 25 percent of its normal supply, a massive decrease in our natural gas supply.”

Kevin Roberts, executive director at TPPF, said at a recent panel discussion on ERCOT’s failures that the manager of Texas’ electric grid turned off power to the plants that were providing electricity to Texans.

In response, Isaac explained that someone at ERCOT or a local municipality “shut off the pumps in the Permian, the largest-producing energy field in the world providing natural gas. Just mind blowing that that happened.”

For every heating-related death, there are 20 cold-related deaths in Texas, Isaac said. To lose power in February is more dangerous than to lose power in the summer, he said. As of Monday, there were 40 reported deaths due to the power failures statewide.

Thursday, ERCOT, the Railroad Commission and the Public Utilities Commission will answer to state lawmakers tasked with investigating the power failure.

The House Energy Committee, the House State Affairs Committee, and the Senate Business and Commerce Committee all will hold hearings Thursday.