AUSTIN, Texas - In a statewide address Wednesday night, Gov. Greg Abbott told Texans they had a right to be angry after last week’s severe winter storm.
"Tragic does not even begin to describe the devastation and suffering that you have endured over the past week," he said. "Our task now is to take the lessons from the past week, as well as the anger that we all feel, and channel them into immediate action."
The governor listed three items of immediate action. First, he plans to protect Texans from skyrocketing power bills or from having their power shut off if customers can't pay their bill this month.
Second, he plans to ‘overhaul’ ERCOT. The governor said they are already working on reforms, and the attorney general has launched a formal investigation into ERCOT.
Third, the governor has made it a legislative priority to mandate and fund winterization and stabilization of power infrastructure in Texas.
While State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) in part agreed with the governor’s initial plans, she called it more complicated.
"I appreciate that he’s made it an emergency item to deal with weatherization," said Rep. Howard, responding to the governor’s address on Wednesday. "But I think we have to do a better job of…looking at the very complicated system of energy provision in our state."
Howard said that along with ERCOT, they should be looking into the Public Utilities Commission as well as the Railroad Commission. "ERCOT is an easy place to point a finger," said Rep. Howard. "But they're only one of many entities that are involved in the whole system."
Legislative hearings on last week’s power crisis are set to begin Thursday morning at the Capitol.
"You deserve answers," said Gov. Abbott. "This legislative session will not end until we fix these problems, and we will ensure that the tragic events of the past week are never repeated."
More than four million Texans reported having no power during and after a winter storm last week that also caused many water issues and claimed the lives of at least 80 people.
ERCOT, which manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers and represents about 90% of the state's electric load, drew blame for the way it handled the major power outage. On Tuesday, five ERCOT board members stepped down from their positions, a day before Texas lawmakers were set to begin hearings over the outages.
Abbott, who has been very vocal in his criticism of the board, declared the reform of ERCOT an emergency item this legislative session in the hopes of getting to the bottom of what happened and ensuring it doesn't happen again.
Abbott also called a meeting last week with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, and several members of the Texas Legislature to discuss the need to ensure that Texans are not left with unreasonable utility bills they cannot afford because of the temporary massive spike in the energy market. Some Texans have been reporting energy bills in the thousands following the power outages, with one Arlington family reporting a bill of $17,000 for three meters over five days of use.