ERCOT board meets to respond to Texas power crisis

The board of directors for electrical grid operator ERCOT met Wednesday morning for the first time since last week's power crisis, a day before legislative hearings at the Texas State Capitol are set to begin.

The board during a teleconference turned up the heat on those who manage the electrical grid.

"Today we are going to begin to examine what happened, and better understand the role in the decision by ERCOT to prepare for and respond to this extreme weather event," said Chairperson Sally Talberg.

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In response, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness made a pledge. "I want to emphasize, what ERCOT wants to do today, what ERCOT wants to do at the legislative hearing tomorrow and going forward is provide explanation, not excuses," said Magness.

Board members were told ERCOT knew a severe storm was on the way. Magness said alerts and advisories were sent to power generators on February 8th and again on the 10th. But board member Jacqueline Sargent, who runs Austin Energy, questioned the initial response.

"I feel that the issue with ERCOT's concerns with regards to this event should have been more broadly communicated at our Feb 9th Board meeting and that the concerns with regards to the upcoming weather event should have been communicated more specifically and I feel as a board member very frustrated that, that did not occur," said Sargent.

The board was told that almost half of the state's capacity to generate power went down. Magness blamed freeze-ups, supply line problems, and one other big issue.


"Generation owners and operators are not required to implement minimum weatherization standards or perform exhausted reviews every winter of vulnerability, no entity whether PUC or ERCOT has rules in place to force compliance with weatherization plans, it is in the interest of generators who want to running, especially when our market provides them high prices for performance during scarcity to undertake those activities, but I just note, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether there are mandatory standards, at the time there is not," said Magness.

That regulatory gap was brought up before the board meeting. A group of energy experts held a panel discussion about the power crisis.

"It was generation and transmission, the key issue that we saw was a cascading problem throughout the generation fleet," said Michael Jewell an electricity, energy, telecommunications consultant.


The blame, according to panel members, is not limited to power generators, but political power brokers. "To put it a bit more bluntly, the buck stops with the legislature. We are a state with a weak governor's system, we kept the federal regulators at of our business, each other agency only address one piece of the problem," said Daniel Cohan, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering at Rice University.

The group believes extreme weather cycles now make it necessary for reforms beyond the grid. Alison Silverstein, a consultant on transmission and distribution, system reliability, and energy efficiency, suggested tougher insulation requirements in residential and commercial building codes.

"So if your only goal is to solve the electrical problem you are going to fail. It's much bigger and don’t waste all of our time with this silly look for villains and blaming, let’s start figuring out how to solve meaningful problems with meaningful solutions on a much broader scale," said Silverstein.

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Financial assistance programs, according to Silverstein, are also needed to help low-income families weatherize their homes.

The panel also addressed how downtowns kept power because of critical infrastructure like hospitals. It was recommended that state and local governments should invest in new systems that can better manage and target rolling blackouts. The panel also thought the mass resignation of out-of-state ERCOT board members could cause a brain drain  It was argued that board members from other parts of the county have firsthand experience with cold weather climates and that knowledge could be useful in Texas.