New ERCOT CEO expects Texas power grid to hold this winter

The new head of ERCOT, Pablo Vegas, made his first public appearance Thursday with PUC chairman Peter Lake.

"It took a while but the Board is confident we got the right person, and we are thrilled to have him," said Lake.

Vegas has more than a decade of experience in the power generation business and also has a background in computer technology.

"I'm Thrilled to be taking this new role, leading ERCOT, absolutely thrilled," said Vegas.

Vegas, who replaces Interim CEO Brad Jones, has a yearly base pay of just under a million dollars. His compensation package over 6 years is estimated to be close to $7 million. That amount could grow if certain goals are met.

Thursday, Vegas said he spent his first few weeks on the job getting to know his team. But there is not much time for a learning curve. Vegas has to make sure the reforms that got the grid through a record-breaking summer will continue to keep the lights on this winter. 

What may be even tougher is convincing the public the grid will hold.

"The key is going to be continued reliable execution," said Vegas.

That job, according to Vegas, will be long-running.

"So we continue to be tested, we continue to pass those test, that’s how we rebuild the trust and faith in the reliability of the electric grid," he said.

Changing public perception comes as customers are seeing high power bills. Local utilities, like at Austin Energy, blame recent natural gas price increases. But PUC chairman Peter Lake acknowledge redesigning the grid after the winter storm in 2021 came with a cost.

"So certainly can’t speak to the local decisions made at the Austin city level, but in context of the cost of increased reliability, operations at ERCOT, to date the total reliable operations between expanded reserves, for a greater margin of safety, getting more generators on sooner rather than later, all of those operational changes have cost on average a $1.25 per household per month," said Lake.

That payment brought this promise.

"Our grid will be ready for, is ready for, whatever Mother Nature throws at us," said Lake.

The next step for Vegas is how ERCOT will manage a new marketplace for power generators.

"We will see what kind of investments we need to make in the organization to be able to make those changes as quickly as reliably as we can, because one of our goals is to not only execute and implement this new market model but to do it as rapidly as fast as we can, so we can see the benefits of that coming out as quickly as possible," said Vegas.

The new market will not only determine how much generators will be paid for they electricity they sell. It will determine if new power plants will be built. All that will ultimately be played out, and paid out, on utility bills.