AUSTIN, Texas - Before the storm hit and the power went off, residents of Texas were urged to conserve energy. That messaging brought about a sharp exchange in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Thursday between state Rep Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) and Texas Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd.
Chief Kidd was grilled throughout the morning about how the state and some local utilities did not sound a bigger alarm.
"Let me just ask you directly, do you believe if you are told by the people who have the authority to know, that power outages are likely in the state of Texas, do you have the responsibility to tell that the public," asked Schaefer.
"If power outages are likely or iminent?" asked Kidd. "Likely," responded Schaefer.
"We would share that message through conservation effort, yes," Kidd said. "No, no, I’m asking for outages," Schaefer said.
Kidd explained that current law limits what he can do before and during a crisis. Addressing that according to committee chairman James White (R-Woodville) is the challenge for state lawmakers.m "In looking at the statue, coordination, and collaboration, not much. No regulatory. Or command or direction." said White.
Chief Kidd agreed as White continued, "And that’s something we need to think about. I mean again, without energy and water we are heading back to the stone age, pretty quick."
No one is calling for Kidd to step aside, but the head of ERCOT could not avoid the calls for accountability. CEO Bill Magness, who spent the power crisis explaining how they prevented the electrical grid from a total collapse, was fired Wednesday night by the remaining members of the ERCOT board of directors. In accordance with his employment agreement, his severance pay will be equivalent to one year of his current base salary, which is more than $800,000.
FOX 7 Austin has also confirmed that among the ERCOT board members to resign last week is Austin Energy GM Jacqueline Sargent. Her resignation on Feb. 27 from the ERCOT board came shortly after she testified at the State Capitol. At that time she was asked about Austin Energy's decision to keep its biomass power plant in east Texas in a mothball status during the winter months. Sargent explained they tried to power up the site but could not.
In the state Senate, the issue of accountability was more about the financial fallout from the power crisis. The demand for power, during the crisis, drove fuel prices to record levels. Market analysts and officials with local utilities Thursday told the Senate Committee on Business and Finance that in one week many providers spent more on natural gas than what they spend in a year.
Lawmakers were warned that paying the bill is creating another crisis.
"Many of the other suppliers have gas costs that are coming, you all discussed this before, March 25th is the day when most of those gas cost indexes close, so I think we are going to see more and more financial distress that’s just insurmountable," said Kathy Webking with the Texas Energy Association for Marketers.
As a result, some utilities may go into bankruptcy protection, while others will have bond ratings lowered, which could increase the cost for winterization and expansion projects