Texas legislative hearings called to investigate power grid crisis

Lights started coming back on for almost a half-million people across Texas shortly before noon Tuesday. The power ramped up, in part, because federal caps on emissions were temporarily lifted. Generators like wind turbines as well as natural gas and a South Texas nuclear power plant were also thawing out.

"And the more megawatts we are getting on the system every day the more restoration we can do every day," said ERCOT CEO Bill Magness.

An estimated 3 million customers across Texas were still out in the cold. There’s also the concern, as the sun goes down Solar Farms will stop generating power. That loss of power could bring about more blackouts. Magness told FOX7, they knew the weekend storm was going to be bad.  Just not this bad.

"And I think the generation community similar said, OK, we got a big issue coming, we get over these summer peaks effectively, let’s go, let’s see how we do," said Magness.

The explanation didn't sit well with Governor Greg Abbott who spoke to FOX7 by phone.

"For one, I declared it an emergency, I said publicly how bad it was, so if that’s their answer, that’s a bad answer, because everyone knew this was going to be bad. And we expected them to be prepared," said Governor Abbott.

Abbott is calling for an investigation into the crisis.

"And that is exactly why earlier today I declared ERCOT reform to be an emergency item this session, asking the legislature to immediately  investigate ERCOT what its decision making process was,, why it was they did not have more back up power prepared to deal with a situation like this," said Abbott.

The governor said he is aware that efforts were done and continue to be done, to get a reverse flow of energy into Texas from other regions. But those areas are also dealing with power shortages according to Magness.

"If we brought everyone on, which is our number one priority, to get every back with electric service, if we tried to do that without getting the resource side, the demand side supply side in balance, we risk, and we could have risked during this event to have a catastrophic blackout, where the conditions you have today where you are still out of power and very frustrated, that could go on for months," said Magness. 

Texas House Democrat caucus leader Chris Turner posted; the "power outages in Texas represent a catastrophic failure of leadership." Turner went on to say the legislature,

"must pull no punches as it conducts a top to bottom investigation into how this happened. Every aspect of the public and private sector connected to the electric market in Texas needs to be investigated- we need answers, accountability and corrective action."

Magness said he understands why people are upset.

"There is going to be a lot of analysis I can assure you by policy makers, leadership and the industry, to see what we are going to learn from this one," said Magness.

Those questions are coming fast. In a social media post House Speaker Dade Phelan announced a joint committee hearing on the 25th. The speaker stated the review is being done;

"Helping Texans understand what went wrong and how we can prevent these conditions from happening again," wrote Speaker Phelan.

The hearings are expected to echo those held in 2011 after a big February storm caused blackouts. At that time power generating companies were urged to upgrade facilities to prevent freezing. ERCOT believes changes made then prevented a shutdown in 2018.


"This is absolutely Deja vu all over again," said Jason Isaac.

As former state lawmaker Isaac pushed for ERCOT to be more focused on Reliability and not Renewable.  As an analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Isaac said he predicted the power crisis would come this past summer. But the COVID-19 shutdowns delayed it.

"They been playing games with their margins and reserve margins and forecasting how much electricity we were going to have, and this really came home to roost during a cold spell, one of the worst times," said Isaac.

City skylines which stayed lit up during the crisis are expected to help push reforms. But that glaring issue apparently isn't for lawmakers to address according to the governor.

"Those were local based decisions by the local energy distribution centers, not by ERCOT, so it is reprehensible but that is something on the local level that has to be decided," said Governor Abbott.

Monday night the Public Utility Commission ordered ERCOT to properly adjust pricing models to reflect the need for power. Doing that will prevent much of what’s generated, to address the crisis, from being moved into reserve.

State Emergency Management director Chief Nim Kidd urged those without power to go to warming centers. Kidd said the COVID19 protocols put in place during recent coastal storms will provide needed protection.