Written by Rick Rojas
Five officials will resign from the oversight board of Texas’s power grid after it was pushed to the brink of collapse by the recent winter storm, leaving millions of people without power during some of the coldest temperatures the state has known for a generation.
The Texas Electric Reliability Council, the board that governs the flow of electricity for more than 26 million people in the state, has been blamed for the widespread blackouts, prompting the governor, lawmakers and officials federal officials to begin investigating system failures, particularly in anticipation of cold weather.
The five board members, who intend to step down after a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning, were all from outside Texas, a point of contention for critics who questioned the wisdom foreigners playing such an influential role in the infrastructure of the state.
In a statement filed Tuesday with the Public Utility Commission, four of the board members said they were stepping down “to give heads of state a free hand with future directions and to eliminate distractions.” In a footnote, the file added that a fifth member was also resigning.
Those leaving are Sally Talberg, the president and a former utility regulator who lives in Michigan; Peter Cramton, vice-president and professor of economics at the University of Cologne in Germany and the University of Maryland; Terry Bulger, a retired banking executive who lives in Illinois; Raymond Hepper, a former official with the agency that oversees the New England power grid; and Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, who oversees regulatory affairs for a company headquartered in Canada. Another person who was to fill a vacant seat, Craig S. Ivey, stepped down from the 16-member board of directors.
The board has become the target of blame and oversight after last week’s winter storm that brought the state’s power grid precariously close to a complete blackout that could have taken months to recover. In a last-minute effort to prevent this, the council, known as ERCOT, ordered widespread blackouts that plunged much of the state into darkness and spiked prices of the ‘electricity. Some clients had invoices well over $ 10,000.
Time crippled the system when power plants were taken offline and the pumps used to produce the natural gas needed to power them froze.
State officials said ERCOT had offered assurances that the power infrastructure was prepared to withstand winter conditions.
“But those assurances have turned out to be woefully untrue,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement, adding: “When the Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and the Texans were left behind. shivering in their homes without electricity. “
As the state reeled from the crisis, the realization that some board members lived out of state became a source of outrage, so much so that ERCOT initially withdrew from the state. information about them on its website. Officials said the members had been harassed and threatened.
A state lawmaker said he was considering proposing legislation that would ban people who were not residents of Texas from serving on the council.
“If you don’t live here, if you don’t live what we are going through and are responsible for making decisions on our behalf, that’s unacceptable,” says Rep. Jeff Leach, whose district covers a wide swath of. the Dallas suburbs said in a recent interview.
The council resignations come as the state legislature prepares to hold hearings on the power outages on Thursday. The Harris County District Attorney, whose jurisdiction includes Houston, said Tuesday he is opening a civil inquiry looking into decisions made by the ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, among others, and the Travis County District Attorney, which includes Austin, said he was opening a criminal investigation.
In a statement, ERCOT said, “We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature and thank the outgoing council members for their service.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Monday evening that its enforcement division would examine the activity of the wholesale natural gas and electricity market in Texas, presumably to determine whether there had been any anti-competitive illegal manipulations or abuses. price.
Blackouts in the electrical system pushed wholesale electricity prices from $ 1,200 per megawatt hour to about $ 9,000.
Energy analysts said the failure involved not only monitoring by ERCOT, but also state electricity providers who had not prepared their systems for the harsh weather conditions.
“Heads had to roll, but I don’t think that will change anything,” said Michael E. Webber, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s easy to blame the out-of-state board members of the grid operator rather than the state’s gas producers and power plant owners.”
These operators neglected to spend money on tampering with their instruments, pipelines and power lines in order to withstand the freezing weather, he said, because they were not required to do so by the regulations of the ‘State.
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