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Top board leaders resign after deadly Texas power outages

The resignations are the first since the start of the Texas crisis, and calls for broader layoffs remain in the wake of one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history.

Top executives on the board of directors of the ailing Texas power grid operator said on Tuesday they would resign after outrage from more than 4 million customers who lost power last week during a deadly winter storm, many whose frigid homes ran out of heat for days in sub-zero temperatures.

The resignations are the first since the start of the Texas crisis, and calls for broader layoffs remain in the wake of one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history.

Read also | Why are millions of people in Texas without power during a winter storm?

All five of the resigning directors, including President Sally Talberg, live outside Texas, which has only heightened criticism from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The resignations are effective Wednesday – a day before Texas lawmakers are expected to vigorously question grid managers and energy officials over the failures in the state Capitol hearings.

Another director candidate, who also doesn’t live in Texas, said he was withdrawing his name.

Four of the outgoing board members acknowledged “concerns about the direction of the board out of state” in a letter to members of the network and to the State Utilities Commission, which oversees ERCOT. During the crisis, ERCOT officials removed contact details for board members from its website, saying they had become the target of threats.

“Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat and water during the freezing temperatures and who continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency,” the letter read.

The other members of the board are Vice President Peter Cramton, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper. Ms. Talberg lives in Michigan and Mr. Bulger lives in Wheaton, Illinois, according to their biographies on the ERCOT website. Mr. Cramton and Mr. Hepper have spent their careers working outside of Texas. The fifth member of the board who leaves is Vanessa Anesetti-Parra.

The ERCOT board of directors is made up of 16 members in total, which appoints managers who manage the day-to-day operations of the network manager.

Historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures in Texas last week left millions of people without power and water for days. The storm was part of any icy explosion across the Deep South that is responsible for more than 80 deaths, about half of them in Texas.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has largely blamed the outages on ERCOT and called for inquiries. But the problems were larger than ERCOT’s, including power plants that were taken offline by the extreme cold and natural gas producers failed to protect wellheads from freezing.

“The lack of preparation and transparency at ERCOT is unacceptable, and I welcome these resignations,” Abbott said in a statement. “The State of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of the past week are never repeated.

ERCOT President Bill Magness said the Texas power grid – which is only isolated from the rest of the United States – was on the verge of collapse in the early hours of February 15, as power plants were freezing in the cold and a record demand for electricity to heat. the house overwhelmed the system. He defended the blackouts as a necessity, while Mr Abbott accused ERCOT of misleading Texas about network readiness.

As governor, Mr. Abbott chooses the commissioners of the Public Utility Commission which oversees ERCOT. The selection of “unaffiliated” ERCOT board members – like most of those who resign – must be approved by the PUC.

According to 2018 tax returns, Mr. Cramton received $ 87,000 in pay and worked an average of five hours per week. Mr. Bulger was paid $ 65,250 and worked an average of eight hours per week. Three other board members at the time were paid between $ 92,600 and $ 100,100, although it was not immediately clear how many hours they were working. ERCOT valued Mr. Magness’ total compensation that year at $ 883,264.

After ERCOT removed board members’ information from the website, Mr. Magness admitted it was public information during a call with reporters last week, but did not not describe the nature of the threats.

“It was a safety and security idea,” said Mr. Magness.

Mr Cramton, whose page on professional networking site LinkedIn lists him as living in California, declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday. Other council members did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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