Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) wrote to Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) President and CEO Bill Magness today to inquire about ERCOT’s role in preparing for and responding to the recent extreme weather event that threatened the health and safety of millions of Texans.
The Committee is investigating the response to the recent extreme weather event that left Texas with sustained power and gas outages and contaminated drinking water which threatened the health and safety of millions of Americans. Today’s letter to ERCOT follows a letter from the five Committee members to Governor Greg Abbott two weeks ago.
Yesterday, ERCOT’s Board of Directors announced that it was terminating Mr. Magness as President and CEO, but that he would remain on for 60 days to assist with the transition to new leadership and potential new reforms to ERCOT.
“The ongoing crisis raises significant questions regarding Texas’ grid resilience and regulatory regime, and ERCOT’s stewardship of the grid prior to and during this crisis,” the five Committee members wrote. “According to reports, ERCOT was aware of the possibility of a significant winter weather event as early as Tuesday, February 9, 2021, but may not have appreciated the seriousness of the event or its possible implications.”
On top of hazardous travel conditions, prolonged energy service disruptions, water supply shortages, and other failures that resulted in at least 32 weather-related fatalities, the imbalance between energy supply and demand pushed electricity prices up to the cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour, resulting in rates approximately 180 times higher than the pre-storm average and bills as high as $17,000 in some cases.
The lawmakers stressed in their letter that more must be done to protect communities disproportionately impacted by winter power outages. They pointed to a 2011 report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) that made a number of recommendations for the electric and natural gas industries intended to help prevent blackouts and natural gas curtailments after another major storm event that year.
“Several of these recommendations were directed at ERCOT, but it is unclear the extent to which ERCOT implemented any of these recommendations,” the Committee leaders continued in their letter to ERCOT. “With extreme weather events becoming more frequent due to climate change, it is critical that ERCOT and Texas apply lessons from earlier emergency events in order to increase the strength and resiliency of the grid and prevent future blackouts.”
Citing the significant shortcomings in ERCOT’s preparation and response to this incident, lawmakers requested a briefing and information regarding the outages, including:
- To what extent were winterization or other preparation efforts made in advance of the extreme weather event that began on February 14 and were any recommendations from the 2011 report by FERC and NERC implemented?
- What protocols did ERCOT have in place to notify the public of the extreme weather event and associated power disruptions?
- Describe the process for implementing outages and address reports indicating that the loss of power to gas production facilities in the Permian Basin was a major problem that contributed to the broad and long-lasting blackout throughout much of Texas.
- Would increased connection with the Eastern and Western Interconnections in the United States have allowed Texas to import more power to alleviate the electricity shortages experienced within the State?
- Explain if scarcity pricing worked as intended during this extreme weather event and why, in many cases, generators were physically unable to provide power but customers ended up with utility bills in the thousands of dollars.
Read the full letter HERE.
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