Plans Set to Investigate Electricity Outages

February 19, 2021

Legislative News

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Plunging temperatures, ice and snow across Texas led to swaths of electricity outages throughout the state. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, approximately 4.4 million Texas customers were without power as the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) struggled to keep up with the extreme levels of demand. Texas reached new peak demand during the storm and, as a result, ERCOT issued an Energy Emergency Alert (EEA) level three. EEA level three is the highest level of emergency operations that exists at ERCOT. Early in the morning on Feb. 15, ERCOT began to instruct electric providers to begin reducing their load on the system by implementing blackouts. Although these have been referred to as “rolling blackouts or “rotating outages,” many utilities were unable to roll or rotate through many of the outages due to “poor grid conditions.” This means that many Texans were left without power for multiple days in below-freezing temperatures. ERCOT Director of Operations Dan Woodfin stated that the plan “is intended to preserve the reliability of the grid as a whole and make sure that we don’t have worse problems than these kinds of outages.” However, many government officials have a plethora of questions for ERCOT. 

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) quickly called for a joint hearing by the House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees to review the factors that led to the statewide blackouts. Speaker Phelan requested that the two committees meet on Feb. 25 for a comprehensive examination. “We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most, what our state can do to correct these issues and what steps regulators and grid operators and taking to safeguard our electric grid,” the speaker said. House State Affairs Committee Chair Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) and Energy Resources Committee Chair Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) thanked Speaker Phelan for calling for the hearing and stated that they look forward to working to get to the bottom of this issue. 

On the same day, Gov. Greg Abbott declared ERCOT Reform an emergency item for this legislative session. The governor called on the 87th Legislature “to investigate ERCOT and ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days.” The governor stated that he will work with members of both the house and the senate to enhance Texas’ electric grid. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Then, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued a statement. He explained that the Senate Business & Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), will be moving forward with hearings to get answers. 

On Feb. 18, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), chair of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, announced the committee would hold a hearing "to examine the law an jurisprudence governing ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC)." Under state law, the PUC has the duty to oversee ERCOT. 

Chair Huffman stated, “the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence is committed to investigating the legal implications of ERCOT's and the PUC's action, or inaction, in contributing to this catastrophe across our State.” At this time, no date has been set for Senate hearings related to the outages.

TAC will be following the House and Senate committee hearings on this issue and will report back with developments. For additional information on this article, please contact Amy Befeld.