Former Texas House Speaker Laney: ERCOT needs “a little control for the good of the people”

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — In the 1990s, Former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney fought to keep the Panhandle and South Plains region off of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas power grid.

As previously reported, the majority of the Panhandle is served by Southwest Power Pool through Xcel Energy, on a completely separate grid from most of the rest of the state.

On Friday, Laney (D-Hale Center) said he stood by that decision after millions of Texans under ERCOT were left without power and water for days.

“It makes me feel that I was not wrong several years ago in the way I felt about the way the utilities were pretty good here in the Texas Panhandle,” said Laney.

Laney claimed ERCOT was created to deregulate all the utility business in Texas.

“It’s why they were created to begin with,” Laney said. “They were not controlled by anything and some things, they need a little control for the good of the people.”

State Representative John Smithee (R-86) serves on the State Affairs Committee, which oversees electric utilities and consumption.

On Wednesday, Rep. Smithee said there were warning signs about the Texas grid 10 years ago, during a similar winter storm in 2011, and as recently as 2018.

“The question is, did we properly respond in 2011? And the answer is probably no, it should have been taken a little more seriously,” Rep. Smithee said.

When asked on Friday about what should have happened after 2011, Laney said, “You had a deregulation atmosphere of all statewide officials and everything else during that period of time and so I guess it was not that noticeable to them, because maybe they weren’t directly affected, but now they have been directly affected.”

Laney believes change will follow the power crisis.

He said, “There’s gonna be a change of attitudes in other parts of the state because of what happened in back in 2011 and this go-round.”

Senate District 31 covers the Panhandle counties and the Midland-Odessa area, meaning prolonged power issues for about half of State Sen. Kel Seliger‘s (R-31) constituents this week.

“Those who were on ERCOT had power outages of at least, some of them 21 hours, and more. I think water’s back in most cases, those of us in Southwest Power Pool and Xcel had rolling blackouts,” Sen. Seliger said on Friday.

He continued, “When they go to several—four or five days or 21 hours power was out, I think, in parts of Midland—that’s not a rolling blackout. You can’t fool people. They’re the ones who are sitting there and cold with no light.”

Sen. Seliger said hopefully the State Legislature can set standards for ERCOT to do its job and better inform people when they might lose power.

“The question needs to be answered now, is why is there an ERCOT and who picked that name? It’s more of a it’s—it’s more like the ‘energy [sic] semi-reliability council of Texas’ and we need to get to that too, because it cannot be relied upon to give reliable information under any circumstances.”

According to Sen. Seliger, no entity providing these services will ever be perfect, but he said the assumption of responsibility and basic communication could have been better.

“If there’s a possibility that somebody is going to be out of gas, electricity, or water, since we know what everybody’s address is, how hard would it be to kind of warn them? ‘Fill up bottles with water now, fill up your bathtub now. It looks like your power is going to be out at this hour, maybe? And will last till this hour,'” Sen. Seliger added.

He continued, “I’ve been on two phone calls in the last three or four days where people have asked people at ERCOT how much of our natural gas-generating capacity was offline, when this all started? They still won’t answer the question, I assume because it’s embarrassing and people deserve the right to be informed.”

When asked about accountability, Sen. Seliger said any assurance of greater reliability between now and the next severe weather occurrence would come with a price tag.

“Should ERCOT, Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston area, be in on part of a national grid? A lot of power from that goes into Southwest Power Pool comes from outside the state of Texas. It’s a discussion we ought to have and always, what is going to be the cost?” Seliger said.

The State Affairs Committee will meet next Thursday to hear from ERCOT. will reach out to Rep. Smithee for comment about the proceedings.

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