Texas lawmakers lining up questions for looming ERCOT investigation

National

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the snow begins to melt, the lights come back on for most Texans and plumbing problems linger, state leaders are lining up their questions for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC).

“What the hell happened?” State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, asked rhetorically, when questioned about what concerns she wants ERCOT and PUC to address.

ERCOT and PUC leadership are among those likely to testify in front of lawmakers from both chambers next week. The Texas House State Affairs Committee and Energy Resources Committee will hold a joint hearing on Feb. 25, as will the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. The Senate Jurisprudence Committee is also lining up a hearing to review legal culpability for the long-lasting outages that began during the storm and extended for days.

“Why didn’t the Public Utility Commission— appointed by the governor— do what they should do, which is to guide these private sector industries to make sure that the “R” in ERCOT was continuing to stand for reliable?” Israel said.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said some officials should be removed from their positions over the handling of the storm preparations and response.

“Without question, there need to be people that are held accountable,” Leach said.

Leach believes there are legislative changes that can be made at the state level to solve some of the problems that arose this week.

“We can and will fix this, this session,” Leach said.

“We’re going to make the necessary investments in our infrastructure to make sure this never happens again,” he added. “We owe it to the people of Texas who we answer to.”

But Israel is wary of the governor’s emergency item to find funding to winterize power generating facilities.

“I’m hesitant to spend state dollars on private corporations that need to take care of their stuff,” Israel said. “You should have taken care of your stuff.”

Israel and Leach, acknowledging budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are critical of the source of funding for fixes to the power and plumbing problems stemming from the severe winter weather.

“I’m hopeful, and I’m expectant that we’re going to be able to make the necessary investments without putting this crisis on the backs of people who are already struggling in our state,” Leach said, citing the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, or Rainy Day Fund, which is holding on to shy of $10 billion.

In a Friday morning press conference, ERCOT’s CEO said the council’s leadership does “not want this to happen again.”

“Any effort… wherever it happens… we’re happy to participate in figuring out solutions that keep us from this sort of thing,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott, in a briefing Friday afternoon, said “ERCOT fell short” of meeting the durability assurances outlined ahead of the storm.

“I have ordered the state legislature to investigate exactly why ERCOT fell short here, and to make sure this never happens again,” Abbott said, explaining he expected the investigations to yield remedies to prevent the lengthy outages and near grid collapse from occurring in the future.

Photojournalist Todd Bynum contributed to this report.

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