What ERCOT says it could’ve done better during Texas winter freeze, and what lawmakers are looking for in hearings

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas held a hearing with its board members on Wednesday to address the energy crisis that struck the state as the winter freeze moved in last week.

During the virtual hearing, ERCOT outlined the details of every decision made leading into the weather event. That included showing the state was only four minutes and 37 seconds away from the entire grid collapsing.

ERCOT would then have had to move into “lack start,” where operators would no longer have control of the grid, and have to stitch it back together. Even more concerning, out of the 13 units it depends on for Operation Black Start to stitch everything together, six units experienced outages themselves during the freeze.

Still, ERCOT stands by its decisions, pointing to quick actions from operators that saved the state from entering that massive, complete blackout that would take weeks to repair. But, board members do say there were some things that could have been done better.

“I certainly could have done a better job emphasizing what was coming,” ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said, admitting his communication to generators and the public could have been better ahead of and during the event.

ERCOT said it could have been more clear with language when it noticed the “rolling” blackouts it was calling for would actually be sustained due to the amount of load it was requiring generators to shed.

“When you get to 20,000 megawatts, what we heard from the transmission owners in the middle of the night and into Monday morning was, ‘There’s not many more places we can shed this load,'” Magness said.

Projections and predictions about supply chain needs will also need to be stronger in the future, especially as more renewable energy sources are added to the grid.

“Looking forward, forecasting is going to be absolutely critical to the market participants, meeting the supply and demand challenges,” board member Peter Cramton said during the hearing.

Lawmakers were listening closely to Wednesday’s hearing ahead of their own investigative hearings into ERCOT and the crisis slated for Thursday.

“We want to know what went wrong and why. What were their structural issues, were there communication issues or were there regulatory issues,” explained Rep. Chris Paddie, the Republican heading up the House’s State Affairs Committee.

He said legislators know ERCOT is not the only agency at fault.

“This was not just isolated to ERCOT, [the Public Utility Commission,] or any one entity. We’re going to find that we had failures throughout the system from generation all the way out to a wellhead in West Texas,” Rep. Paddie added.

Responding to criticism that some blame falls on state leaders, including legislators, for failing to respond properly after the winter event in 2011, Rep. Paddie said it’s too early to indicate what more, if anything, could have been done to prevent this catastrophe.

“I think it’s premature to say, ‘Hey, you could have done X, Y and Z, and that would have prevented this,’ at this point. Because again, we don’t know all the facts yet,” Rep. Paddie said.

“There is no single issue, whether it was weatherization or the level of regulatory oversight that was there. There’s no single issue that caused this — there are a bunch of issues. We want to know what every one of those are. And then let’s talk about how we fix them,” Rep. Paddie said.

The Texas Senate and House hearings are both set to begin on Thursday at 9 a.m. KXAN will stream them online.

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