In a statewide address timed for the 6:00 local newscasts Wednesday evening, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that “Tragic does not even begin to describe” the suffering Texans endured during last week’s severe arctic weather event that led to power blackouts that impacted as many as 14 million Texans. “Many of you are angry — and you have a right to be. I’m angry too. At a time when essential services were needed the most, the system broke. You deserve answers. You will get those answers.”
Assuring Texans that “This legislative session will not end until we fix these problems,” the Governor also amended his initial blaming of the issue on the failure of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, admitting to the reality that “power generation from all sources buckled under the harsh, freezing winter weather. That includes natural gas, coal, nuclear, as well as wind and solar.”
That is a really healthy admission in the search for truth, a fact I and others have been laying out since February 15. The simple fact is that every aspect of the Texas grid failed to some extent, causing a near-total collapse of the Texas grid. At their regular board meeting on Wednesday, Electric Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT) officials admitted that the system came within 4 minutes and 37 seconds from a total outage. Had such a total system collapse taken place, it would have taken months for the grid to be restored to its full capacity.
Five members of the ERCOT Board of Directors, including its Chair and Vice-Chair, resigned at yesterday’s meeting, saying they didn’t want the fact that none of them live in Texas to become a “distraction” as the search for solutions gets underway. A sixth out-of-state resident who was to soon become a board member also pulled his name from consideration.
In his speech, Governor Abbott welcomed those resignations and promised more reforms of ERCOT, saying, “ERCOT must be overhauled. Five ERCOT board members have already resigned, including the Chair and Vice-Chair. But more must be done. Tomorrow the Legislature begins comprehensive investigations of ERCOT. I am already working with the Legislature on reforms to add more power to the grid and to ensure that we never run out of power again. Also, the Office of the Attorney General has launched a formal investigation into ERCOT.”
In advance of that legislative hearing scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. Central Time, other policymakers were anxious to state their support for significant reforms. State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said that “…we need to figure out where we need to take systems to prevent this from happening again as well as address the cost issues associated up and down the chain from the producers and generators all the way down to the retail customers.”
“It needs all hands on deck to find a solution,” Schwertner added. “We’re not going to leave here without finding a solution to this problem and it is job No. 1 right now.”
State Representative Donna Howard, D-Austin, said, “I want people to know that we understand that this is a catastrophic event that there are a lot of players involved that need to be held accountable, including the legislature, and that we are going to address this with all the power that we have to do so and will not come out of this legislative session without some fixes to prevent this from happening.”
Because ERCOT is charged with overall management of the Texas electricity grid, it has become the focal point of taking the blame for last week’s disastrous power failures. And there is little question that some blame is warranted. In an interview on Sunday with Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick on “In the Oil Patch Radio” program, which I co-host with Kym Bolado, the commissioner noted that one of the reasons why some natural gas pipelines and power plants fell offline was the fact that some large compressor stations were denied electricity as a result of ERCOT’s rolling blackouts.
“The biggest challenge we had this week was reminding people that we’re all very integrated,” she said. “If you don’t have power going into gas processing plants, you can’t move gas. Solar wasn’t working and diesel freezes in certain temperatures, so finally on Tuesday we had a conversation about the need for power. They [ERCOT] finally seemed to understand that, and we sent specific coordinates to them so they would turn the power back on in those oil fields.”
This is a recurrence of an issue that caused power outages during the very similar winter weather event in 2011, something that should not have taken place again. So obviously ERCOT does bear some responsibility.
However, it’s also fair to note that ERCOT’s management of the grid follows statutory and regulatory guidelines set by the legislature and the Public Utility Commission. Indeed, in a Dallas Morning News op/ed, former Republican State Senator David Sibley defends ERCOT, saying, “ERCOT and the PUC can only act in ways permitted by the Texas Legislature. They do not have the authority to compel electric generators to winterize their plants. They can only suggest it. Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed legislation to give the PUC authority to require winterization. The Legislature should act immediately to give the PUC the tools it needs so that Texans do not suffer another week in the cold and dark.”
Just as it is wrong to blame the grid issues on any one source of power, it would also be wrong to place blame solely on ERCOT, which has no authority to require winterization of power plants or to incentivize the building of new baseload generating capacity.
Every power source failed to some extent, and so did everyone in a position of authority. If the search for causes and solutions devolves into an exercise in finger-pointing and scapegoating, then it will also fail Texans just as miserably.