ERCOT CEO Fired in Aftermath of Deadly Texas Power Outages
The head of ERCOT is losing his job, the latest consequence of the deadly power outages that left millions of Texans freezing in the dark last month.
Bill Magness, the president and CEO of the Electric the Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), had his contract terminated when the non-profit agency’s board of directors opted to exercise a 60-day termination notice during Wednesday night’s emergency meeting.
More than 50 Deaths Connected to Texas Power Outages
Magness will continue to “work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT” during the 60-day period. The Board also indicated that it would begin an immediate search for a new ERCOT CEO.
The lights went out in Texas on February 25th, after a massive winter storm forced millions of people to crank up the heat. But the unregulated power grid could not handle the surging demand, leaving large swaths of the state without heat, lights, and even water for days.
More than 50 deaths have been tied to the Texas power outages, including many that resulted from burns, hypothermia, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Millions were also left to cope with flooding, soggy carpets, and soaked drywall after the absence of heat caused frozen water pipes to rupture in their homes.
How ERCOT Failures Led to Texas Blackouts
Insurance industry experts estimate the costs associated with last month’s winter storm and power outage could equal those of Hurricane Harvey – the most expensive natural disaster in Texas history.
ERCOT is tasked with overseeing the Texas wholesale energy market. It’s become glaringly obvious that the agency’s failure to meet its responsibility was directly to blame for the state’s deadly power outages.
For one thing, ERCOT has long refused to enforce a “reserve margin” of extra power available above expected demand. As a result, the Texas energy grid was unable to meet demand during the February storm. The agency also doesn’t require that private power companies weatherize their equipment. Without such precautions in place, much of the state’s energy infrastructure froze in the cold and was unable to deliver what little power there was.
Magness Faced Pressure to Resign from ERCOT
Magness had been under pressure to resign since the storm. But on Monday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick became the highest-ranking elected official to demand he step down. Patrick also called for the resignation of DeAnn Walker, chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission.
“The lack of adequate preparation by both the ERCOT CEO and the PUC chair before the storm, their failure to plan for the worst-case scenario and their failure to communicate in a timely manner dictates they are not the ones to oversee the reforms needed,” Patrick said in a statement released to the media.
Walker announced her resignation just hours later. Days earlier, five members of the ERCOT board had also resigned amid growing public criticism. A sixth person slated to fill a board vacancy withdrew his application.
According to The Houston Chronicle, Magness has worked at ERCOT since 2010 and became CEO in 2016. He earned $833,000 in salary and other compensation in 2018.
During legislative hearings on the outages, Magness said there wasn’t anything he would do differently. That attitude left many lawmakers less than satisfied.
“This is not a chamber of commerce update,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. “This is the largest train wreck in the history of deregulated electricity.”
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