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Texas Utility Officials Resign After Deadly ERCOT Power Outage

The fallout from last month’s devasting Texas power outage continued yesterday, with the state’s Public Utility Commission chair announcing her resignation.

DeAnn Walker’s decision to step down followed days of scathing criticism from public officials throughout the Lone Star State and came nearly a week after several members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) announced that they would also be resigning.

Texas Power Outage Left Millions Freezing in the Dark for Days

Texans were forced to crank up their heat last month when a massive winter storm unleashed snow, ice, and record low temperatures across the state. Unfortunately, the unregulated and fragile power grid could not handle the surge in demand, leaving millions without heat, lights, and even water for days.

At least 55 preventable deaths were recorded across Texas as a result of hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and burns. Many of those who made it through the catastrophe physically unscathed are still contending with flooding, soggy carpets, and soaked drywall that occurred after frozen water pipes ruptured in their homes due to the lack of heat.

Insurance industry experts are now warning that the price tag for the winter weather catastrophe could equal Hurricane Harvey in 2017 — which resulted in $19 billion in insured losses in Texas and was the costliest storm in the state’s history.

ERCOT Could Have Prevented Texas Outage

It’s become glaringly obvious that ERCOT failed to take steps that could have prevented last month’s power outages.  For example, the non-profit agency long refused to enforce a “reserve margin” of extra power available above expected demand. Without adequate reserves, the Texas energy grid could not meet demand during the storm.

ERCOT 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.

In a letter sent to the PUC last Tuesday, ERCOT Chairwoman Sally Talberg, Vice Chairman Peter Cramton, Finance and Audit Committee Chairman Terry Bulger, and Human Resources and Governance Committee Chairman Raymond Hepper said they had heard the concerns about “out-of-state” board leadership and wanted to acknowledge Texans’ “pain and suffering” during the past week.

“To allow state leaders a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions, we are resigning from the board effective after our urgent board teleconference meeting adjourns on Wednesday, February 24, 2021,” the letter stated.

Board member Vanessa Anesetti-Parra also submitted a letter of resignation last Tuesday. Additionally, Craig Ivey withdrew his petition to fill a vacant spot on the board, as he also lives outside Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott “welcomed” the resignations.

“When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power,” Abbott said in a statement released last week. “ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false.”

Resigning PUC Chair Calls on ERCOT, Others to Acknowledge Responsibility

Yesterday morning, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued his own statement calling on DeAnn Walker to resign from the PUC.

“Both the PUC Chair and the ERCOT CEO said they were prepared the day before the storm hit in full force, but obviously they were not,” Patrick said.

Walker’s resignation announcement, in which she acknowledged her own responsibility for the state’s winter weather failures, came just hours later. She also called on others to “acknowledge how their actions or inactions contributed to the situation.”

“The gas companies, the Railroad Commission, the electric generators, the transmission and distribution utilities, the electric cooperatives, the municipally owned utilities, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas [ERCOT], and finally the Legislature all had the responsibility to foresee what could have happened and failed to take the necessary steps for the past ten years to address the issues that each of them could have addressed,” Walker wrote.

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