The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was anything but reliable when Texas was frozen over last week. The state's power grid overseen by ERCOT became so unreliable that 4 million people were left without power amid freezing cold for days. The winter storm and power outage have left at least 30 dead.
As public anger and questioning grew, five out-of-state ERCOT board members resigned on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Bill Magness, ERCOT CEO, said that the grid was minutes away from a complete failure overnight on Feb 15. He outlined the magnitude of last week's crisis during a presentation to ERCOT's board of directors in which he gave a timeline of what went wrong.
In a jointly signed letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), ERCOT Board Chair Sally Talberg, Vice-Chair Peter Cramton, ERCOT Finance and Audit Committee Chair Terry Bulger, and ERCOT Human Resources and Governance Committee Chair Raymond Hepper stated:
"We have noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT. 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."
The letter also acknowledged what Texans had gone through in the past week: "Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency."
ERCOT also received notice in writing from board member and market segment director Vanessa Anesetti-Parra that she also is resigning from ERCOT effective Wednesday.
In a separate letter, Craig Ivey, who was set to fill a vacant position on the board, withdrew his candidacy "to avoid becoming a distraction" over his out-of-state residency.
The 16-member board of ERCOT appoints officers who manage the Texas power grid's day-to-day operations. It came under fire after the state's massive power outage last week.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Talberg, who lives in Michigan, and Cramton, who lives in California, were elected as chair and vice-chair on Feb 9 during a board meeting.
Bulger lives in Illinois; Hepper lives in Maine; and Anesetti-Parra lives in Toronto.
US Congressman Colin Allred, a Democrat representing the Dallas area, in an interview with Inside Texas Politics on Sunday said he was told by Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp, that their team began to sound the alarm on Feb 9, when the freezing weather was forecast.
"They alerted ERCOT immediately, as well as the Texas Railroad Commission and other state government officials," Allred said. "By their account, no one seemed to react with the haste and urgency they believed necessary, and they emphasized that ERCOT's projections of the power supply were far below the demand they were seeing."
ERCOT leaders reportedly spent just 40 seconds discussing the upcoming storm at the Feb 9 meeting.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he 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. "ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas' power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false."
A month ago, operators at ERCOT offered a positive assessment about the preparedness of Texas power plants for winter storms.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wasn't satisfied by the resignation of the five out-of-state ERCOT members.
"Having out-of-state board members resign will not change the failed oversight by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) or the lack of common-sense policy by the Texas Legislature," Turner said in a statement.
Turner said ERCOT alone shouldn't be made the scapegoat.
"When I was in the Texas Legislature, I filed a bill in 2011 relating to the PUC to ensure ERCOT has adequate reserve power to prevent blackout conditions. That bill never got a hearing," Turner said. "The resignations do not change the fact that the PUC and the Texas Legislature failed to provide oversight or enact common-sense policy."
Turner urged the current state Legislature to make the necessary changes to prevent a disaster like last week's from happening in the future. Abbott has charged state lawmakers with making changes at ERCOT.
In Harris County, where Houston is located, Commissioner Adrian Garcia is proposing that the county consider leaving the Texas power grid. The proposal is on an agenda for discussion Friday.
Garcia pointed out that neighboring Liberty County, currently in the Eastern Connect Grid, fared much better than Harris County did during the freeze.
However, energy expert Ed Hirs from the University of Houston said such a move isn't the answer.
"Tying into another grid is not a solution for Harris County," Hirs told a local TV station. "The cost would be extraordinary, and then we would be dependent on what folks do in Louisiana, Arkansas or Manitoba."