As Regulators Leave, Texas Lawmakers Grapple With How To Prevent The Next Winter Power Crisis

In the short term, electricity customers are likely to pay higher rates, and that’s before the state has even developed plans to winterize power plants.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinMarch 5, 2021 7:23 am, ,

For Texans dealing with the aftermath of the winter storm, the question of how to prepare for the next one continues to resonate. Many leaders who managed or regulated the state’s power infrastructure have left their posts since the storm, and the governor has promised to take steps that would better insulate – literally and figuratively – the Texas power grid from future freezing temperatures.

Asher Price is a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, where he covers energy and the environment. He says there has been an exodus of officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, and from the Texas Public Utility Commission. They include:

– PUC chair DeAnn Walker

– ERCOT CEO Bill Magness

– At least seven ERCOT board members

Price says an investigation by the PUC’s independent market monitor revealed that ERCOT was charging higher wholesale prices for electricity, even as Texans went without power in during the storm in February.

“That meant that generators, the power plants, basically, were getting paid a lot more money into that calamitous week for every electron that they produced, than they ought to have been paid,” Price said.

Those price increases were passed on to retail providers across the state. Eventually, electricity consumers will pay those higher prices through their bills, he says.

“There’s going to be a fight that’s brewing over whether [power] generators should essentially give back some of the money that they ought to be paid for power that was produced during that terrible week,” Price said.

The Texas House and Senate have been holding hearings about the winter storm, and how to address failures of the energy grid. That includes assessments of what it could cost to winterize power plants in the state, Price says.

“It’s gonna cost billions to [winterize],” he said.

It also isn’t clear how those improvements would be paid for, and by whom.

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