KOLKHORST: ERCOT & PUC HEARING MARKED BY ‘LACK OF CANDOR AND CONTRITION’

  

 

Local State Senator Lois Kolkhorst says the first two days of hearings into the state’s power grid failure has been marked by a “lack of candor and contrition”.

Senator Lois Kolkhorst
(courtesy Office of Lois Kolkhorst)

Kolkhorst says testimony from the Electric Reliably Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC), has left the senate committee, “with more questions than answers.”

She goes on to say, she was “personally appalled by the industry arrogance that brought Texas, a global energy leader, to a near statewide power blackout” and that “The Texas Senate will not rest until every question is answered and corrective action is taken to stabilize our power grid once and for all.”

Among the key takes from two days of hearings, according to Kolkhorst are:

--There was no plan of action, despite knowledge of the severity of the storm, five day before it struck.

--ERCOT had now way to communicate warnings to the public.

--Power generators saw the price for electricity spike during the crisis from under $100 per MWHr to the limit allowed by Th PUC of $9000 per MWHr.

Kolkhorst added that the consensus is that ‘changes will be made’.

 

Senator Kolkhorst’s complete statement:

Yesterday and today, the Texas Senate began its investigation into last week’s Arctic blast and devastating power grid failure.  While we heard from their testimony varied from the opaque to the truly tone deaf. The lack of candor and contrition from “industry experts” has only left all of us with more questions than answers. 

Key findings from the Thursday marathon hearing included:

- Meteorologists knew the storm was going to be a "pipe-bursting" winter event 5 days before Monday February 15th, but questions remain as to why there was no organized action plan to prepare our state for potentially deadly disruptions.

- ERCOT had no way to quickly communicate with the public to warn of the oncoming emergency, unlike how we are alerted to an amber alert or hurricane warning. 

-Power generators saw the price for their product spike during the crisis from under $100 per MWHr to the limit allowed by Th PUC of $9000 per MWHr.

- Most customers' rates will not appear on their next bill as a result of the competitive market. Rates for customers in co-ops are set by the board and municipally owned utilities are set by the city council. Most customers in the Competitive Electric Market are on set rate plans.

- The PUC Chair said that while she has the power to dissolve ERCOT under the Texas Utilities Code, the PUC doesn't have control over the day to day activities of ERCOT.  Alternatively the ERCOT CEO explained during the same day of testimony that the PUC does indeed have direct oversight of ERCOT.  

- The PUC voted to raise wholesale prices to $9 a kilowatt hour on the wholesale market because they believed that the grid would fail without the price hike to bring generators into the “market” during the Arctic freeze.


 


With dozens of Texans dead, and property damages climbing into the billions of dollars, those at fault must be held accountable.  This was an avoidable catastrophe that our state is only now beginning to unravel. Our entire state utility system must be reviewed and reformed to guarantee what happened last week never transpires again. Every aspect of the electrical market needs to be on the table, especially our state’s need to encourage new generation. We must also take a hard look at the aggressive push into wind and solar generation— an effort often funded with tax abatements that I have opposed for years.  

These are complex issues to examine and address, whether it’s the unreliable nature of renewables, the flawed ERCOT model that serves more as a trading platform than an empowered grid protector, or the specter of price gauging during a life-threatening disaster. We are long past the time for more studies or mission statements.

The Texas Legislature must take bold action to correct the multiple power system failures seen last week. To that point, this past Monday I took my first action and authored SB 680 which clarifies that electricity is a necessity during a declared disaster.  Simple and obvious to anyone who has endured a tornado or hurricane, this legislation makes clear that just as outrageous spikes in the cost of water or gasoline after a hurricane are outlawed, the same predatory behavior is prohibited for electricity.

As your friend, neighbor and state senator, I am personally appalled by the industry arrogance that brought Texas, a global energy leader, to a near statewide power blackout. The Texas Senate will not rest until every question is answered and corrective action is taken to stabilize our power grid once and for all. There is consensus that change will be made.

I am done with cursing the darkness, now is the time to shine a light in every corner of this state’s electrical industry. Texans deserve straight answers and bold solutions. We should accept nothing less. 

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11 Comments

  1. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry! Would that be the case for one of the worst or the worst statewide winter storm for Texas?
    Good to ask questions though about the protocol. Always learning!!

  2. I find it odd that Texas officials are acting like they are so concerned about the Texas power grid problem now. In 2010 the system suffered blackouts because of freezing weather, a study was done, and despite the recommendation that energy suppliers “winterize” their systems to prevent it from happening, the state leaders did absolutely nothing to make this happen. Business as usual by the State leaders. Here we are 10 years later and same problem. It doesnt help that our leaders instead of passing important legislation decided to try to push through legislation like Louis Kolkhorst’s BATHROOM BILL or Dan Patrick’s recent suggestion of a STAR SPANGLED BANNER PROTECTION ACT whereby the state of Texas requires that the National Anthem be played at major sporting events.

  3. Here is the bottom line many people were left unprotected by money hungry companies officials all for power and money greedy and arrogance only to be covered up like in a litter box while the hard working bill paying class pays for it all through rate hikes taxes loss of business cattle family friends loss of homes. I am so tired of the government from city level to federal but I also blame people you knew it was coming we all knew.

  4. I am concerned about the arrogance and lack of remorse from the PUC and ERCOT. Where is the empathy the suffering and the lives lost to make a profit is unacceptable?. Texas law makers please get to the bottom of this and hold all responsible accountable including criminal charges if needed. Thank you for your service.

  5. Let’s not forget the Lonestar Sierra Club and other “environmental” groups that made sure the Gibbons Creek power plant did not reopen last year.

  6. I found Bill Magness’ and Dee Ann Walker’s answers appalling. Their knowledge or lack there of was ridiculous. Magness is paid $883,000 yearly. Walker gets $190,000. The vagueness of their answers was shocking. My solution is get some nuts and bolts knowledge in the Oversight and Enforcment division. In 2020 Walker moved the lawyers into her legal team to do O and E from that Department. What happened to the folks that truly understand the mechanics of the grid?

  7. I seriously doubt any significant changes will be made. The Texas power grid has always been independent of the 2 national grids, partly for pride but mostly to avoid federal regulations. Since the late 1990’s, Texas has further regulated the states energy market. This was to provide cheap energy but the side effect was no reinvestment in improving infrastructure, not winterizing systems and not having adequate reserve generating capacity.
    The Governor appoints the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) board members, and the PUC board appoints ERCOT members. ERCOT has very little power. Its a joke of an agency since regulating a mostly deregulated industry really makes no sense if you think about it. They have no authority or teeth to require power companies to harden systems or have reserve power capacity. They can only make suggestions. The Legislator and Governor yield the power.
    The Governor and Legislators are the problem. ERCOT is useless and only serves as a scapegoat for the PUC.
    The energy companies pay huge money to the political campaigns of those that run the state. So I will be really surprised if any substantial change happens. There will be “cosmetic changes” for the public, but the Governor and political class will not bite the hand thats pays for their campaigns.
    I believe that all sources of energy are required to have a balanced and reliable power grid. I did find it amusing that some people were blaming wind farms for the problems. I see wind mills off the great lakes region working perfectly fine in winter months. This was a complete systematic failure across all means of generation due to poor design, poor safeguards and absolutely pathetic leadership at the state level.

    1. After reading bills and legislative history, so much this –> “The Legislator and Governor yield the power.
      The Governor and Legislators are the problem. ERCOT is useless and only serves as a scapegoat for the PUC.
      The energy companies pay huge money to the political campaigns of those that run the state. So I will be really surprised if any substantial change happens. There will be “cosmetic changes” for the public, but the Governor and political class will not bite the hand thats pays for their campaigns.”

  8. Perhaps the answer to the question as to why, despite the forecast of a severe prolonged winter storm, no was action taken by ERCOT. Easy, the motivation for 99% of negative / criminal action- Money$$$. The jump in energy costs from $100 to $9,000 per MWHR means someone was raking in huge profits. The key word here is “ energy” as in sector or business. And these energy businesses are the major contributors to major political campaigns. Money is always at the bottom of the wood pile, and money equals power. Do we need oil and gas, YES we do. Should it be the basis for political power, no. But decades ago, Texas chose an unregulated energy market at the urging of our elected officials. And now we know why. Do not expect this to change.

    1. The Government has focused more on incentives for renewables at the same time they are trying to stop coal usage and making it impossible to build nuclear plants and refineries.

      1. Renewable energy wasn’t the problem. The electric generators (wind, coal, nuclear, gas power plants) didn’t winterize. While Governer Abbot was quick to point to wind generation as problem, there was more loss from nonrenewable sources than renewable. Wind generation in Minnesota for example experiences this type of cold yearly, but they prepare the grid. In 2011 the legislature held a session where they acknowledged the need for power generators to winterize power plants in the state after a severe weather event back then. They didn’t and this is what happened.

        As Texans, we should remain united in our expectations that our electric grid be held accountable from the top down. Making this a political issue about renewable energy or nationalizing the grid distracts from the real issue. Our regulators let us down. This includes the Governer, Legislature, PUC and ERCOT.

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