AUSTIN (KXAN) — Five months after the mass power outages during February’s historic winter storm, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is directing several improvements be made to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which controls about 90% of the power flow in the state.
In a letter sent to the commission on Tuesday, Abbott ordered the Public Utility Commission of Texas to take several immediate actions, including:
- Streamline incentives within ERCOT to encourage development and maintenance of adequate and “reliable” sources of power like natural gas, coal and nuclear
- Hold “unreliable” generators financially responsible for outages (wind and solar power are listed as “unreliable”)
- PUC should instruct ERCOT to establish a maintenance schedule for natural gas, coal, nuclear and other non-renewable electricity generators to ensure adequate, constant supply
- PUC should order ERCOT to accelerate the development of projects that help increase connectivity
Impatience with ERCOT has run high since February’s storm, when mass outages left millions of Texans in the dark and cold for days under single digit temperatures. ERCOT’s handling — or mishandling — of the crisis came to be near-universally acknowledged as a failure. This judgment resulted in resignations from several board members and the termination of President and CEO Bill Magness.
About 151 people died from storm-related conditions, the Texas Department of State Health Services reports, although it’s important to note that auto collisions and other factors also contributed to that number.
Just last month, ERCOT released a conservation alert that lasted several days — before summer, and peak heat, had officially even started.
“To see it happening while temperatures are a little bit lower than they normally are is a bit concerning, but given how many power plants are offline, it makes sense,” Joshua Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin research associate, told KXAN. “But I mean it’s something we’ve got to figure out. If anything we know, the summer’s only going to get hotter.”
In Tuesday’s letter, Abbott writes: “Through clear communication, transparency, and implementation of these critical changes, the PUC and ERCOT can regain the public’s trust, restore ERCOT’s status as a leader in innovation and reliability, and ensure Texans have the reliable electric power they expect and deserve.”