Texas Power Grid managers quit after widespread storm outages

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Four officials will resign from the Texas power grid supervisory board after it was pushed to the brink of collapse by the recent winter storm, leaving millions of people without power during some of the coldest temperatures the state has known for a generation.

The Texas Electric Reliability Council, the board that governs the flow of electricity for more than 26 million people in the state, has been blamed for the widespread blackouts, prompting the governor, lawmakers and officials federal authorities to initiate investigations into system failures, particularly in anticipation of the cold.

The four board members, who announced their intention to step down on Tuesday after a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning, were all from outside Texas, a point of contention for critics who questioned the wisdom of outsiders playing such an influential role in the infrastructure of the state.

In a statement filed with the Public Utility Commission, council members said they were stepping down “to give heads of state a free hand with future directions and to eliminate distractions.”

Those leaving are President Sally Talberg, a former utility regulator who lives in Michigan; Peter Cramton, vice president and professor of economics at the University of Cologne in Germany and the University of Maryland; Terry Bulger, a retired banking executive who lives in Illinois; and Raymond Hepper, who is a former employee of the New England Power Grid Oversight Agency. Another person who was to fill a vacant seat, Craig S. Ivey, stepped down from the 16-member board of directors.

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The council has become the target of blame and scrutiny after last week’s winter storm brought the state’s electricity grid near a complete blackout that could have taken months to recover. In a last-minute effort to avoid this, the council, known as ERCOT, ordered power outages that plunged much of the state into darkness and spiked prices of electricity. Some clients had invoices well over $ 10,000.

Time crippled the system when power plants were taken offline and the pumps used to produce the natural gas needed to power them froze.

State officials said ERCOT had offered assurances that the power infrastructure was ready to withstand winter conditions.

As the state reeled from the crisis, the realization that some board members lived out of state became a source of outrage, so much so that ERCOT initially withdrew from the government. information about them on its website. Officials said the members had been harassed and threatened.

A state lawmaker said he was considering proposing legislation that would ban people who were not residents of Texas from serving on the council.

“If you don’t live here, if you don’t live what we are going through and you are responsible for making decisions on our behalf, that’s unacceptable,” said Jeff Leach, a state representative whose district covers a strip of suburban Dallas, said in a recent interview.

The resignations of the 16-member board of directors come as the state legislature prepares to hold hearings on the power outages on Thursday. The Harris County District Attorney, whose jurisdiction includes Houston, said Tuesday he is opening a civil inquiry looking into decisions made by ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, among others, and the Travis County District Attorney, which includes Austin, said he was opening a criminal investigation.

In a statement, ERCOT said, “We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing council members for their service.”

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Monday evening that its law enforcement division would examine the activity of the wholesale natural gas and electricity market in Texas, likely to determine if there had been any anti-competitive manipulation. or illegal prices.

Power system outages have pushed wholesale electricity prices from $ 1,200 per megawatt hour to about $ 9,000.

Energy analysts said the failure involved not only monitoring by ERCOT, but also state electricity providers who had not prepared their systems for the harsh weather conditions.

“Heads had to roll, but I don’t think that will change anything,” said Michael E. Webber, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s easy to blame the out-of-state board members of the grid operator rather than the state’s gas producers and power plant owners.”

These operators neglected to spend money on tampering with their instruments, pipelines and power lines in order to withstand the freezing weather, he said, because they were not required to do so by the regulations of the ‘State.

Ivan Penn and Clifford krauss contribution to reports.

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