Texas lawmakers investigating this month’s devastating power outages during a massive winter storm grilled power-grid officials Thursday and questioned whether state regulators did enough. Most of what they got during simultaneous public hearings in the Texas Senate and House was finger pointing.
“This is the largest train wreck in the history of deregulated electricity,” said state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.
Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas avoided taking full responsibility for the outages that left millions without power in subfreezing temperatures and disrupted water service for large swaths of the state. ERCOT officials, energy executives, utility company bosses and a meteorologist were among those questioned about the outages before committees in both chambers of the Texas Legislature.
Under an electricity system the Legislature shifted to two decades ago, power companies aren’t required to produce enough electricity to get the state through crises like the one last week. In fact, they are incentivized to ramp up generation only when dwindling power supplies have driven up prices.
“Some of the blame belongs right here in this building,” State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said Thursday. “There’s blame out there for everybody.”
A Texas Tribune and ProPublica investigation found that over the last decade, lawmakers and regulators, including the Public Utility Commission and the industry-friendly Texas Railroad Commission, have repeatedly ignored, dismissed or watered down efforts to address weaknesses in the state’s sprawling electric grid. The PUC oversees ERCOT and the railroad commission regulates the oil and gas industry.