Lawmakers delving into deadly Texas power outages take aim at Public Utilities Commission
By Taylor Goldenstein, Jeremy Wallace, Jeremy Blackman & Austin Bureau February 25, 2021
Texas lawmakers accused the state’s top utility regulator on Thursday of not doing enough to head off the winter power outages that killed dozens of Texans and left millions more in the dark last week.
“I would contend you are choosing not to leverage the authority we have given you,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. “That is a serious problem.”
Speaking on the first day of public hearings on the crisis, DeAnn Walker, chair of the Public Utility Commission, insisted that her agency has little effective power over the group that manages the Texas electricity grid and cannot make electric companies invest in preparing for the type of frigid conditions that crippled the state for several days.
“I know that I don’t have total and complete oversight,” Walker said, countering earlier remarks from the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT.
The exchange came as state lawmakers began a sweeping investigation into the outages that cut electricity and water to millions of Texans and have left some homeowners with crippling utility bills. Regulators and energy executives began to paint a picture Thursday of long-standing failures, including a lack of weatherproofed facilities, limited communication among agencies and with the public, few regulatory tools and a market that incentivizes profits when supply is short.
Republican senators grew especially frustrated with Walker as she provided only limited responses and attempted to deflect blame away from the commission and onto ERCOT.
Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said Walker’s job is to oversee the competitive electric markets and ERCOT’s budget, and that the utility commission is supposed to enforce statutes and rules for the power industry.