On Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the resignations of the chairman of the Public Utility Commission DeAnn Walker and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas President and CEO Bill Magness.
His call comes just days after a series of committee meetings in both the Senate and House of Representatives were held to investigate the shortcomings of ERCOT and utility providers in preparation and response to recent severe winter weather.
Patrick said, “After almost 24 hours of testimony in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee’s investigation of the power outages, including nine hours from the chair and the CEO, it is clear neither of them adequately addressed the challenges of this huge winter storm.”
He went on to say, “Our state senators repeatedly asked for their analysis and suggestions regarding what could have been done differently and what needs to be done going forward to prevent a similar problem in the future. The chair and CEO offered few ideas. Frankly, I was shocked by their failure to respond.”
Just a few hours later, PUC Chairman DeAnn Walker resigned. In a press release, she stated, “I believe others should come forward in dignity and courage and acknowledge how their actions or inactions contributed to the situation. The gas companies, the Railroad Commission, the electric generators, the transmission and distribution utilities, the electric cooperatives, the municipally owned utilities, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and finally the Legislature all had responsibility to foresee what could have happened and failed to take necessary steps for the past ten years to address issues that each one of them could have addressed.”
Patrick’s call for Walker’s resignation is particularly notable, as she was appointed to the position by Gov. Greg Abbott after serving as a senior policy advisor to the governor. She was originally appointed in September 2017, and her term would have expired in September of this year.
The House of Representatives held similar meetings last week, composed of a joint hearing between the State Affairs Committee and the Energy Resources Committee. Though the hearings lasted a considerable amount of time, they were composed of invited testimony only and produced little new information of substance, other than the expected finger-pointing between legislators, power generators, and regulatory authorities, including the PUC and ERCOT.
The governor has since added to his emergency list of legislative priorities to include mandating the winterization of generators in the power system as well as ensuring adequate funding is allocated as well as legislation focused on the overall structural reform of ERCOT itself.
Patrick has followed suit and named ERCOT reform as a top priority of his in the Senate (Senate Bill 2).
Last week, five members of ERCOT’s board announced their resignations in the wake of all the attention following the storms. To fill those vacancies, current board members would nominate their replacements, with ultimate approval from the governor’s appointees to the PUC.
These issues will continue to pan out in the ongoing 87th Legislative Session as legislation surrounding reform is revealed.