ERCOT says system was four minutes away from complete collapse during winter storms

State & Regional

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the wake of disastrous energy grid failures during historic winter storm last week, five unaffiliated directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) will resign Wednesday during an “urgent” ERCOT board meeting. All lived out of state.

During the meeting, ERCOT said the state was only minutes away from a complete blackout of the entire system in the early morning hours of Feb. 15.

ERCOT said the system was below 59.4 Hz for four minutes and 23 seconds and more gen units would have tripped if it dipped below 59.4 Hz for nine minutes or more, which would’ve “risked the entire system.”

KXAN’s Wes Rapaport reports that if the grid had ended up in a “black start” situation, a grid collapse, ERCOT says it could take “weeks” to restore power to the 26 million Texans on the ERCOT grid.

In a petition released Tuesday, ERCOT, which manages about 90% of the state’s electric flow, notified the Public Utility Commission of Texas that Sally Talberg, Peter Cramton, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper will resign, they say “to eliminate distractions” as a review of the incident begins and to quell concerns about out-of-state leadership.

In their resignation letter, the four members say, in part:

“We want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Texans during this past week. Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency… We want what is best for ERCOT and Texas.”

Talberg, cramton, bulger and hepper, Feb. 23

While not included in the above resignation, ERCOT also received resignation from another out-of-state board member, Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, effective at the end of ERCOT’s Wednesday emergency board meeting. Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media accounts indicates her location as Canada.

In addition to the resignations, Craig S. Ivey, who was under consideration to fill in an unaffiliated director vacancy, has withdrawn his application.

Talberg, of Michigan, and Cramton, of Del Mar, California, are the board of directors’ newest members. Meanwhile, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists him as a resident of Wheaton, Illinois, and Hepper resides in Maine.

Despite being a Texas organization, ERCOT’s bylaws don’t require Texas residency — only a preference for it.

But as millions of Texans spent days in the dark and cold under single digit temperatures, ERCOT’s management — or mismanagement — of the crisis came to be near-universally acknowledged as a failure. With this judgment, came increasing attention on its leadership.

KXAN has reached out to ERCOT and the PUC.

“We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing Board Members for their service,” an ERCOT spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

In a statement on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said:

“When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power. ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false. The lack of preparedness and transparency at ERCOT is unacceptable, and I welcome these resignations. The State of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.”

Gov. Greg Abbott

Abbott appoints the three-member Public Utility Commission. He has named ERCOT reform an emergency item for lawmakers to address this session.

State lawmakers, who also have oversight of ERCOT, will question the council’s leaders in a series of hearings starting Thursday, as part of a broader investigation into the widespread power outages experienced around Texas stemming from the winter storm.

“The resignations do not erase the fact that the Governor’s appointees on the Public Utility Commission approved these out-of-state directors in the first place,” State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said.

State Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, welcomed the resignations.

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas did not maintain a reliable power grid, and so the accountability has to start with ERCOT,” Vasut said. “I think beyond that, we have to follow the facts wherever they go.”

Vasut believed “more accountability is needed” beyond the board member resignations.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said. “But we have to see a lot more personal responsibility from policymakers, not just those who are implementing policy.”

“We have to ask what is the role of our state government in ensuring that private companies are not putting profit over people?” Talarico said. “That is our job — is to ensure public safety and last week, we failed at that fundamental job.

Nexstar Texas Bureau Reporter Maggie Glynn is tweeting updates during the board meeting. Follow along below:

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