ERCOT board fires CEO Magness in wake of Texas February power freezeout

Photo AP

Staff and wire reports

Another political victim has fallen in the aftermath of Texas’ disastrous power outages during the historic February freeze.

The board of directors for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas canned CEO Bill Magness late Wednesday by a 6-1 vote. Magness’ firing follows the resignation of state Public Utilities Commission Chair DeAnn Walker earlier this week in the fallout over massive power outages which led to deaths, frozen pipes and more than 50 GW in disrupted power generation. At least one utility has already declared bankruptcy.

Some, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (pictured), have placed blame on the region’s electrical power system leadership, such as ERCOT’s top brass. ERCOT is the system operator managing Texas’ deregulated, competitive electric delivery system.

Others have pointed that what they called long festering problems in the state’s way of handling its electric power capacity. Prices can fluctuate wildly, maintaining capacity isn’t rewarded and many plants were not properly weatherized for the sub-zero temperatures, which shut down many forms of energy, including gas-fired, coal-fired and utility-scale wind power, according to these reports.

Magness was given a two-month termination notice by ERCOT’s board in a meeting Wednesday night. The move came as the grid operator is now under investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

“During this transition period, Bill will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT,” the organization said in a statement.

Magness, who made more than $876,000 in salary and other compensation in 2019, was the target of much of the outrage over the blackouts that began Feb. 15 when a winter storm plunged temperatures into single digits across Texas, causing skyrocketing demand for electricity to heat homes. Grid operators unplugged more than 4 million customers as the system buckled, which Magness has said was necessary to avert an even more catastrophic blackout that could have lasted months.

But the power did not flip back on for days for millions of residents, and the prolonged outages quickly escalated to a crisis of tragic proportions, as people trying to keep warm died of carbon monoxide poisoning and others froze to death. The storm and resulting blackouts have been blamed for more than 40 deaths in Texas, but the full toll may not be known for months.

At the Texas Capitol last week, lawmakers investigating the outages laid into Magness for his handling of the storm.

Over hours of testimony, Magness defended actions that he said kept the grid that serves most of Texas’ 30 million residents intact.

“It worked from keeping us (from) going into a blackout that we’d still be in today, that’s why we did it,” Magness said last Thursday. “Now it didn’t work for people’s lives, but it worked to preserve the integrity of the system.”

Republican Gov. Abbott has accused ERCOT of misleading the state about the readiness of the grid, placing blame for the outages almost singularly on the grid operators. His outrage has not extended to the state’s Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT and is led by Abbott appointees such as Chair Walker.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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