Texas AG investigating ERCOT, utilities over deadly winter storm outages

Photo courtesy Associated Press.

By Rod Walton, Power Engineering and POWERGEN+ content director

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will investigate the state’s electricity system operator and other utilities in the wake of last week’s deep freeze and resulting power outages which affected millions of residents for days and led to numerous deaths.

A release about the Civil Investigative Demands sent to the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and other power companies focused on “The large-scale failure of Texas power companies to withstand the winter storm left multiple millions of Texans without power and heat during lethal, record-low temperatures across the state.”

Previously, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the resignations of ERCOT’s board leadership. The ERCOT system is disconnected from other U.S. regional grids such as the Eastern Interconnection and the Texas market is a deregulated system in which prices for energy can vary monthly.

“I’m using the full scope of my Constitutional powers to launch an investigation into ERCOT and other entities that grossly mishandled this week’s extreme winter weather,” AG Paxton said in his statement. “While Texans pulled together to get their communities through this disaster, they were largely left in the dark,” said Attorney General Paxton. “We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans.”

CIDs were also sent to AEP Texas, Calpine Corp., CenterPoint Energy Services, Griddy Energy, NRG Texas Power, Panda Sherman Power, Oncor Electric Delivery, Temple Generation and others.

The documents cite the Texas Constitution and a section of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Acts. The utilities and ERCOT are asked to produce documents on business practices to the AG’s office by March 15.

The unprecedented duration of freezing and sub-zero temperatures devastated much of the midwest and southern U.S. over the past two weeks. In Texas, a large part of both the utility-scale wind and conventional power generation resources went offline for various times due to mechanical issues from the cold temperatures.

A report by ERCOT late last week indicated that about 43 GW of capacity was forced off the Texas grid by the winter storm. Nearly two-thirds of that stilled generation was thermal, while 38 percent was wind and solar combined, according to ERCOT.

(Rod Walton, a 13-year veteran of covering the energy industry, is content director for Power Engineering, POWERGEN International and the online POWERGEN+ series. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and rod.walton@clarionevents.com).

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