Gov. Abbott makes ERCOT reform emergency legislative item amid blackouts

Madlin Mekelburg
Austin American-Statesman

As statewide blackouts left more than 4.3 million Texans without power on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a new emergency item for lawmakers to tackle during this year's legislative session: reforming the state's main electric grid operator.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, began requiring electric utilities to reduce usage through rolling power outages on Monday, as freezing temperatures and snow increased demand for power. 

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in a statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott named ERCOT reform an emergency item for state lawmakers during this year's legislative session.

More:ERCOT asks Austin Energy to shed more power, could mean outages for emergency services

Abbott previously declared five emergency items for state lawmakers to tackle this year: expanding access to broadband internet, preventing local governments from cutting funding to police departments, reforming the bail system, preserving election integrity and offering civil liability protections to businesses that operated during the pandemic. 

More:Texas utility commission's emergency order requires generators to sell electricity amid storm

Now Abbott is calling for state lawmakers to investigate ERCOT and "ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days."

"Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions," Abbott said in a statement. "I thank my partners in the House and Senate for acting quickly on this challenge, and I will work with them to enhance Texas’ electric grid and ensure that our state never experiences power outages like this again.”

More:More than 4.3 million Texans without power, according to utility tracker

At least one lawmaker announced plans to file legislation making changes at ERCOT on Tuesday. Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Dallas, said he planed to file a bill requiring all officers and directors at the council to be Texas residents.

Five of the 15 ERCOT Board members do not appear to live in Texas, including the chair and vice chair, a fact that Leach called "completely ridiculous." 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, said the chamber's Business and Commerce Committee will hold legislative hearings on the widespread outages.

"I share the frustration of every Texan regarding the loss of power during this winter storm," Patrick said in a statement. "Millions of people without power during this arctic blast is life-threatening and unacceptable. We must get to the bottom of this to be sure we are better prepared even if an unprecedented weather event happens again."

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