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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls for resignations at Public Utility Commission, power grid operator over winter storm

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick misses first day of legislative session to attend White House border security meeting
Posted at 3:06 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 16:06:26-05

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday called for the resignations of Public Utility Commission Chair DeAnn Walker and Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness, criticizing them for a lack of preparation ahead of the deadly winter storm that led to massive power outages across the state for multiple days.

“Both the PUC Chair and the ERCOT CEO said they were prepared the day before the storm hit in full force, but obviously they were not,” Patrick said in a statement. His statements come after the officials testified for hours late last week in committee hearings as state lawmakers grilled them over the power grid failures.

PUC officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. ERCOT manages supply and demand in the power grid. The PUC, whose board is appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, regulates ERCOT and answers to the Texas Legislature.

ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko said the organization is aware of Patrick's call for Magness' resignation. She said in a statement the board members and staff would consider the request, and in the meantime, "Mr. Magness will continue to work with the Texas Legislature and any state agencies on investigations of the recent winter storm and its reform of ERCOT."

The week of Feb. 14, freezing temperatures and snow caused mass power outages and water issues and left dozens of people dead. ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator, lost control of the power supply and began implementing rolling blackouts which turned into power outages for as many as 4.5 million customers at one point across the state that lasted days.

Patrick said PUC and ERCOT officials were not ready for a winter storm of this magnitude and were given ideas for ways to prepare, but failed to do so.

“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,” Patrick said.

Both Walker and Magness testified in hearings that they were adequately prepared before the storm, but admitted to him after the power failure that their testimony was inaccurate, Patrick said.

“I do not make this call for the resignation of the PUC Chair and the ERCOT CEO lightly,” Patrick said. “The lack of adequate preparation by both the ERCOT CEO and the PUC chair prior to the storm, their failure to plan for the worst-case scenario and their failure to communicate in a timely manner dictates they are not the ones to oversee the reforms needed.”

Other members of the legislature have also called for accountability in response to the power crisis. On Friday, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, called for Walker to resign, saying “her inability to even muster an apology to Texans who endured freezing temperatures without heat or power and resulted in loss of life is inexcusable.”

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, in a resolution that passed Monday, called on the entire Public Utility Commission of Texas to resign. Garcia also expressed frustration with PUC Chair DeAnn Walker's testimony to legislators last week when he said she took "no responsibility" for the state's power grid failures.

“The PUC is responsible for three things: energy, water and telecommunications,” Garcia said. “All three failed, and failed at the worst possible time.”

Seven ERCOT board members have already resigned after the power grid almost collapsed and lawmakers criticized the companies. All but one of the board members who resigned live outside of Texas.

Erin Douglas contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/03/01/dan-patrick-texas-ercot-resign/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.