In-Depth: Abbott blamed for high electric bills during 2021 freeze at Waco-based electric co-op's bankruptcy trial

Greg Abbott
Posted at 4:58 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 17:59:40-05

HOUSTON — Bill Magness, the former head of the Texas power grid, testified in court Wednesday during a bankruptcy trial for Waco-based electric co-op Brazos Electric.

Bill Magness ERCOT
Bill Magness, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), testifies as the Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources holds a joint public hearing to consider the factors that led to statewide electrical blackouts, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Austin, Texas. The hearings were the first in Texas since a blackout that was one of the worst in U.S. history, leaving more than 4 million customers without power and heat in subfreezing temperatures. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Ex-ERCOT chief said he was following Gov. Greg Abbott's lead in running up billions of dollars in electric bills, according to a Houston Chroniclearticle.

Winter Weather Texas power grid
City of Richardson worker Kaleb Love works to clear ice from a water fountain Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Richardson, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

As power plants were starting come back online, Magness said former Public Utility Commissioner Chairman DeAnn Walkertold him Abbott wanted them to do whatever necessary to prevent further rotating blackouts that left millions of Texans without power.

“She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume,” Magness testified. “We needed to do what we needed to do to make it happen.”

Bill Magness, Ex- President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)

Charges were up to $9,000 per megawatt hour – more than 150 times normal prices.

Winter Weather Texas snow
Two people play in the snow in San Antonio, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. Snow and ice blanketed large swaths of the U.S. on Sunday, prompting canceled flights, making driving perilous and reaching into areas as far south as Texas’ Gulf Coast, where snow and sleet were expected overnight. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Last year, a spokesperson for the governor told the Houston Chronicle Abbott wasn't
“involved in any way.”

Brazos says they have up to a $1.9 billion power bill from ERCOT that forced them into bankruptcy.

“It did nothing at all to cause more generation to come online,” said Lino Mendiola, one of the attorneys representing Brazos. “It was an attempted remedy that didn’t solve any of the problems caused by the winter storm.”

Winter Storm.JPG
February's winter storm caused lawmakers to pass legislation requiring the state electrical grid to be weatherized to prevent another collapse.

The Houston Chronicle article says he explained how Walker had come to ERCOT's operations center during the crisis and told him Abbott's demand to end rotating blackouts.

Magness said he believed it was a risk, explaining even as powerplants were starting to come back online on Feb. 17, 2021, the system was far from secure.