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Texas Matters: After The Black Out — A Quest For Answers

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Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, speaks during a Senate Business and Commerce Committee hearing into winter storm power outages, on Feb. 25, 2021.

One of the interesting timing issues of the winter storm that gripped Texas on Valentine’s Day and lasted almost a week is that this happened in the early days of a legislative session. There would be no time buffering out this Texas disaster.

On Thursday state lawmakers held hearings looking for answers as to why did Texas suffer one of the largest black outs in the nation’s history? They wanted to know who was picking this banjo.

The head of the state’s power grid operator was in the hot seat defending why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas ordered widespread blackouts to keep the state’s grid from collapsing - while demand for power skyrocketed and supply plummeted.

ERCOT CEO Bill Magness was asked by Democratic State Senator John Whitmire of Houston if he had any regrets about ERCOT’s response.

Whitmire: "You wouldn’t have changed anything in terms of your play calling during those critical hours?"

Magness: "As I sit here now, I don’t believe I would."

Nevertheless six members of ERCOT’s Board of Directors resigned after the grid’s failure. Whitmire also questioned whether shortages of natural gas that shut down some power plants were actually due to frozen pipelines.

​Whitmire: "In fact I've heard from reliable sources that the gas producers enjoyed the shortages because it raised the prices… while people were suffering, of course."

In the joint House committee hearing energy executives told lawmakers that they have learned from last week's failures and this type of crisis could be prevented in the future. They say the legislature has a crucial role to play in making the state's power grid and infrastructure more resilient.

Mauricio Gutierrez is the CEO of NRG.

​Gutierrez: "I think there is an opportunity by the legislature to define what is reliability, what is resilience, what is the standard that we need to have given the more extreme weather we're seeing due to climate change?"

Gutierrez says then, state agencies can ensure those standards are met.

Chrysta Castañeda helps explain what went wrong with the grid and how the problems are being addressed. Castañeda is an energy attorney and engineer and a former Democratic candidate for Texas Railroad Commission.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi