ERCOT Board Members Resign in Wake of Blackouts

Five board members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s power grid operator, on Feb. 23 announced they would resign their posts, just days after extreme winter weather left more than 4 million Texas electricity customers without power for several days.

Sally Talberg, chairwoman of ERCOT, is among those resigning. All those leaving the organization apparently live or work outside Texas, and have been criticized by state officials for not being Texas residents. A sixth person, an out-of-state candidate who had applied for a position on the ERCOT board, on Tuesday withdrew that application.

ERCOT manages the flow of electricity for more than 90% of Texas. State officials have criticized the grid operator after last week’s massive blackouts, which left millions of homes without power. State officials said the severe weather has led to more than 30 deaths, including some from hypothermia brought on by the cold. Others died from carbon monoxide poisoning as people used heaters or huddled in vehicles in an attempt to stay warm.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in recent days said he supported calls for ERCOT leaders to resign; he called the power outages a “total failure by ERCOT.” Officials last week said they were ready to launch investigations into the role of ERCOT and the state’s power providers in the widespread outages.

ERCOT ‘Failed to Do Its Job’

Abbott, who also has been criticized for not doing more to help the state prepare for several days of record-low temperatures that wreaked havoc on the state’s power and water systems, on Tuesday said the grid operator’s lack of preparedness, along with a lack of transparency about the situation, is not acceptable. The governor in a statement said, “When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power. ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false. The State of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.”

Abbott on Tuesday said he plans to make a statewide address to Texas residents at 6 p.m. Central time on Feb. 24.

Along with Talberg, the four other current board members who resigned are Peter Cramton, an unaffiliated director and vice chair; Terry Bulger, an unaffiliated director; Raymond Hepper, an unaffiliated director; and Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, who represents independent retail electric providers. Talberg’s biographical information on the ERCOT website said she lives in Michigan. Bulger’s information said he lives in Wheaton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. No residence information was immediately available for the other directors.

The ERCOT board includes 16 members. The board appoints officers who oversee the grid operator’s day-to-day operations.

Talberg and Cramton were elected board chair and vice chair, respectively, during an ERCOT meeting on Feb. 9, which occurred just days before the winter storm that brought snow, ice, and frigid temperatures to the state. The resignations mean that all five unaffiliated positions on ERCOT’s board will now be open, as a fifth position is currently vacant.

The four unaffiliated directors resigned together in a joint letter to other ERCOT board members and the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT. Anesetti-Parra separately sent her own resignation letter Tuesday; her resignation will also take effect after Wednesday’s meeting.

The board members in their resignation letter acknowledged the hardship caused by last week’s power outages. “We want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Texans during this past week. Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency … We want what is best for ERCOT and Texas,” they wrote. “We have noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT. To allow state leaders a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions, we are resigning from the board effective after our urgent board teleconference meeting adjourns on Wednesday.”

Resignations ‘Good and Necessary’

State representative Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano, in a statement said the resignations are “a good and necessary step” as the state recovers from last week’s storm. Leach has said he plans to file legislation that would require ERCOT board members to live in Texas.

“There is strong, bipartisan consensus that the ERCOT Board—which is responsible for making such crucial decisions for over 28 million Texans— should be filled by capable and qualified citizens who reside here, who know our state and who we can trust to make wise decisions on our behalf,” said Leach in a statement.

ERCOT officials are expected to testify in front of state lawmakers as soon as Thursday as the legislature conducts hearings about last week’s power failures. At the federal level, Democrat Colin Allred, a congressional representative from Dallas, in a statement after Tuesday’s resignations said, “This is a first step towards holding those responsible for this crisis to account but it does not absolve them, or state leaders, from answering questions and providing the clarity on their failure that Texans deserve. There must be a full investigation into ERCOT’s and our state’s failure to prepare for the storm and failure to communicate with the public.”

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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