Texas lawmakers have spent the past two days grilling members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas about the state power grid, and the rolling blackouts that left Texas without power, heat and water during the snow and ice storms last week.
The outages lasted days for millions of Texas homes, and millions more lost water as water treatment plants shutdown and miles of pipes burst across the state. At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm, and 10 days after the blackout started, more than one million people in the state were still under boil-water notices.
Two simultaneous hearings are being held at the state capital, one in the House and the other in the Senate. Through these hearings, state legislators are examining ERCOT practices and decisions for the rolling blackouts that left more than four million without electricity and affected water distribution across the state.
“We in the House are doing everything we can to find every cause of last week’s disaster,” said Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine). “We now know there were failures by regulating entities and those responsible will be held accountable. We also know that there were things that nobody thought to plan for, like steam freezing the air vents shut on a power generation plant located on the gulfcoast, causing it to trip offline. As we continue to uncover the many causes of the disaster, we in the legislature will make the policy changes necessary to reduce the likelihood that something like this will ever happen again.
ERCOT officials have maintained the largest blackout in Texas history was necessary to prevent catastrophic failure that would have wiped out power to the majority of the state’s 30 million residents.
Bill Magness CEO of ERCOT said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
Testifying before the Business and Commerce Committee in the Senate Thursday Magness said the rolling blackouts and outages didn’t benefit citizens, but saved the grid.
"Obviously what you did didn't work," said Democratic Sen. John Whitmire of Houston.
“Respectfully, I’d say it worked from keeping us from going into a blackout that we’d still be in today, that’s why we did it,” Magness said. “Now it didn’t work for people’s lives, but it worked to preserve the integrity of the system.”
Of Texas' power generators that were not operational during the storm, Magness said the freeze was responsible for 42% of the failures. A lack of fuel and equipment damage unrelated to the weather also contributed, but Magness said that for 38% of the plant outages, the problem remains unclear.
Thursday’s hearings were approximately 15 hours and Friday’s were expected to be around the same time frame.
The crisis has put Texas' power and fossil fuel industry under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers who reap millions of dollars in unlimited political contributions from energy interests, more than any other sector.
President Joe Biden was set to fly to Texas Friday, Feb. 26 in what will be his first visit to a major disaster site since taking office.