ERCOT board developing new emergency response measures, managing financial fallout from winter storm

ERCOT board developing new emergency response measures, managing financial fallout from winter storm

The state’s electric grid and the entities that oversee it are under scrutiny following the winter storm in February. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

In the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is forming plans to prevent or better manage future large-scale power outages.

An emergency meeting of an ERCOT advisory committee made up of independent advisers was convened March 5 after the resignations of several board members and ERCOT CEO Bill Magness.

ERCOT, the entity responsible for managing an electric grid that serves over 90% of energy customers in the state, is facing criticism for its handling of increased demand during Winter Storm Uri, which, at its peak, left over 4 million customers without power and subjected many to days-long outages.

Magness left the board with a list of proposed improvements, from better emergency communications to better storm preparedness.

ERCOT members heard a series of suggested process improvements from advisers, such as changing requirements for how long individual grids can be taken offline and how the entity can better communicate with energy producers, buyers and the public during emergencies. ERCOT Adviser Jim Lee told board members that the committee discovered that the ERCOT email list used for communications to power companies was down for extended periods of time during the storm.

“There was a perceived gap in communication that could have been helpful when we were in the middle of all of the events that were going on that week,” Lee said.

Another suggestion took aim at the group’s responsibility to calculate anticipated demand prior to a storm. ERCOT Adviser Resmi Surendran noted that severe winter weather creates different needs than extreme heat, and by better preparing retail electric providers and the public, ERCOT can form clearer strategies to manage periods of high demand.

Some efforts, such as winterizing the physical grid infrastructure, will more likely come from the state Legislature, ERCOT Adviser Cliff Lange said. Others, he said, will be dictated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the public regulatory body that oversees ERCOT.

The discussion took place against a backdrop of growing financial concerns among electric providers that are faced with absorbing the costs of rates that skyrocketed during the storm, reaching $9,000 per megawatt hour.

“That’s not something we can exert any expertise on at this time,” said Kenan Ogelman, ERCOT vice president of commercial operations, in response to energy company representatives who asked questions about bankruptcy proceedings.

Rayburn Electric Cooperative and Brazos Electric are among those filing for bankruptcy. ERCOT advisers reported that so far, electricity providers have defaulted on $2.4 billion worth of payments meant for electricity producers.

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