By Jack Fink

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – As the first winter storm blew across Texas last week, ERCOT’s CEO Bill Magness told board members Wednesday, Feb. 24 that the company did all it could to prevent a catastrophic blackout.

Had that happened, Magness repeated what he has told reporters during the last week: most of the state could have remained without power for weeks, if not longer.

One board member who ultimately resigned, Vice Chair Peter Cramton, compared the situation to an airline pilot whose plane is in trouble. “ERCOT was flying a 747. It had not one, but two engines experience catastrophic failure and flew the damaged plane for 103 hours before safely landing in the Hudson. In my opinion, the men and women in the ERCOT control room are heroes.”

Cramton was one of five board members who submitted their resignations Tuesday, but still attended the special meeting.

A candidate to fill a vacancy on the board also resigned Tuesday, along with a seventh person, who was a board alternate.

Magness said during the first storm, power plants kept going offline in rapid succession while demand surged.

He said nearly half, about 48.6% of power generation was forced out at the worst point.

Magness said the frequency dropped on the grid to a point considered dangerous and remained there for nearly four and a half minutes. Had it stayed that low for nine minutes, Magness said that could have caused a blackout.

To prevent a blackout, ERCOT told transmission owners to cut power for millions of customers.

The CEO admitted there were communications problems at the time because they didn’t warn transmission owners soon enough that they would have to shed loads for a long period of time.

Magness said, “I know it confused people and frustrated people and I acknowledge that.”

He said to prepare for a blackout, ERCOT pays 13 power generation units to be ready.

But Magness told board members of those 13 units, six experienced outages between four and 127 hours.

Of those six, two had alternate generators that were also out.

Another board member described that as “a little scary” and mentioned that had there been a blackout, that issue could have meant it would take ERCOT longer to stitch back together the grid.

Last week’s storms were far worse than a winter storm that hit Texas ten years ago.

Board member Jacqueline Sargent told ERCOT’s CEO that planning for severe weather must improve. “We’re going to need to consider some extreme cases because what we saw went well beyond anything in the.. report that was done and came out for this winter season.”

In response, Magness said, “You’re absolutely right, we saw something here that out-stripped any extreme scenario.”

Sargent also faulted Magness for not communicating the severity of the threat the winter storms posed during the Board meeting, February 9.

It was the first time storm warnings were publicized and five days before it the ice, snow, and bitter cold temperatures started wreaking havoc on the state’s power system.

Sargent said, “I feel the issue of ERCOT’s concerns with this event should have been more broadly communicated at our February 9th board meeting and that the concerns with regard to the upcoming weather event should have been communicated more specifically. I feel as a board member very frustrated that did not occur.”

Magness acknowledged, “I could have done a better job.”

Sargent spoke on behalf of all the residents who suffered for days without electricity, heat, and running water. “People in Texas should not have to endure such hardships or anywhere for that matter in 2021. We’ve really got to roll up our sleeves and solve the problem.”

Magness will face tougher questions and criticism when he testifies at two separate legislative hearings at the Texas Capitol on Thursday.

With the various resignations, ERCOT still has ten board members and seven alternates.

A public check indicates the remaining members live in Texas.

Those who resigned live out of state.

State Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano says he will file a bill that would require ERCOT board members to live in Texas.


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