By Jack Fink

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – As power plants started going offline during the overnight hours of Monday, Feb. 15, the demand for electricity kept rising.

To satisfy that demand, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) raised the price of electricity in the wholesale market to its maximum rate.

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But an independent firm hired by the state to watch the Texas power market, Potomac Economics, accused ERCOT of keeping that maximum rate in place for too long, overcharging companies by $16 billion.

The independent firm urged the Public Utility Commission to reverse those charges.

During a special meeting Friday, the agency’s two commissioners said they wouldn’t do that.

Arthur D’Andrea, the PUC chair, said, “It’s nearly impossible to unscramble this sort of egg.”

He succeeded DeAnn Walker who resigned earlier this week after facing pressure from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

D’Andrea said reversing charges would create new problems. “You think you’re protecting the consumer and it turns out you’re bankrupting a coop or a city and so it’s dangerous to do after something is run to go around and redo it.”

After receiving a more than $2 billion bill from ERCOT, Brazos Electric Co-Op has filed for bankruptcy, and the electric grid operator is now facing lawsuits.

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ERCOT’s board voted Wednesday night to terminate CEO Bill Magness’ contract.

Jim Niewald, who was an electric power and gas industry consultant for 40 years, said there are protections for residential customers who are on a fixed rate and in the competitive market that would keep them from facing higher electric rates while under their current contract.

But Niewald said it’s possible customers of a co-op or a city-owned utility could face higher charges. “How this is all going to affect them, remains to be seen, but early indications are it’s been very severe with major bills coming due.”

A spokeswoman with the city of Garland said Friday that Garland Power and Light “intends to continue charging our customers at the same fixed rate that is currently in place” and that it “will continue to explore ways to minimize the impact of high electricity costs that may burden our citizens going forward.”

Niewald said, “In my opinion, it’s going to take weeks, probably months for everything to get settled.”

When asked if it’s fair to call this a market meltdown, Niewald said, “That’s probably as good description as anything. Again, it’s totally unprecedented, we’d never have come anywhere close to a situation like this before.”

The Public Utility Commission chair said they are investigating whether any companies made money unethically during the power outages.

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If so, he said the state will bring enforcement actions against them.