Four officials will resign from the board overseeing the Texas power grid after it was pushed to the brink of collapse by the recent winter storm, leaving millions without electricity during some of the coldest temperatures the state has experienced in a generation.
The Texas Electric Reliability Council, the administration that regulates the flow of power for more than 26 million people in the state, has been blamed for the widespread power outage, prompting the governor, lawmakers and federal officials to investigate system malfunctions, especially in preparation for cold weather.
The four board members, who announced their resignation on Tuesday at the end of a Wednesday morning meeting, were all from outside of Texas, a point of contention for critics who criticized the wisdom of outsiders who play such an influential role in the infrastructure of the state.
In a statement filed with the Public Utility Commission, board members said they are stepping down "to give state leaders a free rein with future direction and to eliminate distractions."
Those leaving are the chairwoman, Sally Talberg, a former state-owned company regulator living in Michigan; Peter Cramton, the vice president and professor of economics at the University of Cologne in Germany and the University of Maryland; Terry Bulger, a retired bank manager living in Illinois; and Raymond Hepper, a former official with the agency that oversees the New England power grid. Another person who should have filled a vacant seat, Craig S. Ivey, has retired from the 16-member board.
The sign became the target of blame and scrutiny after the winter storm last week brought the state's power grid dangerously close to a complete blackout that could have taken months to recover from. In a last-minute effort to prevent that, the council, known as ERCOT, ordered rollout outages that plunged much of the state into darkness and caused electricity prices to skyrocket. Some customers had bills over $ 10,000.
The weather paralyzed the system when power plants were taken offline and pumps used to produce the natural gas needed to fuel them were frozen.
State officials have said ERCOT had provided assurance that the power infrastructure was prepared for winter conditions.
"But those assurances turned out to be devastatingly false," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement, adding, "When Texans urgently needed electricity, ERCOT didn't do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power."
As the state was reeling from the crisis, the realization that some board members were living outside the state became a source of outrage, so much so that ERCOT initially pulled information about them from its website. Officials said members had been harassed and threatened.
A state legislator said he was considering proposing legislation that would prohibit people who were not Texas residents from serving on the board.
"If you don't live here, if you don't experience what we're going through and are still accused of making decisions on our behalf, that's unacceptable," said Jeff Leach, a state representative whose district has many suburbs of Dallas, said in a statement. recent interview.
The resignation of the 16-member board comes as the state legislature prepares for hearings on the power outage on Thursday. The Harris County attorney, whose jurisdiction also includes Houston, said on Tuesday that he was opening a civil investigation into decisions made by the likes of ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, and the district attorney in Travis County, including Austin, said he was launching a criminal investigation. .
In a statement, ERCOT said, "We look forward to partnering with Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing board members for their service."
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said late Monday that its enforcement division would review the natural gas and electricity wholesale market in Texas, presumably to determine if there was any illegal anti-competitive or price manipulation.
The power system disruptions pushed wholesale electricity prices from $ 1,200 per megawatt hour to about $ 9,000.
Energy analysts said the outage involved monitoring not only ERCOT but statewide electricity suppliers who had not prepared their systems for harsh weather.
"Heads had to roll, but I don't think it's going to change anything," said Michael E. Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's easy to blame the grid operator's outside board members rather than the state's gas producers and power plant owners."
Those operators failed to spend the money to weather their instruments, pipelines and electrical lines to withstand the cold weather, he said, because they were not required to do so by government regulation.
Ivan Penn and Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.