An iced-over, mostly powerless North Texas on February 16, 2021.

Politics & Government

Watch Dallas State Rep. Grill the Chair of Texas’ Public Utilities Commission

Legislation passed after the 2011 winter storm gave the PUC authority to regulate ERCOT. PUC chair admits they didn't bother.

If you are looking for a little more insight into what went wrong with Texas’ electrical power grid a couple of weeks ago, I suggest taking the time to watch the video (after the jump) that shows Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia grilling DeAnn Walker, the chair of the Public Utility Commission, during Friday’s Joint Commission Hearing. Walker resigned on Monday afternoon.

If you don’t have the full 36 minutes to devote to it, click ahead to about 22:00 mark. Up to that point, Anchia spends time walking through the scope of the PUC’s regulatory responsibilities, particularly as they relate to legislation passed after the 2011 winter storm – and further refined in 2013 – that was precisely designed to avoid what happened two weeks ago.

The legislation the state passed, Anchia argues, didn’t merely suggest that the PUC monitor ERCOT, the private entity that manages the state’s grid, in order to prepare for extreme summer and winter weather. Reading from a house document that laid out the full details of the 2013 bill, Anchia recites details of the legislation that gave the PUC cease and desist authority over ERCOT, instructed the PUC to come up with performance measures to evaluate ERCOT, and required the commission to prepare annual reports on ERCOT’s performance. Walker admits that after a 2012 report, the PUC did not submit another annual report on ERCOT’s preparedness to the legislature.

“We told you to report to us if you thought we were unprepared,” Anchia says. “Because we had promised our constituents that this was not going to happen again, and we told the PUC to take care of it, and we gave you power – we gave you rulemaking authority to take care of it.”

Walker was appointed directly by Gov. Abbott, and prior to serving as the chair of the PUC, she worked as a senior policy advisor to the governor and as Associate General Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs at CenterPoint Energy, a Fortune 500 electric and natural gas utility.

Anchia goes on to grill Walker on how she prepared for the February winter storm. In earlier testimony, Walker says she was in contact with private energy companies in the lead-up to the storm. Even though energy market participants and ERCOT knew that the storm threatened to pose a serious threat to state’s electricity grid, Walker says she “does not know the exact date” on which she made the seriousness of the event known to the governor.

“Who is communicating with the public?” Anchia asks. “It is in your mission to protect the public. You are answerable ultimately to the public. It’s in your name. . . . What is astonishing to me is you were calling the industry. You are not the private utility commission. You’re the public utility commission. You should have been calling the public.”

If you are still looking to pinpoint exactly where regulatory oversight of Texas’ power industry failed, this video offers some pretty compelling evidence. Gov. Abbott appointed energy industry vets to the PUC, and they appear to have had no real interest in providing the industry oversight. Watch the full thing here:

 

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