Texas House, Senate Grill ERCOT, Energy Providers Over Deadly Power Outages

People died during the power outages. That was the message Houston state Rep. Ana Hernandez had for Texas energy regulators and providers during opening hearings into last week's blackouts.

“Harris County alone has confirmed at least 15 fatal cases of hypothermia, including the death of 11-year-old Christian Pineda who died in his sleep after playing in the snow and returning to his unheated home,” she said Thursday. “Jackie Nguyen, her home caught fire, resulting in the death of her mother and three young children.”

“As a mother, a daughter and a Texan, I extend my most sincere condolences to those families for their loss and unimaginable pain they are certainly going through at this very moment.”

At least 32 deaths statewide have been directly attributed to last week's outages and frigid temperatures.

Lawmakers in both chambers dove into everything from who shut the heat off to when did the weather forecast change, who knew about it and when.

“I will tell you when we did reach out, and this isn't blaming anybody, I just was surprised by the lack of urgency I got from some of the officials, you know the agencies,” Vistra CEO Curt Morgan told House members. “I don't know if they didn't see it coming or what. But I have to tell you, and I'm being as honest as I can, the level of urgency was not there in my opinion.”

Many questions focused on a lack of winterization despite repeated warnings, noting the state's wind turbines began to freeze up days before the ice storm settled over Texas. Providers say the rush to fire up natural gas plants was too late, and those lines froze up, causing a cascade of failures within the grid.

“In some places in the Northeast, some of the plants have dual fuel capabilities, because of they're not able to access one, they could access the other one,” said NRG's Mauricio Gutierrez.

Houston State Sen. John Whitmire grilled ERCOT's Bill Magness about protocols and chain-of-command.

“We're accountable to the PUC for everything,” said Magness. “They approve our budget and the fee that funds us. And any decision that ERCOT makes, according to PUC rules can be appealed to the commission and if they don't like it they can send it back.”

“How do we keep the grid on and not have such a huge cost going forward?” asked Whitmire.

“I agree and we're committed to working with whoever we need to to make that happen,” Magness answered.

“No, I'm talking about human lives,” Whitmire added.

More hearings are expected in the coming weeks as lawmakers sift through measures to prevent a repeat in the future.

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