Texas officials to appear before key House Oversight panel Wednesday

Mar 23, 2021
Press Release
Hearing comes as Congress investigates cause of last month’s power-grid failure that left 57 dead amid massive winter storm

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Officials from Texas will likely face some intense scrutiny this week when a key House oversight panel holds a hearing Wednesday to investigate what caused widespread blackouts that left millions of people throughout Texas without power, food, water and heat for up to four days during a severe storm that moved across the southern half of the country last month. 

Among those set to testify when the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing gets underway Wednesday is Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner, and the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages over 90 percent of the Texas’s power grid, Bill Magness. 

Officials in Texas have come under fire for their handling of the state’s power system that has left it especially vulnerable to severe winter weather events.

The panel’s chair, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), says her committee – which oversees the nation’s energy-related agencies – is determined to find out what happened, and what needs to be done to ensure it never happens again – not just in Texas, but anywhere else in the U.S.

“What happened in Texas is unacceptable,” DeGette said. “These are American citizens whose lives were put at risk by the failure of those who are responsible for maintaining the state’s power grid. Congress has duty to care for the health and wellbeing of all its citizens. If Texas won’t do what’s needed to protect the millions of Americans living there, we will.”

In response to a severe winter storm that began moving through the state on Feb. 14, the organization that operates most of Texas’s power grid, ERCOT, was forced to initiate rotating power outages to avoid a complete blackout of the entire grid.

ERCOT officials cited the sudden increase in energy demand and the decrease in power generation caused by the storm as reasons why the rolling blackouts – which, at one point, left more than 4.5 million Texans without power – were necessary.

It’s not the first time Texas’s power grid has been severely impacted by a winter weather event. 

In 2011, a cold snap forced 200 Texas power plants offline, leaving millions without power. In 2014, a polar vortex that swept across the region caused multiple power generators in Texas to fail. Both events led federal regulators to conduct reviews and issue reports recommending that Texas officials take steps to properly winterize its power system to improve its performance during cold weather events. 

Experts say the failure of Texas’s power grid last month was likely caused by several factors, including: the state’s failure to heed federal regulators recommendations and properly weatherize its power system; the lack of incentives Texas’s energy market provides to energy producers to build additional capacity that can be used in emergency situations; and Texas’s inability to access energy from neighboring states in times of emergency.  

The sudden decrease in the state’s energy supply caused by the storm, coupled with the sudden increase in demand from customers, caused Texas’s electricity prices to skyrocket during the storm. At one point, prices soared to over $9,000 per megawatt hour – compared to the $50 per megawatt hour customers are typically charged that time of year.  

This surge in prices led some customers to receive bills for as much as $10,000 for one week’s worth of energy during the storm. 

Last month’s storm left millions of people throughout the state without food, power, water or heat for up to four days – at a time they needed it the most. 

The lack of power to nearly half of Texas’s grid caused water pipes to burst, hospitals to pause non-emergency surgeries, and eventually led to at least 57 people dying as a result of the extreme weather and the resulting blackouts. 

Texas is the only state in the continental U.S. that operates its own isolated power grid.

Because Texas’s power grid does not transmit electricity across state borders – as every other state in the nation does – it’s able to operate free of any oversight from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. 

In Texas, dozens of private companies throughout the state generate and sell electricity to customers. These companies are compensated only for the electricity they produce and deliver to customers. Unlike other states, there is no incentive for these private companies to build capacity that is kept offline but can be used in the event of an emergency. 

Seven of ERCOT’s 16 board members have resigned following the grid’s failure last month. 

On Wednesday, lawmakers will hear directly from those responsible for overseeing Texas’s power system as part of its investigation into what caused the most recent failure of its power grid. 

The hearing will begin at 11:30 a.m. ET and will be streamed LIVE at the following link: https://degette.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/hearing-power-struggle-examining-the-2021-texas-grid-failure

Following is a full list of the witnesses set to testify: 

Hon. Sylvester Turner

Mayor

City of Houston

Bill Magness

President and Chief Executive Officer

Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Hon. Christi Craddick

Chairman

Railroad Commission of Texas

Michael Shellenberger

Founder and President

Environmental Progress

James Robb

President and Chief Executive Officer

North American Electric Reliability Corporation