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ERCOT: What Is It, And Why Is It Responsible For The Power Outages Across Texas?

Icicles hanging from the edge of the roof of a home in Dallas.
Rachel Osier Lindley
/
KERA News
More winter weather is expected in North Texas this week, even as many suffer without electricity.

As parts of Texas prepare for even more snow this week, many are still without electricity — some for more than 24 hours. That’s on the shoulders of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council Of Texas, which manages 90% of the state’s power grid.

Homes and businesses across the state have experienced blackouts over the last few days as a result of inclement weather. Texas doesn’t get cold weather often, and now that the state's infrastructure is not keeping up with the weather, Texans are questioning: Who is responsible for these power outages?

States that get cold weather more often are a part of Regional Transmission Organizations, or RTO’s. These are independent, membership based organizations that operate large electric power systems and supply energy to about 60% of the United States.

Texas is a part of the remaining 40% that uses energy operated by independent companies. Instead, the state has its own electric grid, ERCOT, which is operated by a company that shares its name, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

ERCOT manages approximately 550 energy units across Texas, which powers 90% of the state. Sometimes, like in 2011, Texas imports some power from Mexico during a similar course of blackouts.

When ERCOT gained control over Texas’ power needs about two decades ago, they fell under the jurisdiction of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the state legislature.

Now, those affected by the power outages are turning to their representatives, showing frustrations for their communities and demanding more answers.

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) spoke to a Dallas radio station Tuesday morning about ERCOT.

“Why are there people in Richardson who have been without power for 36 hours, and just two miles away in Plano, we’ve got people who have had no power outages at all,” he said, referencing cities in North Texas.

ERCOT issued an emergency alert Monday, notifying residents that rotating power outages would occur to conserve energy.

“I’m not saying that this is easy or simple. I’m saying that, number one — we’ve known about it, what were the plans going in? And number two — what are the plans right now? How do we necessarily get us out of it?” Leach said.

The answer to Leach’s question is simple: The Texas legislature. Lawmakers have two major questions to consider when they reconvene.

First, addressing Gov. Greg Abbott’s new emergency item.

Tuesday morning, Abbott added reforming ERCOT to his list of priorities this legislative session. Along with discussing election protocols, broadband access and bail reform, among others, legislators will now have to discuss how to make better use of their grid system to avoid power outages like this again.

Second, the legislature would need to consider the effectiveness of a grid system not shared by other states.

Looking into ERCOT is now on state lawmakers’ list of top priorities. This legislative session, while already jam-packed, still has pressing policy items on the agenda, like redistricting and state finances, which can only occur in the 2021 session.

The legislature has adjourned for the meantime due to the weather. Meanwhile, Texans continue to go without power.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at hpanjwani@kera.org.

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