Texas grid operator CEO will be terminated after mass blackouts during winter storm

National

FILE – This Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, file photo shows power lines in Houston. When an unusually heavy winter storm blanketed much of Texas with snow, knocking out electricity to millions of homes and leaving many struggling to find clean water, one sector of the population was particularly vulnerable: inmates in Houston at the state’s largest county jail. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

HOUSTON (NewsNation Now) — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas board Wednesday night said it would terminate CEO and President Bill Magness in the wake of the historic round of winter storms that slammed the state the week after Valentine’s Day, leaving millions without power in bitter cold temperatures and dozens dead.

ERCOT, which manages the state power grid, has come under fire following the massive power outages during the deadly February winter storms that swept through Texas. Millions of people were left in the dark and cold for days after power generators failed in the subfreezing temperatures.

Magness, perhaps the most visibly electricity official during the humanitarian crisis, defended the blackouts that initially were publicized as rolling, temporary blackouts that drug on for days for some Texans, pointing to the need for ERCOT to manage the flow from the state’s power grid that was crippled by the prolonged freezing temperatures to prevent a larger catastrophe.

ERCOT’s board of directors says they are exercising a 60 days’ termination notice to Magness and noted he will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms until the termination notice is served out.

While energy executives in Texas House and Senate hearings last week pointed to broad failures, the biggest was the state’s natural gas system, responsible for the largest share of Texas power generation, said Curtis Morgan, chief executive of Vistra Corp.

Texas is the country’s biggest natural gas producer, but without better ties between gas producers, pipelines and power plants, the state will face future cold weather outages.

“We just couldn’t get the gas at the pressures we needed,” said Morgan, who told employees to buy gas at any price but could not get enough to run plants.

Several ERCOT members have already resigned, and the Texas House and Senate launched hearings into ERCOT’s preparations or lack thereof before the winter storms.

One fact everyone agreed on in the state Legislature hearings: No one warned Texans that blackouts would last days, not hours.

Up to 48% of the state’s power generation was offline at times and at least 32 people died, including an 11-year-old boy, who succumbed to hypothermia in an unheated mobile home.

The board statement says Magness will continue to serve in his current role during the transition period, to help state leaders implement potential reforms to ERCOT.

Read the full statement:

“The ERCOT Board of Directors met this evening and directed the Corporate Secretary to exercise the 60 days’ termination notice to ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness pursuant to the employment agreement with ERCOT. During this transition period, Bill will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT. The ERCOT Board is expected to begin an immediate search for a new President and CEO, and will continue to discuss the transition plan at future meetings during this time period.”

ERCOT BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Texas power costs for that week jumped to $50 billion from $5 billion because of higher electric and gas prices, even though more than 4 million people lost power.

Reuters and NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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