ERCOT Board Members and Chair Will Resign After Outages

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Five Board Members, Including the Chair, Resign from Embattled Texas Regulator ERCOT Following Outages

The chair and four other board members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the embattled Texas regulator known as ERCOT, announced plans to resign, as an entity once obscure outside of the Lone State State has become a lightning rod for criticism following last week’s devastating and deadly blackouts.

Announced on Tuesday, their resignations will become effective at the conclusion of a public board meeting on Wednesday morning.

As reported by the Texas Tribune, four of the board members live out of state: Sally Talberg, the Michigander and chair; Peter Cramton, the vice chairman who lives in Germany; Terry Bulger, Illinois resident and finance and audit committee chairman; and Raymond Hepper, human resources and governance committee chairman. Their residency outraged many Texans left shivering in the dark after outages knocked millions off the grid last week.

“We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing Board Members for their service,” ERCOT wrote in an unsigned statement.

In their letters to the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC), the members expressed sympathy to the Texans left without power.

“We want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Texans during this past week,” they wrote in a one-page letter. “Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency.”

Noting “recent concerns” about the board’s out-of-state leadership, the four members said they did not want to become distractions: “To allow state leaders a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions, we are resigning from the board effective after our urgent board teleconference meeting adjourns on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.”

Craig Ivey, a Virginia resident who had previously petitioned to become an unaffiliated board member, cited the same concerns in withdrawing his consideration.

“One of my former neighbors, a proud Texan, often reminded me that our town in Virginia was an extension of east Texas,” his letter to the Commission stated.

In their last publicly available tax filings as a non-profit entity, ERCOT disclosed that the company’s president William Magness reported more than a $883,000 salary in 2018, and several other execs raked in deep into six-figure salaries that same year.

Also on Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee—the top civil lawyer of Texas’s largest county—launched an investigation into ERCOT, the PUC and market participants.

“We knew back in 2011, after the last hard freeze, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put the state and the power generators on notice that the grid was underprepared for hard freeze events,” Menefee said in a statement announcing the investigation. “There was nothing unpredictable about this last freeze, and everyone had plenty of notice it was coming. But, the people running the grid were woefully unprepared and failed to take immediate action and warn folks of what could happen. My office will conduct a comprehensive investigation into these events and take legal action where appropriate.”

In a recent interview for Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections,” Menefee—the first African-American Harris County Attorney—spoke about how environmental issues hit communities of color the hardest and the blackouts were no exception. He also spoke about a pending Texas Supreme Court battle to determine whether ERCOT enjoys a cloak of sovereign immunity preventing it from being sued.

“So I’m bringing that perspective to this, but also understanding that as a young African-American man who grew up in a working-class family, I bring the perspective of having been one of the people in these neighborhoods where there was a facility that was emitting chemicals,” he said in the interview.

Signaling his then-upcoming investigations during the interview, Menefee noted that state officials plan to probe the increasingly visible regulator too.

“I am aware state agencies are conducting their own investigation and I am willing to work with them in that process,” Menefee said in his statement “But, Harris County government must protect its residents. My office’s investigation will focus on what went wrong with getting power to residents and facilities in this County, and the impact of those failures.”

Listen to the full interview with Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts, and subscribe!

Read their resignation letter below:

(Photo credit: Justin Sullivan at Getty)

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Law&Crime's senior investigative reporter and editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.