HOUSTON — On Tuesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services raised the number of deaths related to February’s winter storm to 210. It was announced on the same day the Electric Reliability Council of Texas released its plan to improve grid reliability.
ERCOT, which manages most of the state’s power grid, delivered the plan to Gov. Greg Abbott, state lawmakers and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT.
It comes nearly five months exactly after February’s freeze knocked out power for roughly 14 million Texans.
On June 10, Abbott signed bills that he said reform ERCOT and require weatherization.
“Power system and power grid in the state of Texas have never been better,” Abbott said as he signed the bills.
Four days later, power plants unexpectedly went offline during record June demand, and ERCOT called on Texans to conserve.
On July 6, Abbott directed the PUC to take immediate action to improve reliability.
“What is alarming is it seems like the totality of the maintenance caught y’all by surprise,” said Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday at the State Capitol in Austin.
Senators questioned the heads of the PUC and ERCOT on what happened and what’s next.
“Those generation outages have improved in time,” said Brad Jones, ERCOT’s Interim CEO, who was hired after the winter storm. “Not as much as we would hope, but we continue to see that trend downwards."
Jones told senators that ERCOT has already completed 20 of the 60 items on its new Roadmap to Improving Grid Reliability.
The plan calls for bringing more power generation online sooner, buying more reserve power, and unannounced testing of generators.
“My guarantee to each of you is that we intend to communicate more clearly than we’ve done in the past,” Jones said.
Ed Hirs, KHOU 11’s energy expert and University of Houston Energy Fellow, believes ERCOT’s new plan doesn’t address the core problem: power generators not consistently earning enough money to cover costs.
“Wall Street is not gonna let anybody invest in new generation or even in reinvesting and keeping generators going if they’re just going to lose money,” Hirs said.
Hirs is hoping for a special session that addresses the grid before state lawmakers gavel out for the last time until 2023.