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ERCOT Interim President Fields Questions in Coppell

Coppell—Brad Jones left retirement in April to become interim president for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The embattled organization has received a great deal of blame for the lack of electricity during a crippling winter storm, which left over 50 dead, many due to hypothermia.

Lately, Jones’ hasbeen traversing the state to answer questions about ERCOT’s response to the winter storm in town hall meetings. Headdressed a crowd of about 30 citizens in Coppell on Monday, Nov. 8.

“The February event was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “The last time this event occurred was, I believe in 1895, when it was this cold across all of Texas. In Brownsville, 1895 was the last time they had snow. They had snow this year, very little, but they still had snow.”

According to numbers Jones provided, on an average summer day, Texas generates 81,000 megawatts of energy for over 261,000 square miles, making Texas the second largest state by area.

California, which covers around 156,000 square miles, is the third largest. On a typical day, California uses 48,000 megawatts of energy, a bit less than the 50,000 megawatts of energy Texas lost during the February winter storm.

Many remember rolling blackouts: power would be on for a while and then off. Others recall having no power for several days.

“Those companies [providing electricity] acted on their plans to shed load during these emergencies, and their plans are designed to roll [blackouts to] consumers,” Jones said. “Problem is we asked for so much of a reduction that we ran out. We simply didn’t have anything in the cupboard.”

About 85 percent of those lost megawatt hours were due to 300 power generating plants across the state being offline during the storm.

ERCOT is about to inspect those plants to ensure they are properly weatherized for the coming winter.

“We’ve set new rules in place. ERCOT is inspecting each of those generators throughout December,” Jones said. “We’ll be able to look at the plants that had trouble and make sure we fix those problems.”

Should ERCOT find plants that are non-compliant, it will forward these findings to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, which now has the power to fine these plants $1 million for each day they are not in compliance.

One major concern of Texas residents during the storm was the lack of communication between ERCOT, energy providers like Reliant and TXU Energy, and their customers about how long they could expect their power to be out.

However, Jones is adamant that lack of communication will not reoccur this winter.

“The legislature gave us the capability to announce an Amber Alert when there are these conditions so you know [what’s going on],” he said. “You get the alert on your phone or see it on a roadside sign, and you can get prepared. We’re working closely with the PUC for them to help amplify our message and get it out to the public.”

Jones stated that about 7,000 of the 50,000 megawatts lost during the storm were because generating plants did not have enough fuel on hand to operate. He also cleared up the misconception the blackouts were caused by an over reliance on “green” energy like wind and solar.

“Wind was offline, but we weren’t expecting a lot during that time. Solar was offline, but we weren’t expecting hardly anything at time,” Jones said. “Every resource was out: nuclear, coal, gas, solar, and wind, which went offline because of the freezing rain.”

Another misconception is a number of those plants were offline due to maintenance.

“We do our maintenance in the fall and spring, not the winter, because we know we need those units during the winter,” Jones said. “We know there’s a good chance a cold weather event will happen. Ninety-eight percent of the outages were on things that broke, not because of maintenance.”

Jones also addressed the resignations of several ERCOT board members who were based outside of Texas. He does not think those members were part of the problem, but he respects the decision of the state legislature and Governor Greg Abbott to have them depart.

He also discussed ERCOT’s 60-point Road map to Improving Grid Reliability, a series of initiatives which are featured on ERCOT’s website to make the Texas grid more reliable.

“We have got 45 of the 60 done right now. My goal was to finish them all by December. We won’t do that but will have most of them finished,” Jones said. “These are things we know we always should have worked on, but we didn’t.”

That road map and other measures undertaken since the storm all serve a common goal: ERCOT restoring trust with the citizens of Texas, a process which will not happen overnight.

“I do believe we’re doing the right thing to be ready for the future and for this winter. For ERCOT to build back trust, it’s going to take this winter, next winter and it’s going to take 100 winters and summers,” Jones said. “We have to continue to prove ourselves to you.”