Houston – Almost two months after a winter storm crippled Texas, people are still struggling to repair their homes and some residents are still without water.
Texans not only want their homes fixed and utilities to stay on, but they also want answers from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) about who is to blame for the massive blackouts.
Kevin Rebtoy hasn’t had running water in his Needville home since February’s winter storm. He said bottled water is expensive for a man on a fixed income.
“I was without power for six days,” said Rebtoy.
When the lights came back on, the motor that pumps water out of a well and into his home burned out trying to push water through a frozen filter.
“It wouldn’t have been frozen because I got an electrical outlet and I have a heater that I normally will put in here to keep that from happening, but there was no power,” said Rebtoy.
Rebtoy now waits for the rain to fill a horse trough next to his home so he can flush his toilets.
“You even have to ration yourself going to the bathroom?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold. “Exactly,” Rebtoy responded.
Like millions of Texans, Rebtoy wants to know why he’s left to clean up the mess. He said he doesn’t have the $900 needed to rebuild his pump.
“I feel (ERCOT) is a corporate giant and it’s easy for them to hide, and as long as they can hide, they’ll hide,” said Rebtoy.
ERCOT manages the flow of electricity pumped into our grid by dozens of private companies.
Texas Public Information Act
In the days immediately after the winter storm, KPRC 2 Investigates sent out record requests to ERCOT, the PUC (Public Utility Commission), and state and local agencies. KPRC 2 Investigates filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act. We wanted to know answers to many questions, including the following:
- What information was exchanged between ERCOT employees and board members?
- What information was shared with power companies, and vice versa before and during the storm?
- What was happening inside ERCOT’s control room as power generators were tripping offline?
- What weather preparations do power companies make each year?
- What were power providers told when millions of people were put in the dark?
- Is there a detailed explanation of why prices shot through the roof at the worst possible time?
There are many more questions because the public and local leaders tell us they were completely caught off guard.
“If someone had told us, ‘We’re in big trouble.’ We would have made completely different decisions,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry on Feb. 22, 2021.
Since then, some information has been released, but a lot has not. ERCOT asked the Texas Attorney General to determine if it has to comply with the Public Information Act; arguing it believes it’s exempt. ERCOT attorneys argue the legislature set up the system where the Public Utility Commission decides what information it should release and not the PIA. ERCOT attorneys further argue if released, some information could be used to plan a terrorist attack. A long list of private companies has also filed letters asking the attorney general to block the release of information because it could jeopardize a company’s competitive edge and the security of its infrastructure.
What’s the danger?
What’s the real danger here if none of this information really comes to light?
“We continue to live with a potential disaster sweeping over us,” said Joe Larsen, Houston attorney and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “I think we have the worst of both worlds now. We have government incompetence and private enterprise obscurity.”
Larsen says without transparency, the public has no idea what trouble could be brewing and what needs to be fixed.
We also reached out to state lawmakers about the lack of transparency.
Action in Austin
“You manage one of the things, that is a necessity to life - electricity. Yet, when things go wrong we’re told, ‘Oh, no, no. You can’t see that,’” said KPRC2 Robert Arnold.
“No, I completely disagree with this lack of transparency at ERCOT,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, (R) District 7.
Now, lawmakers are trying to address the raft of issues uncovered by the storm, including putting more daylight on an entity millions of Texans depend on every single day.
“We really had serious governance problems, serious operational problems and it just can’t happen again,” said Bettencourt.
Homeowners like Rebtoy are counting on these changes.
“They should have been ready, that’s their business; at least to the extent it doesn’t last for five or six days,” said Rebtoy.
Database: 2021 ERCOT Legislation
Status of Legislation: Zero have become law
So far there have been 74 bills filed in this legislative session specifically addressing ERCOT or the winter storm.
Of those 74, as of April 8, 2021, zero have become law.