Call for Harris County to leave state’s power grid. Is that possible?

HOUSTON – Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Harris County should explore what authority it has to leave the Energy Reliability Council of Texas and will propose Friday in commissioner’s court.

Garcia said he will request “an opinion from the County Attorney on what powers Court or other county elected official to possess under the Texas Constitution and Texas statutes to remove the county from ERCOT’s service area,” among other things.

The ERCOT map, which includes most of Texas, except El Paso, parts of the Panhandle and more than a dozen counties on the eastern edge of the state, has looked about the same for many decades.

In the Houston area, Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, Brazoria and Montgomery counties, are inside the ERCOT map, while Jefferson and Liberty counties belong to another grid overseen by the Federal Energy Reliability Council.

It’s been that way for at least half of a century, said Ed Emmett, who formally served as Harris County Judge for more than a decade.

“Can you imagine if 254 counties across the state of Texas all started weighing in on whether they wanted to be in ERCOT or some other system?” Emmett said. “That’s really not their job.”

Emmett’s home in the Houston area, on the ERCOT grid, lost power during last week’s winter storm. His cabin in Liberty County, on the MISO grid, did not lose power.

“I think there are legitimate questions to ask about why some service areas maintained electricity and others did not,” Emmett said. “I find it very difficult to see a role for county commissioners here.”

State legislators, however, do have a role, he said.

“Last time I checked, legislators all represent those same residents of Harris County,” Emmett said. “That’s going to be a political discussion as to whether you’re better off regulated by the Public Utility Commission (which overseas ERCOT) or by FERC.

Hypothetically, if Harris County was able to leave ERCOT, Emmett said it would have to then rebuild power lines and other infrastructure

University of Houston Energy Fellow Ed Hirs said the cost of that new infrastructure would be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Garcia plans to introduce his proposal on Friday, which also includes a “formal endorsement” of a federal investigation into what he calls the “failures and deficiencies” of the State of Texas during the winter storm.

He was not available for an interview on Tuesday.