House panel seeks storm documents from Texas grid operator

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FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2021, file photo, a woman wrapped in a blanket crosses the street near downtown Dallas. As temperatures plunged and snow and ice whipped the state, much of Texas' power grid collapsed, followed by its water systems. Tens of millions huddled in frigid homes that slowly grew colder or fled for safety. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

WASHINGTON – The House Oversight Committee is investigating the agency that operates the Texas power grid, seeking information and documents about the lack of preparation for the recent winter storm that caused millions of power outages and dozens of deaths across the state.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who chairs an environment subcommittee, sent a letter to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, saying he is concerned that the loss of electric service — “and the resulting human suffering, deaths and economic costs” — will happen again unless ERCOT and the state of Texas adequately prepare for a predicted increase in extreme weather events.

Severe winter storms in Texas “have occurred repeatedly over decades, and ERCOT has been unprepared for them,” Khanna wrote in a letter to ERCOT CEO Bill Magness. The group's own consultant has predicted that severe winter weather events will continue to occur every decade, yet ERCOT and state officials have done little to prepare for them or build appropriate infrastructure, Khanna said.

Magness was fired Wednesday amid growing calls for his ouster following the deadly storms, but will stay on for two months to "work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT,” the organization said in a statement.

“The failures of ERCOT and the state of Texas were costly,'' Khanna wrote. At least 49 Texans have died, and more than 4.5 million people experienced power outages

“Homeowners, renters and businesses face steep expenses to fix damage from frozen and burst pipes, with the Texas Insurance Council estimating that claims could be more than $20 billion,'' Khanna wrote. Total economic losses in Texas could reach $50 billion.

Because Texas is not connected to the national grid, “ERCOT has limited ability to import electricity from outside of the state,'' Khanna noted, adding that nearby regions, such as El Paso, experienced the same extreme temperatures but fewer disruptions.

Last month's storm followed similar winter storms in 1989 and 2011 that also caused massive outages, Khanna said. “It appears that lessons learned (again) in 2011 were not implemented either, leaving Texas vulnerable to extreme winter weather again in 2021,'' he wrote.