Energy & Environment

U.S. Government Prepared To Act On Texas Grid Changes, FERC Chief Warns

Chairman Richard Glick said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission won’t be satisfied with issuing mere “guidance” to Texas power generators, as it did after the 2011 freeze.

The nation's chief energy regulator on Thursday said he's prepared to act on any recommendations to strengthen Texas' grid in the wake of last month's winter storm, after the state was criticized for ignoring warnings in the past.

Richard Glick, the new head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Texas ignored recommendations from FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to weatherize its grid after its last big freeze in 2011.

In an interview with Dan Yergin, chairman of the international energy conference CERAWeek, Glick said he's determined not to let that happen again.

"Somehow throughout the process…those recommendations ended up turning into just guidance, guidance for generating plants," Glick said. "And in a market like Texas, which is very competitive, one generator's not going to voluntarily going to make the changes necessary to weatherize their equipment. If another competitor doesn't do that, it'll put them at a disadvantage. So, unfortunately nothing happened, and then we saw the results of that a few weeks ago."

Texas' power grid nearly collapsed last month after snow, sleet and freezing temperatures led to unprecedented demand. As a result, the state's grid manager — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — mandated sustained outages in order to avoid a catastrophic loss of power, which ERCOT said could have lasted weeks if not longer.

Since then, seven ERCOT board members have resigned, and its CEO was fired late Wednesday.

After the storm, FERC and NERC opened a joint inquiry into the response to the outages, which left millions of people in Texas without electricity or heat — many for days on end.

While ERCOT is largely regulated by the state, it's also subject to federal oversight.

Glick said the new report should be complete by the end of the summer

"I'm making a commitment that we're not just going to let this be a report that sits on the shelf," he said. "If it recommends action, we're going to take action."

President Joe Biden named Glick chairman of FERC on Jan. 21. Former President Donald Trump initially named Glick, a Democrat, a FERC commissioner in August of 2017.

Before joining the commission, Glick served as general counsel for the Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Glick said Texas' massive power failures underline the importance of improving the reliability of electrical grids nationwide — particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many Americans are working remotely.

"We all know that when we lose power, it's somewhat of a nuisance," Glick said. "The power goes out for a couple of hours, it's not great, obviously, and we don't like it. But when you lose power for four days in the middle of a record-setting cold wave, (with) people literally freezing to death, that's something we need to think about, again, and we need to revisit the way we consider reliability and consider how we handle, adjust the risks associated with not investing in a reliable grid."

Additional reporting by Paul DeBenedetto.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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