ERCOT board meeting last week included joke about cowboy boots, less than 40 seconds of storm talk

President Bill Magness said he did not intend to sound unconcerned during Feb. 9 virtual meeting

SAN ANTONIO – Top officials of ERCOT, the Texas council that regulates the state’s electric grid, spent less than 40 seconds discussing the impending winter storm during the entity’s board meeting last week, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

ERCOT President & CEO Bill Magness briefly addressed the winter weather at the start of his report before quickly moving on.

“One thing I want to say before I really get into the presentation is it’s actually going to be winter here pretty soon, as many of you -- those of you in Texas -- know. We do have a cold front coming this way. We’ll probably see our winter peak later this week or in the very early part of next week. And operations has issued an operating condition notice just to make sure everyone is up to speed with their winterization and we’re ready for the several days of pretty frigid temperatures to come our way. So more on that in the next few days, but it does look like we’ll have a little bit of winter weather to contend with during the course of the rest of this week,” Magness said during the virtual meeting.

Those remarks constituted ERCOT’s entire discussion of the storm during the two-hour and 28 minute meeting, an examination of the proceedings by the Defenders confirmed Thursday.

Magness, who has been under fire much of the week after ERCOT operators decided early Monday to shed power from the state’s grid, said his comments during the board meeting came at a time when ERCOT officials were telling operators across the state that they could face significant weather issues.

ERCOT’s move to reduce supply caused millions of Texans to go without power this week, some for several days, but was necessary to avoid a possible catastrophic collapse of the electric grid, officials said Wednesday.

“Well, I didn’t mean to convey unconcerned. I think it was the first thing I mentioned when I started briefing the board,” said Magness when asked about his Feb. 9 remarks during a media briefing Thursday.

“So I think there were certainly lots of communications from us, and if what I said indicated we weren’t concerned, I really was just trying to notify the board that this is something we gotta keep an eye on because it’s coming at us,” Magness said.

An ERCOT preliminary seasonal assessment report obtained by the Defenders on Thursday shows that, in early September, officials wrote that they believed they had the generating capacity to serve forecasted peak winter energy demand from December 2020 through February 2021.

“I feel like I have a virtual gavel.”

Last week’s board meeting included the elections of a new ERCOT chair and vice-chair.

Sally Talberg, a longtime appointee of the Michigan Public Service Commission, was named chair, while Peter Cramton, an economics professor, was named vice-chair.

“I feel like I have a virtual gavel,” Talberg said.

The remark was followed by laughter from other people taking part in the meeting.

Talberg then said she had large shoes to fill and then joked that she was thinking of large cowboy boots.

Talberg lives in Michigan, while Cramton lives in California, background searches of the two board members revealed.

An ERCOT spokeswoman refused to provide Talberg’s contact information on Thursday.

The make-up of ERCOT’s 16-member board of directors, as well as the compensation packages many of them receive, will likely face heavy scrutiny in the coming months.

ERCOT is scheduled to be the focus of an emergency hearing before the Texas Legislature next week.

Publicly available 2018 tax filings for ERCOT show multiple board members received five-figure and six-figure compensation despite dedicating between five and 15 hours a week to the agency.

Magness was given total compensation of over $883,000 that year, the filings show.

He said during Thursday’s media briefing that online bios for ERCOT’s board members had been removed from their website after they began receiving harassing communication.

Magness said the bios were in the process of being put back online after he and other ERCOT officials determined it was public information.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.

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