‘Avoided a catastrophic blackout’: ERCOT head defends decision to shed power from grid

Bill Magness said operators made call to begin outages around 1 a.m. Monday

SAN ANTONIO – Top officials from ERCOT, the Texas council that regulates the electric grid, defended the decision to shed power and initiate rolling outages early Monday, claiming it prevented a possible indefinite blackout across the state.

That decision left millions of Texans without power and persisted for a third day Wednesday, as outages remained prolonged in San Antonio and other parts of the state.

“The fundamental decision that was made in the middle of the night, at 1 a.m. Monday, to have the outages imposed was a wise decision by the operators we have here,” ERCOT President & CEO Bill Magness said during a midday virtual briefing with the media, who said making the call may have “avoided a catastrophic blackout.”

Magness, who acknowledged the “horrible consequences” of million of Texans not having power during dangerously low temperatures, brushed aside calls from public officials to resign.

“The assessment of how we did I think is something that can be done once we get the power back on,” said Magness.

Local and state officials have heaped much of the blame for the prolonged power outages on ERCOT.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg this week applauded calls from Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to have the Texas legislature hold an emergency hearing on the widespread outages and ERCOT’s role in them.

“ERCOT’s systems threw millions to the cold when we needed them most. They must be held accountable,” wrote Nirenberg on Twitter.

“Obviously ERCOT, the manager of the state’s power grid, underestimated the situation. ERCOT’s failure created hardship for Texans across the state,” said Nirenberg during an emergency city council meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Wednesday he was forced to issue an order stopping natural gas producers from shipping the source of energy out of state.

Abbott, who has also been highly critical of ERCOT, said the order would last through Sunday.

ERCOT senior director Daniel Woodfin said during the media briefing that energy demand had outpaced supply and that the entity continued efforts to try and get the two more in balance.

“As generation becomes available, we’re utilizing it to the maximum amount possible,” said Woodfin.

Magness conceded there was no clear timeline on when the power grid would return to normal and that the prolonged outages had to be maintained much longer than anyone would have wanted.

ERCOT’s board of directors announced an urgent meeting, scheduled for Feb. 24, in an effort to examine the council’s preparations and response to the storm.

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.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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