‘The only question was when,’: energy expert says he predicted ERCOT grid failure in 2013

Resident’s frustrations mount as power outages continue with more snow on the way

SAN ANTONIO – Gonzalo Rodriguez is in his 70′s, lives with disabilities, and has been without power for days.

“This is not living. It’s barely surviving,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think it’s fair. I pay my electric bill on time, and I’m sure there’s more people like me. I’m handicapped. I can’t walk. There are families with small children.”

He said he’s grateful for his neighbors who are helping care for him, but he’s cold, worried, and angry.

On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott placed blame on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that controls 85% of the state’s energy.

“This is unacceptable,” Abbott said. “Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.”

University of Houston energy fellow, and highly regarded expert, Ed Hirs, says he knows what caused the problem.

“The ERCOT market design is fatally flawed,” Hirs said. “It was never a matter of if it would fail. The only question was when.”

Hirs said he predicted in 2013 that Texas’ energy grid would fail if it was not re-designed. He said ERCOT manages other companies that actually generate the power, but has no way to penalize or control them.

According to Hirs, those companies typically focus on summer months, not winter, and had no incentive to prepare extra power plants as the arctic storm barreled towards Texas.

Now, power plants and stations across the state are frozen.

“They leave them turned off. They’re not winterized, there’s no antifreeze, they’re not oiled, they’re not staffed,” Hirs said. “They’re not ready to respond in a short-term emergency like this.”

Bill Magness, ERCOT’s president and CEO, said in a press release on Wednesday that he knew “millions of people are suffering.” He said ERCOT is prioritizing getting them electricity.

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said “the ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online.”

Darius Dunn moved to San Antonio from Philadelphia and while he said the snow is his element, he’s out of power and has been for days. That’s not even something he’s had to deal with up North.

“Since you guys don’t get it as often you don’t really prepare for it as much,” Dunn said.

One thing is clear: The ice will eventually thaw, but frustration will not. So, Texas has no choice but to make future preparation a serious priority.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.