AUSTIN (NewsNation Now) — Texas state lawmakers Thursday took the first steps in addressing the power grid failure last week that left millions of Texans in the dark for days during historic winter storms that brought bitter cold to the Lone Star State.
Joint hearings began Thursday morning, taking place in both the Texas Senate and House Chambers. The long day at the Texas State Capitol featured an array of key players in the Texas blackout, from meteorologists and energy providers to the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Legislators and top energy leaders convened to comb through the technical and emotional details of the statewide crisis that left at least 32 Texans dead.
“We know that today, at least 32 Texans died in last week’s event,” Texas State Rep. Ana Hernandez said. “Who do we blame? People want us to blame somebody. We wanna blame somebody. But what that really means is trying to get to the heart of what happened.”
ERCOT CEO Bill Magness testified on the Senate floor. His agency controls the Texas power grid that all but collapsed last week. He said he wouldn’t have done anything differently, noting that he feels a “great deal of responsibility” but reminding lawmakers Texas was four minutes and 37 seconds away from a total blackout that would have taken weeks to recover from. He says if he had not ordered outages, much of the state would still be in the dark.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that he’s learned over the last few days that ERCOT failed to realize the impact the winter storm could have on the power grid.
“Step one which was a failure on the part of ERCOT was not taking the winter storm serious enough,” Abbott said. “They downplayed the severity at the same time telling me and the public that they were fully prepared for it.”
“And they did the equivalent of slamming on brakes while driving on ice and it led to a collision that not only shut down multiple thousands of megawatts but in doing so that is what led to the immediate additional shutdown of other megawatts of generation power,” Abott added.
Magness said at the height of the winter storm, almost half of Texas’ generation tripped offline due to freezing conditions. Demand soared while supply plummeted.
In a televised address, Abbott said tragic doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“Too many of you were shivering in your own homes. No power, no heat, no water,” Abbott said.
NewsNation spoke to local Austin resident Joshua Garcia who wants answers – still in disbelief over what Texans endured.
“Yes we’re Texas, yes everything is bigger here, everything is better here…but apparently not the electricity and the power,” Garcia quipped.
And right now, the electric bills are bigger too. About 42,000 customers across the state signed up for wholesale prices, and are now facing astronomical fees.
Wholesale providers like Griddy are now under investgation, while others like Vistra and NRG promised their customers they will not see their payments increase.
Texas-based energy executives admitted that the severity of the inbound inclement weather was grossly undercommunicated.
“Well, in this case, we sure underplayed it, we did not give people a fighting chance, we didn’t say, here it comes, it’s coming,” Vistra Corp CEO Curt Morgan said. “We didn’t say you might want to go visit, you know, someone else or, you know, just get prepared, maybe? i thought it was a little too late. And not enough.”
Despite meteorological testimony saying weather leaders began seeing clear and early indicators of a historic weather event beginning the week of Feb. 7, the overall takeaway is that there is yet to be a clear answer on how to move forward. All parties involved in the hearings Thursday agreed there is not just one party to blame, and communication and transparency need to be finessed moving forward.
NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report