ERCOT names new, temporary leader two months after deadly winter storm

Texas

Reliability coordinators monitored the state power grid during a tour of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas command center in Taylor in 2012. Credit: REUTERS/Julia Robinson

The board overseeing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the independent nonprofit entity that operates and manages the electricity grid that covers much of Texas, named former executive Brad Jones on Tuesday to be interim president and CEO.

Jones, who worked for Texas energy companies and in senior roles at ERCOT before leading New York state’s power grid operator as president, takes ERCOT’s top job from Bill Magness, who was fired as president and CEO in early March after a winter storm in February left millions of people in the dark for days amid freezing temperature and claimed more than 100 lives.

Jones’ hiring as interim president and CEO, after stints as a vice president and chief operations officer at ERCOT between 2013 and 2015, provides more time for the organization to find a permanent leader. Magness will soon depart ERCOT following a 60-day termination notice handed to him by ERCOT’s board of directors in March.

In the weeks since the winter storm, both ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the regulatory body that oversees it, have been lambasted for failures in preparing for and responding to the storm.

ERCOT underestimated the maximum amount of power that would be demanded by homes, businesses and industry during a severe winter storm in its fall projections, and it overestimated the amount of power generation that would be available to the grid during such a storm.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had called for Magness and DeAnn Walker, then the head of the PUC, to resign. While Magness was fired, Walker resigned after also coming under harsh criticism from lawmakers. Gov. Greg Abbott called for reforming the governance of ERCOT, and legislation to do so is advancing through the Legislature.

But after recent leadership shakeups at ERCOT and the PUC, it is state lawmakers who are now increasingly coming under pressure to pass substantial legislation that would protect the state from another power failure the next time inclement weather hits Texas.

An immediate concern Jones must confront at ERCOT is the prospect of an atypical summer that pushes demand for electricity beyond normal summer peaks. Texas is likely to see a hotter and drier summer than normal this year, according to an April climate outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and 2021 is likely to rank among the 10 warmest years on record globally.

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