Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Texas power crisis spurs flurry of investigations

Illustration of the state of Texas combined with an electricity pylon whose power lines are damaged and fallen

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Investigations of the Texas electricity crisis — a disaster with fatal consequences — are proliferating in the state and the Beltway.

Why it matters: The inquiries could bring regulatory changes to Texas' independent grid aimed at better preparation for extreme weather.

They could also bring new protections against massive power costs in Texas' freewheeling market that expose people to bills that reach thousands of dollars.

Driving the news: The various plans or calls for inquiries include...

  • Texas' public utility commission on Friday launched a probe of the "factors that combined with the devastating winter weather to disrupt the flow of power to millions of Texas homes."
  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a key member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, tweeted he's launching an investigation that will include "why so many fossil fuel sources failed, why ERCOT wasn’t better prepared, & who participated in the conspiracy to falsely blame renewables."
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday formally demanded copies of communications and other documents from ERCOT and Texas power companies related to the event.
  • Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), in a letter Saturday, urged federal energy and commodity regulators to explore the huge spikes in natural gas prices in multiple central U.S. states during the cold snap.

Catch up fast: The flurry of activity follows previously announced efforts and inquiries.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning an inquiry, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has demanded a state legislative investigation.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's sway over Texas' independent grid is limited. But it has begun looking more broadly at several states' power system performance in winter conditions and Chairman Richard Glick last week said he's open to new mandatory requirements that would cover Texas.

What's next: Via KXAN, an Austin NBC affiliate, officials from ERCOT and the public utility commission will appear before state lawmakers this week.

"The Texas House State Affairs Committee and Energy Resources Committee will hold a joint hearing on Feb. 25, as will the Senate Business and Commerce Committee," it reports.

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