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Texas PUC details probe topics to ensure February energy crisis 'never happens again'

Highlights

Forensic audit of ERCOT planned

Generator confidentiality rule set aside

Houston — Texas regulatory staff on March 12 described investigations to ensure the massive blackouts resulting from the Feb. 14 winter storm do not recur, plus a request for proposal for a firm to conduct a forensic audit of how the Electric Reliability Council of Texas handled the event.

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During a Public Utility Commission meeting presided over by its sole remaining member, Chairman Arthur D'Andrea, PUC Deputy Executive Director Connie Corona said the staff has established seven different topics of enquiry in hopes of "making sure this never happens again."

The topics are:

  • Weatherization standards and emergency operations;
  • Determination of what qualifies as load that is essential, including enhancing electricity-gas coordination, standards and processes for critical load, and enhancing the granularity of customer load shed;
  • ERCOT operations;
  • Communications and governance among all parties and at ERCOT;
  • ERCOT market settlement processes;
  • Wholesale market design; and
  • Retail market issues.

These topics are not necessarily each assigned to a single project number, and some projects may address more than one of these topics, Corona said.

Forensic audit

The PUC had previously asked PUC Executive Director Thomas Gleeson to initiate a forensic audit of ERCOT's handling of settlement processes and finances during and after the winter storm, which resulted in almost half of the generation fleet going offline, about 20 GW of rotating outages, more than 4 million electricity customers offline for periods ranging from hours to days, and dozens of deaths.

With the advice of other state officials, Gleeson said he has started the process of developing a request for proposals for such a forensic audit.

"[What] was told to me to be most important was really refining the scope of work on this," Gleeson said. "The goal at this point is to have something ready to post and RFP by the end of next week. I've been told on an expedited timeline that with that posting we can get a report by the end of the legislative session to the members."

Texas' biennial legislative session ends May 31.

"There's a need to get it done quickly, but as with most things, I think it's important to get it not just right now but also right," Gleeson said.

Orders on AS clawback, confidentiality

Other issues covered in the March 12 meeting included an order to clawback payments to ancillary service generators who did not perform and an order to require immediate disclosure of generator outages during the week of Feb. 14, countermanding the usual 60-day delay in the release of such information.

The PUC, which then included Commissioner Shelly Botkin, approved the ancillary service clawback order on May 3, but Botkin resigned on March 8 before signing the order, so D'Andrea said March 12 that he would re-issue the order under his sole signature.

Regarding the generator outage disclosure, D'Andrea said, "ERCOT asked generators to waive that confidentiality requirement and submit the data because this is an issue of critical public importance, and we need that information, and the public needs that information."

Most generators waived confidentiality, but perhaps 80 did not, D'Andrea said; therefore, he approved an order to set aside that confidentiality provision, so the information will be posted on ERCOT's public website.

"I get [the information] already, and the Legislature, I think, can see that, and the [independent market monitor] can see it, but, you know, there are academics at [the University of Texas], for instance, that are looking at this stuff closely, and I need ... as many eyes on this as possible to parse out the raw data and figure out what went best," D'Andrea said.