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No $16 billion price correction for ERCOT unless Texas governor takes action


Prices in dispute are permanent after 30 days

Senate bill ordering fix is dormant in House

House acts on other storm-related proposals

Houston — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas' $9,000/MWh real-time wholesale prices on Feb. 18-19, set during a brutal winter storm, will become a permanent $16 billion cost to the market unless Governor Greg Abbott takes action March 19.

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Abbot can either direct state regulators to order ERCOT to reprice the market for those dates or to issue a notice that the prices are under investigation, which could allow more time for legislative action.

"If ERCOT does not inform its market participants and board within ... 30 days" of an event requiring repricing, "the board is unable to consider a price correction," ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said in a March 19 email.

That time limit would expire March 20 for Feb. 18 and March 21 for Feb. 19.

Therefore, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who also leads the state Senate, on March 18 asked Abbott to direct the Public Utility Commission of Texas to order ERCOT to reprice the hours from 11:55 pm CT Feb. 17 through 9 am CT Feb. 19 or, barring that, at least direct ERCOT to notify market participants that the prices are under investigation, which "preserves the ability of ERCOT to continue reviewing the prices."

Abbott has taken no such action.

The Texas Senate on March 15 passed Senate Bill 2142 by a vote of 27-3 to direct the PUC to direct ERCOT "to issue all orders and take all other actions necessary to correct the prices not later than March 20, 2021."

However, the bill stalled in the state House, and it was not on the agenda of any committee March 19. In a press conference March 18, Patrick said the state House has adjourned without taking action.

Dormant senate bill

Potomac Economics, ERCOT's IMM, has described ERCOT's decision to maintain pricing at the $9,000/MWh systemwide cap as an "error," because the market intervention requiring residential rotating blackouts ended at 11:55 pm CT Feb. 17.

ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness and PUC Chairman Arthur D'Andrea maintain that keeping the price at the systemwide cap was needed in order to ensure the system had enough generation capacity – and enough industrial load staying offline – to ensure rotating outages would not be needed the mornings of Feb. 18 and Feb. 19.

D'Andrea resigned under fire March 17, effective upon his replacement. The ERCOT board terminated Magness March 3, effective two months later.

Abbott and the PUC Chairman, Arthur D'Andrea, have said they lack legal authority to reprice the hours in question, but in answer to Patrick's request for a legal opinion, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said March 17 that the PUC has "complete authority to act to ensure ERCOT has accurately accounted for electricity production and delivery among market participants."

"Such authority likely could be interpreted to allow the Public Utility Commission to order ERCOT to correct prices for wholesale electricity and ancillary services during a specific timeframe," Paxton wrote. "A court would likely find that such corrective action ... does not raise constitutional concerns ... provided that such regulatory action furthers a compelling public interest."

Other storm-related legislation

While the Texas House of Representatives has not acted on S.B. 2142, it reported several other storm- and electricity-market-related bills out of committee on March 18.

House Bill 10 would replace the five unaffiliated board member positions at ERCOT with five political appointees, all of whom must be Texas residents:

  • Three appointed by the governor -- one representing residential consumer interests plus two others
  • One appointed by the lieutenant governor
  • One appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives

House Bill 11 would require generators, electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and transmission and distribution utilities to weatherize in preparation for extreme winter conditions.

House Bill 12 would require the establishment of a statewide disaster and extended outage alert system.

House Bill 13 would establish a Texas Energy Disaster Reliability Council, to prevent an extended power outage caused by a disaster, implement procedures to manage such emergencies, maintain relevant records, coordinate fuel delivery to generators, monitor supply chains, and research and recommend reliability measures. The council would include people from the PUC, ERCOT, the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Division on Emergency Management.

House Bill 16 would prohibit the sale of wholesale power indexed products by retail electric providers to residential customers.