Texas to reform energy grid in response to fatal blackouts caused by severe winter storms

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill to reform the state’s power grid and how it’s operated in response to the disastrous energy crisis caused by severe winter storms.

More than 4 million people in the state were left without heat and potable water in February after back-to-back storms buried residents in snow and regional temperatures plummeted. It took days for power to be restored, and more than 100 people died because of subsequent blackouts.

The power systems were not designed to withstand extreme cold, which was the “central cause” of the failures, Bill Magness, former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s electric grid, told ABC News in February. In addition, there were outages because power generation from coal, natural gas, wind and solar sources fell below expected output levels due to the weather.

The new legislation includes “comprehensive reforms to fix all of the flaws that led to the power failure,” Abbott said Tuesday during the signing, including directives for power companies and some natural gas companies to upgrade facilities and weatherize the power grid, and a requirement for regulators to create an emergency alert system for when inclement weather and power outages are imminent.

The legislation also changes the governance of ERCOT, reducing the number of seats on the board of directors to 11 from 16 — with eight to be appointed by a selection committee. The bill also paves a way for top lawmakers in the state to have strong influence over the board.

All of the regulators who were on the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, at the time of the blackouts had either resigned or been fired by mid-March. Magness was fired on March 1.

“The top priority we had this legislative session was to fix the power grid to prevent any other power grid failure in the future,” Abbott said.

The state likely won’t require the companies to make the upgrades until 2022 at the earliest, the Texas Tribune reported.

But Abbott said Tuesday that the state is prepared to ensure the functioning of the power grid through the upcoming summer and winter.

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