Texas power board members resign after being criticized for living out of state

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Shoppers line up to enter the H-E-B at Slaughter Lane and Escarpment Boulevard in Southwest Austin, as the store prepared to open with reduced hours on Feb. 16 after a winter storm closed roads and knocked out power to thousands.

JOHN BRIDGES/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN/TNS

BY JAMES BARRAGAN
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS/TNS

AUSTIN, Texas — Five board members of the state’s power grid operator, including chairwoman Sally Talberg, announced their resignation Tuesday, a week after power outages left millions across Texas shivering in their homes during severe winter storms and state officials criticized some board members for not living in the state.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million Texas customers, has taken the brunt of the criticism from state officials. Gov. Greg Abbott last week supported calls for resignations by the council’s leadership, calling the power outages a “total failure by ERCOT.”

On Tuesday, Abbott said ERCOT’s lack of preparedness and transparency is unacceptable and welcomed the resignations.

“When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power. ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false,” he said in a statement.

“The State of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.”

Recently elected

Abbott, who has also been heavily criticized for last week’s power outages, plans to deliver a televised statewide address on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

All five board who resigned are believed to live out of state.

Along with Talberg, the four other current board members who resigned are: Peter Cramton, an unaffiliated director; Terry Bulger, an unaffiliated director; Raymond Hepper, an unaffiliated director; and Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, who represents independent retail electric providers.

Talberg’s bio on the ERCOT website said she lives in Michigan. Bulger, who was paid $65,250 a year according to ERCOT’s 2018 tax filings, lives in a suburb of Chicago.

Talberg and Cramton were elected board chair and vice chair respectively during a meeting on Feb. 9, just days before the winter storm that brought about their resignation. Cramton, who joined the board in 2015, was paid $87,000 in 2018.

Joint resignation letter

The resignations mean that all five unaffiliated positions on ERCOT’s board will soon be open — the fifth position is currently vacant. All five are approved by the three-member, Abbott-appointed Public Utility Commission, which so far has escaped major criticism.

The four unaffiliated directors resigned together in a joint letter addressed to other ERCOT members and the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT. The letter was posted on the Public Utility Commission’s website.

The board members said they acknowledged the pain and suffering of Texans last week.

“We have noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT,” they wrote. “To allow state leaders a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions, we are resigning from the board effective after our urgent board teleconference meeting adjourns on Wednesday.”

Before stepping aside, they wrote, they were beginning to review last week’s power crisis.

‘Necessary step’

Separately, Anesetti-Parra sent her own resignation letter Tuesday. Her resignation was to take effect after Wednesday’s meeting.

Also on Tuesday, an out-of-state candidate for a vacant position on the ERCOT board withdrew his application, saying he wanted to “avoid becoming a distraction” as state officials try to respond to last week’s outages.

The resignations are the first by officials that oversaw last week’s events.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, RPlano, who plans to file legislation requiring board members to live in Texas said the resignations are “a good and necessary step.”

“There is strong, bipartisan consensus that the ERCOT Board — which is responsible for making such crucial decisions for over 28 million Texans — should be filled by capable and qualified citizens who reside here, who know our state and who we can trust to make wise decisions on our behalf,” he said in a statement.

ERCOT officials were expected to testify in front of lawmakers on Thursday during hearings about last week’s power failures. 

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