CEO of Texas grid fired after deadly blackouts

Texas storm and resulting blackouts blamed for more than 40 deaths across the state

Louise Hall,Associated Press
Thursday 04 March 2021 20:18
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The manager of Texas’ power grid has been fired amid growing calls for his departure following days of deadly blackouts in the state at the end of last month.

Continued blackouts in the state at the end of February left millions of customers without electricity and heat at the height of the crisis for days in subfreezing temperatures for days.

In the wake of the blackouts, Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), has been fired, becoming the second senior official to depart in the wake of one of the worst blackouts in US history.

Mr Magness was given a two-month termination notice by ERCOT’s board in a meeting on Wednesday night.

“During this transition period, Bill will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT,” the organisation said in a statement.

The state’s top utility regulator also resigned on Monday over the controversy.

Mr Magness, who made more than $876,000 in salary and other compensation in 2019, was the target of much of the outrage over the blackouts that began in late February.

A brutal winter storm plunged temperatures into single digits across Texas, causing skyrocketing demand for electricity to heat homes.

Grid operators unplugged more than four million customers as the system buckled, which the CEO has said was necessary to avert an even more catastrophic blackout that could have lasted months.

In the immediate aftermath of the blackouts, Mr Magness told The Texas Tribune that the power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have led to months of blackouts.

The storm and resulting blackouts have been blamed for more than 40 deaths in Texas, but the full toll may not be known for months.

A number of people trying to keep warm died of carbon monoxide poisoning, others froze to death while some died in other weather-related accidents.

At the Texas Capitol last week, lawmakers investigating the outages laid into Mr Magness for his handling of the storm.

Over hours of testimony, Mr Magness defended actions that he said kept the grid that serves most of Texas’ 30 million residents intact.

“It worked from keeping us (from) going into a blackout that we’d still be in today, that’s why we did it,” he said last Thursday.

“Now it didn’t work for people’s lives, but it worked to preserve the integrity of the system.”

Republican Gov Greg Abbott has accused ERCOT of misleading the state about the readiness of the grid, placing blame for the outages almost singularly on the grid operators.

The governor’s outrage has not extended to the state’s Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT and is led by appointees of Mr Abbott.

However, the commission has also increasingly come under fire with chairwoman DeAnn Walker resigning after struggling in two lengthy appearances before lawmakers following the blackouts.

She said others should also accept responsibility for the outages.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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