Dan Patrick says probe to be opened this week into power grid

Patrick said he won't not be pointing fingers, however the hearings will begin as soon as Thursday and Friday to gather information.

Video Transcript

DAN PATRICK: Good morning. My name is Dan Patrick, lieutenant governor of the state of Texas. Before heading off to Austin, making a few stops along the way, I wanted to talk to the folks of Houston to tell you where we're going legislatively, what we think some of the issues are, and very early some of the things that we saw.

So the first thing you should know is that beginning this week, the Texas Senate and the Texas House will be getting an investigation into what has become a multilayered issue. Number one, for the overview of the umbrella, you have the PUC, Public Utility Commission, and under them ERCOT. And ERCOT is like a flight controller at the airport. They're managing all the planes. ERCOT manages-- it's a nonprofit company. They manage all of the gas as it moves around, all of the energy to the markets.

And then you have the generators, those who produce the power. And you have those generators under the-- undersight-- or the oversight, rather, of ERCOT. And then you have your local companies, like CenterPoint in Houston or Entergy, which is actually part of a different grid. And then you have Oncor in Dallas and other companies. And they're the ones who get that energy to your home via the lines on the poles.

So you had multiple layers involved last week. And so what happened? So number one, it would appear-- and I'm not going to point fingers at anyone at this point. That's what an investigation is for. But here's what it appears at least the overall view is.

First of all, the weather was far worse than most thought of. Typically in the Houston area especially, when you have a hurricane out in the Gulf and it's heading this way, people start to prepare. Local TV stations, radio stations, newspapers say there's a storm coming and go to the store. And people stock up on food and fill their gas tanks and maybe gas for their generators if they have them. They get prepared.

Well, everyone knew there was a storm coming. But many didn't know it would be as severe. There wasn't 10 inches of snow predicted to land at Del Rio on the border. There weren't two snowstorms, to my knowledge, forecast for San Antonio. And the hard freeze that we all had, which was forecast, went a little longer than some thought.

So people, the general public, I think, were caught off guard a little bit, because this turned out to be-- if we classified as we do hurricanes, it was a class 5 ice storm. So we got information from ERCOT last week that they were prepared for the storm. And their preparation forecast projected that they would need about 57,000 megawatts of power to be sure that nothing worse than some brownouts happened.

So then the storm hit. And when it first came in, the first evening, around 9 o'clock, the demand on power for all the generators through ERCOT was 69,000 megawatts of power. They were able to meet that demand in the beginning of the freeze.

But then something happened about four hours later, around 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. The first thing, the windmills were frozen and didn't work. Now, you've heard a lot of talk about renewables provide 20% to 25% of our energy. Well, they do on a good day when the wind is blowing and the sun's out. Wind, on average, is responsible for about 23% and solar only 2%.

But there was no solar last week. The sun wasn't out. And the turbines froze. So ERCOT saw half of their load or more go down. And some days when the wind-- like a beautiful day like today, we may be getting 30% or more from wind, but not in that storm.

So one mistake that may have been made-- again, that's what an investigation is for-- is an over-reliance on the wind from ERCOT, because they were generating about half of what they-- they thought they might generate 15% of the power. And depending on the hour, it was down to very little, 4%, 5%, 6%. So that was the first issue that happened.

Next, quickly the gas wellheads started to freeze up. The way the power is generated, whether it's nuclear or clean-burning coal in Texas or gas plants, is either through natural gas or water. And they go through the lines all across the state. Natural gas doesn't necessarily freeze, but the pipes freeze. And so whether it froze at the wellhead or in the pipes, that began to become the next issue.

And then the plants started breaking down. And we lost several hundred plants, or close to several hundred plants not providing the power that we needed. So early that night, 69,000 megawatts of power, ERCOT had about 70 some thousand on hand. And, by the way, the 69 is an all-time winter record and only 5,000 megawatts short than the all-time record in the heat of summer.

So the demand was 69,000. ERCOT was over 70. And then the turbines shut down. There was no solar. It was night. And then the gas plant shut down. The nuke plant shut down. The clean-burning coal shut down.

And soon, ERCOT was in a position of having in the mid 50s, the low 50s, the high 40s in terms of megawatts. And then when that happened, they contacted and began to contact the Oncors and the CenterPoints and the Entergies, you've got to bring down your power. Now, why? The demand is here, the power is here.

And the next thing that happens or could happen is plants catch on fire. There could be literal explosions. The whole grid could have collapsed. The entire grid could have collapsed.

It started when the wind stopped or the turbines froze. And it continued as every area of our portfolio of power started shutting down. And so then as that power is reduced so that the entire grid didn't collapse.

And note here, had the entire grid collapsed, we're talking about power out in 90% of the state. About 10% is not on ERCOT. 90% of the state would have been without power. And we could have been weeks and months to restore it.

It's called a black start. If you lose power, you have to bring it all back up. And it would take a while to repair it and bring it back online. And one of the reasons the repairs couldn't be made the first two nights was because the crews couldn't get out on the roads because everything was frozen over everywhere.

So that's not an excuse for anything. But that's what happened. And I believe that ERCOT was not prepared. They told us they were ready. They obviously were not. The generators, if they told ERCOT they were ready and winterized, they obviously were not.

You've heard a lot about 2011, the legislature, we had a similar situation with a storm in 2011, not nearly as severe as this. And the legislature made recommendations to these companies that this is what you should do to winterize your system. And for the last 10 years, as far as everyone knew and what we were told by ERCOT and the PUC, is that the winterization they had done was working. The most we'd ever lost power, either on a really hot day or a cold day, was four hours, eight hours, or 12 hours.

So what we asked them to do looked like it was working. And, obviously, with this severe storm, it didn't work. So that's the why. So let's move forward.

Where do we go from here? So we will start the investigation. This is not going to be a one-time or a two-day hearing. It will be this week, Thursday and Friday, as we begin to gather information and line up witnesses.

This will be an ongoing process. There may not be hearings five days a week. But there will be many hearings throughout the session.

We have to get to the heart of what the issue is. Number one, and not getting into politics, because you don't want to hear politics right now between the Democrats or Republicans who are pointing fingers. You want answers. And that's what we're going to get.

And we're going to find out what went wrong. We kind of know generally what happened. But we're going to find out the whys and we're going to fix it.

But one of the issues that's come up is green energy. And we suddenly have everyone who says, well, had Texas had more wind, more renewables, this wouldn't have happened. Well, that's just flat-out nonsense. We are already the number one wind generator in the country, number five in the world behind China, the United States, Germany, and India.

So Texas has made an investment. And again, on a good day like today when there was no pressure and it's a nice breeze and the sun's out, it can be a significant part of our grid. But when we need it, it's not available.

So as some who say we should have had three times as much, if our power, 75% of our power in Texas or America is dependent upon a windmill and solar panels, we would still have millions, potentially, without power, because we were only getting 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 megawatts from wind when we needed 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 megawatts. So if you tripled the wind, guess what? You're up to 20,000.

So we need a portfolio, which we have in Texas, but we need to focus on gas, natural gas plants. We need to focus on clean-burning coal. We need to focus on nukes and our nuclear plants.

The feds don't allow you to build nuclear anymore. They're shutting down the coal. And they've taken all the incentives away from people investing in natural gas plants, because they're giving all of their incentives to the renewables. We need reliable energy. The reason we were able to get the power up on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday was not because of our renewables. It was our reliables.

The wind sure helped a little bit the last day or so. But it's the reliable energy. The renewable is good when you don't need it, but when you need it, it's not there. So that's number one. For everyone who says well, they should have had more, no, that would have only made the problem worse.

Secondly, as we go forward, we're going to take this down to a blank sheet of paper and start from scratch. This whole system was designed 30, 40 years ago. And it may have served us well and it has served us well.

We have been seen as the model of energy in the country. We have some of the lowest cost for energy in the country. It's one of the reasons that lots of companies move here from high-energy-cost states. But if the system doesn't work when you have to have it, then we need to go back and look at everything.

We need to see if ERCOT is still the entity that we need. We need to be sure we make the investment to winterize our reliable energy so if we have another storm like this, they don't go down because it's frozen. We need to look at the markets and be sure that everything that was done was properly done and hold everyone accountable.

When our hearings begin, I want to send a message to everyone in these multiple layers, from the PUC to ERCOT to the providers, like CenterPoint, Entergy, Oncor, to the generators who produce the energy, that we want you to come in, send your top people. We don't need middle management people coming in, making excuses. We want the people who made decisions and who are in charge of these companies.

And if we must, and we seldom use this power, but if we must subpoena people to come and testify, we will do that. It's a power we seldom use at the legislature. But if we don't get the right people coming in, answering these questions that you expect to be answered and we need to be answered, then we will use the power of subpoena if we must. We're going to get to the bottom of it. We're going to fix it.

And as the lieutenant governor of Texas, I work with the speaker. I work with the governor. We work as a team. And we all want to achieve the same goal.

But the legislation has to come through the Texas Senate as well as the House. And for those of you do not know, as president of the senate, as lieutenant governor, no bill comes to the floor unless I approve of that bill. I will not let any legislation come forward to the Senate during this session that does not answer all the questions that you have and we in the legislature have.

If it doesn't fully address this issue, then it's going to go back to the Committee to be reworked. I will not accept a bill from the House that doesn't do that. And if we have to come back in special session after special session, we must get this right. So while the governor surely has the bully pulpit and the platform, it's now up to the legislature to act. And I personally am going to put this on my back and take responsibility for fixing it.

We're going to lead in the Texas Senate. We'll work with the speaker. And I know they all want the same goals. But I want to make it very clear to the industry-- we want the right answers. If you don't send the people who can give the right answers, we'll subpoena those people.

And I want to be very clear to the legislature, we're not passing a half-baked piece of legislation that only is a Band-Aid. When I see people who die of hypothermia, of carbon monoxide poisoning, when I see the disruption to the business community, the people who can't get a hot meal, can't get water-- and we're pretty far along that way and working hard on that. But this cannot stand. And we're not going to let it stand. With that, any questions?

- Some Texans are calling for federal regulation. How would you respond to that?

DAN PATRICK: My response, first of all, I think most people know, but again, a lot of the information I've given for everyone on this pool feed to kind of have a look at the entire umbrella and be sure everyone understands the issues. And again, we don't have a lot of the answers. We should have a general framework of what happened.

The point is it's time to go back to the drawing board. And I'm willing to listen and learn. The Texas Senate is willing to listen and learn. I'm sure that the House is as well. And we're going to do what is right.

We do have our own grid that has served us well. I don't want the federal government interference, because right now, the only thing I've heard people in the federal government say is that we should step away from clean-burning coal and natural gas and nuclear. And they want us to go all renewables.

And that would be-- again, it's an important part of our portfolio. But it's not the answer for America or for Texas. So I'm very wary of the federal government telling us what to do. We'll fix our problems. We have a lot of smart people in Texas. And we'll fix our problems.

But everything is on the table. But the last thing I think Texans want is federal interference. We can fix this. Again, our system has worked well up until now. People had experienced four, eight hours, maybe a 12-hour blackout, brownout, rather, sometime in the past. But now, obviously, we have to be prepared for this.

It may not happen for another 50 or 100 years. It could happen in five. And it will take us-- by the way, I want to be very clear, if we're going to winterize the plants and winterize the pipelines that crisscross the state and we're going to revamp ERCOT, if we're going to do all of that, that's going to take time and a lot of money. But we have to start when the legislature finally passes the legislation to enact what needs to be done. Next question.

- You said 10 years ago local and state government made recommendations on how to winterize the [INAUDIBLE]. How come there wasn't an independent party to verify that those recommendations were facilitated?

DAN PATRICK: Well, as a legislator who's responsible for 1,200 school districts and 6 million kids and a health-care system with 600 hospitals and 12,000 miles of border, all of us have a lot to do. And when we assign a project, when we ask an agency to follow up and do something, we expect it to be done. And we expect them to do the inspections, to be sure that's done, whatever the issue might be, whatever the issue, a lot of issues. We can't look over everyone's shoulder every day and making sure they're doing their job.

We were assured by ERCOT that they were prepared. And their history had shown for the last 10 years that what the generating companies did and what ERCOT was saying, it had been working. So we would not have known.

I'm disturbed that I've come to learn that they did not have monitors. They let one monitoring group go. One of the things we're going to be sure and do moving forward, there-- this is not going to be any more suggestions. It's going to be you shall do this.

But we're not the experts. We have to get the information from the experts to draw the plan. There's no one in the legislature who's smart enough to have all the answers to figure this out. So I don't want a bunch of legislators who don't know what they're doing to create legislation that doesn't solve the problem or could make it worse.

And that's why we're going to be working-- I've been nonstop on this issue as soon as I got my power, my water, my communication. I didn't have cell phone. I didn't have internet. I couldn't communicate with anyone for a couple of days or get out of the house either. So I've been working on this almost with no sleep, as the governor has, the speaker, and our key leaders who handle these committees.

But it's going to take some time, because we need to do it right. The last thing you can do or the worst thing you can do is to make rushed decisions in a critical time that can impact us negatively for the long haul. Leaders are supposed to calm a crisis, not create a new one.

So right now, we need to stop for a second. We kind of know generally what happened. And if it takes us weeks and months to get the right answers, to craft the right legislation, that's what it takes. That's what the people expect.

And one other note, some people are getting high bills, particularly people on variable rate plans. I'm saying to those people right now, we're going to find a solution to that problem. I don't know what that solution is today. But I don't want panic out there.

I mean, I got three calls over the weekend, a $20,000 bill, a $10,000 bill. People who are on these variable rate-- variable rate plans are shocked. And so we're going to find out how to fix that.

In fairness, look, there are lots of people who have been paying more for energy to have a fixed rate. And some of those people say, well, wait a minute, I've been paying more so that my rates didn't go up, but we've got all business and people over here paying a variable rate. But these people can't afford $20,000 bills or $10,000 bills or $5,000 bills.

And we're going to figure our way through it. It's not easy. But we will. So I'm saying to the people don't panic on that issue. We'll figure this out. And we'll move forward.

- Dozens of Texans have died this winter storm. How are you planning to get justice for those families? Does that include charges?

DAN PATRICK: Well, it's too early to make any of those decisions. I already saw a lawsuit filed today in the death of one young man in Conroe, an 11-year-old who tragically died after playing in the snow. He never seen snow before. He was just being a kid.

And there will be a lot of legal issues that will be resolved with the court. And I will let that take its place. But again, we're going to get down to the bottom of this. We will leave no stone unturned, subpoena people if needed. Investigations will lead wherever they lead.

One of the things that I did that I got a lot of notice, I created a Jurisprudence Committee this past session. Joan Huffman from the greater Houston area, Senator Huffman is-- and Brandon Creighton is on that committee. She's the chair, Branden's from the Montgomery area, to look at all the legal aspects of-- I just put them together to look at legal aspects of many things, because lots of things happen in various committees that really we need a legal eye looking at it. There's always a legal eye looking, but we need-- so that committee is engaged as well. And we may be forming additional committees.

People are mad and so am I. This should not have happened. We all understand this weather was more severe than anyone could have-- or most people, I should say. There were a few weather casters. See, I told you.

But most people did not think it was going to be this severe. But we should have been ready. And so I share the frustration that the people have. And we're going to fix it. I'm going to take responsibility for the fix and do everything I can to be sure this never happens again.

- We had one more question for you, sir. Do you have a comment on Senator Ted Cruz leaving to go to Cancun during this winter storm?

DAN PATRICK: So everyone I know has been working nonstop on this issue, for some members working in their community handing out bottles of water, doing whatever they could-- and maybe not everyone, but most. I've been nonstop on this issue. I've talked to the governor, I think it was 1 o'clock this morning, for an hour or whatever it was. Ted said it was a mistake. And I think he is correct in saying that. Thank you very much.

- That's all we've got. Thanks. Thank you, guys.

DAN PATRICK: OK, thank you. Appreciate it.