Public Utility Commission chairperson resigns following Texas’ winter storm, outages

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Eleanor Dearman
·3 min read
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The chairperson of the Texas Public Utility Commission resigned Monday amid calls from elected officials to vacate her leadership role after February’s winter storm that left millions without power.

Chairperson DeAnn Walker’s departure came just hours after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for her resignation and the resignation of Texas President and CEO Bill Magness.

“The lack of adequate preparation by both the ERCOT CEO and the PUC chair prior to the storm, their failure to plan for the worst-case scenario and their failure to communicate in a timely manner dictates they are not the ones to oversee the reforms needed,” Patrick said in a statement.

Walker and Magness spent hours testifying before committees in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate last week. Patrick expressed dissatisfaction with their remarks.

“Our state senators repeatedly asked for their analysis and suggestions regarding what could have been done differently and what needs to be done going forward to prevent a similar problem in the future,” Patrick said. “The Chair and the CEO offered few ideas. Frankly, I was shocked by their failure to respond.”

On Feb. 15 ERCOT initiated power outages across the state to prevent a blackout of the electric grid, the nonprofit has said. ERCOT leadership has been subject of sharp criticism by state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott who said in an interview that he believes ERCOT leaders should resign without providing specific names of who he’d like to see go.

But in recent days, as more information about PUC’s role in storm preparation and response emerged, there had been growing calls for Walker’s resignation, who was appointed by Abbott in 2017.

The state agency regulates Texas’ electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities, and has oversight over ERCOT. Its commissioners are appointed by Abbott.

A spokesperson for ERCOT said the nonprofit company is aware of Patrick’s call for Magness to resign.

“Given the recent resignations of several ERCOT board members and the current composition of the ERCOT Board of Directors, our Corporate Secretary will be working with the current, remaining members to consider this request,” spokesperson Leslie Sopko said in an emailed statement. “Mr. Magness will continue to work with the Texas Legislature and any state agencies on investigations of the recent winter storm and its reform of ERCOT.”

On Feb. 26, eight House members wrote to Walker asking she resign from her leadership role. The representatives criticized her for not taking accountability measures against ERCOT and said she’s failed to enforce “some of the most critical functions” of the agency.

“In this critical moment, Texans need a leader who will proactively pursue solutions rather than sit idle,” the letter reads.

The letter also alludes to the pointed questioning of Walker by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. During the lawmaker’s probe, Walker was hesitant to apologize for the outages.

“Do you think Texans deserve an apology from the Public Utility Commission?” Anchia asked.

A few seconds passed.

“The fact that your hesitating is astonishing,” Anchia said, pausing as silence filled the room.

A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately return a request for comment on whether he’d like Walker and Magness to resign.

Patrick also took issue with Walker and Magness’ communications about the severity of the coming winter storm.

“Both the Chairman and CEO publicly testified they had informed state leadership, including me, about the seriousness of the winter storm,” Patrick said. “In fact, as they both admitted to me the day after the hearings, their testimony was not accurate. They did not provide me with information regarding the potential catastrophic grid-threatening danger of the storm before the morning of February 15.”

Seven ERCOT board members have resigned in recent days, most of whom left following criticism that they live outside of Texas.

“The investigation into what happened during the winter storm crisis is just beginning,” Patrick said. “The state legislature will mandate reform of ERCOT and ensure the stability of the grid.”