Texas power utility board members resign after winter storm crisis

Four board members are resigning from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, after last week's deadly winter storm knocked out power for millions. Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about what comes next for the state's power plans.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: Four board members from Texas' power grid operator are resigning. The departures come after millions of people were left without power during a deadly winter freeze last week. State lawmakers are set to begin hearings over the outages in the coming days.

It comes as a Texas electricity provider is facing a billion dollar class action lawsuit that alleges the company price gouged customers. According to the Dallas Morning News, the suit was first brought by a Houston area woman who says power retailer Griddy charged her $9,300 the week of the storm. Normally, she says, her monthly bill is around $250.

More than a quarter of Texas residents buy electricity on a variable rate plan, which means prices are determined based on the demand. It caused many who were able to keep their power through part of the storm to be hit with big bills after an already difficult week.

For more, I want to bring in Gromer Jeffers. He is a political writer for the Dallas Morning News. Hi there, Gromer. I want to start with how the power grid works in Texas. Because, by design, it is different than the rest of the country. In fact, one federal judge called the set up an electric Alamo. So can you explain how it functions?

GROMER JEFFERS: Yeah, it's separate from the National Grid. And that's by design. Many folks say it's to get away from federal regulations. But there are basically several grids in the country. The Eastern grid, the Western grid. And then you have Texas. And what's interesting is to the West, El Paso is on the Eastern United States grid. Texas is totally separate, though they do make provisions to get power when needed from Mexico and some other places. But, for the most part, it's a separate, independent grid. Wholly in the state of Texas. It does not cross state lines.

ELAINE QUIJANO: As I understand it, Gromer, there were warning signs about the power grid's vulnerability. In 2011, after a winter storm, a federal report found that power companies and natural gas producers were not prepared for cold weather. So is anything being done now to address that?

GROMER JEFFERS: Yeah. We remember that 2011 winter storm in Dallas, Elaine, because it was Super Bowl week. And it disrupted the Super Bowl festivities. And, in Texas, it made us look bad, because you had a lot of tourists in town for that event. And they were iced in. But yeah, there were recommendations made. First and foremost, to winterize the grid. Winterize the system. But it really never happened. And that's why you had the events of last week. The grid wasn't winterized. All aspects of power-- and I'm talking about fossil fuels and renewable energy-- were impacted because the grid was not winterized.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So, moving forward here, I imagine that's got to be a priority. Or at least constituents will be calling for that to be a priority for the lawmakers.

GROMER JEFFERS: It is. It's a priority for the lawmakers not just to talk, but to actually follow through. And get these folks on the energy reliability council-- so-called reliability council-- and other people that have interest, to get them to really do these reforms. Do what's necessary to fortify the grid. And don't forget about it when the weather is nice.

Elaine, it's in the 70s in Texas. What a difference a week makes. But it's in the 70s in Dallas. And the fear is, when the weather gets nice again, people will forget about it. When they get their power back, when they get their plumbing fixed, that they'll forget to hold folks accountable for this huge screw up.

ELAINE QUIJANO: What we've been hearing though, Gromer, I'm sure you've been hearing it, too, it's going to take a while for things to get back to normal. So I would imagine that some of those constituents are going to have some long memories when it comes to what happened in the aftermath of that storm.

GROMER JEFFERS: You're right.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Before we let you go, Gromer, I have to ask you about Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Earlier in the show, we spoke to Alayna Treene, who reported that he actually invited his longtime friend and former college roommate to Cancun with him. Notably, Senator Cruz did not mention that after flying back from Mexico. He claimed, as you know, that he had only gone to drop off his daughters. So how is Senator Cruz approaching all of this after that heavy criticism?

GROMER JEFFERS: Well he's trying to do business as usual. He's participating in the confirmation hearings in the Senate for Merrick Garland. But this isn't going away. His story has largely fell apart. He's going to have to go on a rehabilitation tour at some point. It's going to take some time. People won't forget this. People who have suffered, or have been nearly froze during this ordeal. Lost property. Lost lives. This won't be easily forgotten. He has a lot of work to do to restore credibility.

And also, going was one thing. Taking a trip was one thing. The excuses that he made, that's unraveling. That's what people won't forget. That's another thing.

He has a lot of work to do to put this back together. And, as you know, Elaine, he's being mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2024. He has to straighten this out if that comes to fruition.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right, well Gromer Jeffers, I'm sorry to be talking to you about such serious topics. But it is so great to see you. It's been a long time--

GROMER JEFFERS: It's good to see you.

ELAINE QUIJANO: --people who watch Red and Blue know you're one of the original local matters folks that we turn to for all things Texas politics. It's really great to have you back on Red and Blue.

GROMER JEFFERS: It's good to see you. Glad you're doing well.