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Former ERCOT CEO says he was following Gov. Abbott order when keeping prices at max cap during Feb. 2021 winter storm, report says

The original order to raise prices was made to get power plants back online and to encourage large power users to stay offline.

HOUSTON, Texas — The former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said that his order to keep power prices at the maximum during last year's winter storm was issued at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle. 

Former ERCOT CEO Bill Magness testified in court Wednesday, saying that former Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) Chairman DeAnn Walker told him that Abbott wanted them to do whatever was necessary to prevent more blackouts during the storm, even as power plants were coming back online.

Last year, Abbott's spokesman told the Chronicle that the governor was not "involved in any way" in the decision to keep prices at a maximum of $9,000 per megawatt-hour. The decision to keep prices at that max cap for more than a day after conditions began improving is what brought forth the bankruptcy trial by Brazos Electric Power Cooperative.

The original order to raise prices to the max was made by the PUC on Feb. 15 to try to get power plants back online and to encourage large power users to stay offline, per the report. ERCOT kept prices at the cap until Feb. 19. 

The former ERCOT CEO has defended the actions taken by officials to prevent the Texas power grid from going into a total blackout that could have taken weeks or months to recover from. 

Magness said Abbott's demand that rotating blackouts end was a risk even as power plants came back online since the grid was still not secure, per the report. There was also concern that if power prices returned to normal prices, large users might come back online and use crucial power reserves. 

Magness also described how grid problems could multiply after hours of power outages. 

When reached for comment Wednesday, Gov. Abbott's office provided the following statement:

"As Texans would expect, Gov. Abbott instructed everyone involved that they must do what was needed to keep the lights on and to prevent the loss of life. This is the same instruction Gov. Abbott gave to the PUC and ERCOT earlier this year: do what needs to be done to keep the power on. The governor was not involved in the pricing."

To read the full report, visit the Houston Chronicle website.


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