ERCOT Fires Chief Executive Bill Magness After Texas Storm

ERCOT Fires Chief Executive Bill Magness After Texas Storm

HOUSTON — The Electric Reliability Council of Texas decided to force out its chief executive on Wednesday after the agency, which controls the flow of electricity through much of the state, became the target of blame and scorn for widespread outages during last month’s winter storm.

The impending departure of the executive, Bill Magness, is the storm’s latest fallout, with lawmakers vowing to hold officials accountable and overhaul the power system. The leader of the state’s utility regulator, the Public Utility Commission, bowed to mounting pressure by resigning on Monday. Seven board members at the council, known as ERCOT, have resigned since last week.

The rest of the board voted, 6 to 1, on Wednesday night to replace Mr. Magness, who had led the agency since 2016. In a statement, the board said he would continue to oversee ERCOT and “work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms” until a replacement is selected.

The storm that swept across much of Texas on Feb. 14, delivering ice, snow and some of the coldest weather recorded in the state, pushed the power grid to the brink of collapse. Demand surged and supply plummeted as power facilities fell offline.

In news conferences and in testimony before the State Legislature, Mr. Magness defended the decisions of grid operators, contending that to avert a complete collapse they had had virtually no other choice than turning to rotating blackouts. “We’d still be talking about how we’d get the power on,” he told lawmakers last week, adding that he would not act differently if he were in the same situation again.

Even so, the decision had grave implications for millions of Texans. Deaths from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning were reported across the state. Water systems were knocked out by the loss of power. Some residents have been saddled with electric bills eclipsing $10,000.

State officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and other lawmakers, assigned blame for the outages to ERCOT, but the grid’s failure has also animated critics of Texas’ embrace of deregulation, including its desire to have a power grid of its own.

Mr. Magness was among the state utility officials and electric company leaders brought before lawmakers for hours of intense questioning.

Lawmakers argued that ERCOT and others had failed to act after previous winter storms and to adequately prepare Texas’ electric system for harsh conditions. But Mr. Magness, in his testimony, argued that ERCOT, an independent entity, had followed a set of guidelines established by the Legislature.

The chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, DeAnn T. Walker, resigned in the aftermath of those hearings, saying that her agency was not the only one to blame.

“I believe others should come forward in dignity and courage and acknowledge how their actions or inactions contributed to the situation,” Ms. Walker said in her resignation letter, listing gas and electric companies and other state agencies that, she added, “had responsibility to foresee what could have happened and failed to take the necessary steps.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Abbott elevated another member of the utility commission, Arthur D’Andrea, to replace her.

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