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Federal Expert Testifies During Congressional Hearing Texas Did Not Adequately Prepare Electric Grid For Extreme Winter Weather

WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) - The CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) said Wednesday, March 24, that Texas did not adequately prepare its electric grid and natural gas supply before last month's severe winter storms.

The comments from James Robb came during a three hour-long virtual hearing by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

"The evidence will suggest absolutely not," he said.

James Robb
James Robb - CEO of NERC (CBS 11)

Robb said that after a severe winter storm in Texas ten years ago, his agency called for freeze protections for power plants and the natural gas supply.

"What I understand what Texas did was to put in place legislation that required weatherization, but not to a specific level and it was not an aggressively enforced standard. It was spot-checked," he said.

In response, Bill Magness, the outgoing CEO of ERCOT, the state's electric grid operator, said while the state did not mandate winterization standards to be followed, his non-profit company still worked with the industry on best practices.

"Having winterization workshops, having spot-checks for winterization issues at power plants and making recommendations for things they could be doing," said Magness.

Robb said he believed had Texas taken their recommendations, the outages would not have been as widespread. "I think it clearly would have mitigated what we would have seen in Texas."

But he couldn't say yet what the exact differences would be and that he hoped their ongoing investigation into the state's power outages last month would provide answers.

NERC develops and enforces reliability standards for electric grids nationally.

During the hearing, Texas Democrats blamed the state's Republican leaders for failing to prepare the electric grid for extreme winter weather and ERCOT for not communicating the severity of last month's storms.

Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Fort Worth said, "This happened because of the neglect that the Republicans in Austin have shown for the grid for a very long time."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testified, "There were not rolling blackouts, they were power outages that last three and four days. No, they were not prepared and we were not forewarned."

Magness acknowledged they didn't properly communicate with elected leaders and the public. "As I look back, those times we saw how large this would be and began to understand how long it would last, the communications around that, I certainly believe we could have done better."

When asked if Texas had been more integrated into the two national electric grids whether some of the problems could have been prevented, Robb said it's complicated and that it would have to be studied.

Republican Congressman Michael Burgess of Lewisville suggested the Texas grid should remain independent from federal oversight.

"Texans can and will solve the problem within its own borders. Let me say it again. Texans can and will solve this problem within their borders."

The Texas Legislature is now considering numerous bills to prevent last month's deadly outages from happening again.

The legislative session ends Memorial Day weekend.

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