ERCOT, PUC, ETC

February 26, 2021

I hope that this letter finds each of you warmer and in better spirits than when I last sent out an update. Last week's severe weather and resulting power outages were truly a disaster scenario, and it is my sincere hope that each of you have emerged as unscathed as possible. That said, the Legislature must now begin the process of finding out what truly went wrong for our state's power grid to have failed on such a massive scale. This may sound simple, but the truth is difficult to find when competing interests are all pointing fingers. While I think we all understand that intermittent outages are an unavoidable consequence of severe weather, there is simply no excuse for millions of people to go without power for days on end.

This week the House held its first of what will be many hearings on the topic. The House State Affairs and Energy Resources Committees convened jointly to hear from officials with various energy companies and interests, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Frankly, I was not overly impressed by the testimony from ERCOT and PUC representatives. There is still a long ways to go as we work to identify and correct the root issues. 

From what I have observed, it is clear that all entities dealing with the power grid need to do a better job of clearly communicating with the public and with each other when a severe weather event is in the forecast. We also need more transparency for "critical infrastructure" designations and to make certain that those categories are regularly updated. It is incumbent upon the Legislature to learn and to make real, substantive improvements to beef up the resilience of the electric grid.

For those interested, I've included a brief overview of the responsibilities and purpose of ERCOT and the PUC below.
 
In other news, most committees will meet for the first time next week.  I'm excited to kick off our work on the Human Services Committee, where we will have the chance to hear from officials with the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Behavioral Health Executive Council. This will be an opportunity to dig into the current status of each agency as well as get an update on bill implementation from last session before we begin hearing testimony on new legislation the following week.    

May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

About ERCOT

The Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was formed in 1970 as a membership-based nonprofit governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers and municipally owned electric utilities. The grid operator manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers - representing about 90 percent of the state's electric load. 

As laid out in the Public Utility Regulatory Act, the required functions of ERCOT are as follows:
  • ensure access to the transmission and distribution systems for all buyers and sellers of electricity on nondiscriminatory terms 
  • ensure the reliability and adequacy of the regional electrical network
  • ensure that information relating to a customer's choice of retail electric provider is conveyed in a timely manner to the persons who need that information 
  • ensure that electricity production and delivery are accurately accounted for among the generators and wholesale buyers and sellers in the region



About PUC

Created in 1975 through the Public Utility Regulatory Act, the PUC was designed to provide statewide regulation of rates and services of electric and telecommunications utilities. Through additional legislation from 1986 to 1999, the PUC's mission changed to a role of oversight in the competitive electric and telecommunication industries.

The PUC regulates the electric transmission and distribution of utilities across the state through oversight of ERCOT.

The key functions of the PUC are as follows:
  • Electric industry oversight
    • PUC oversees the operations and fee requests of ERCOT.
    • PUC regulates the rates, services, and service quality of electric utilities that continue to operate as monopolies in areas of the sate not open to electric competition.
  • Telecommunication industry oversight
    • PUC provides regulatory responsibility over local telephone lines. Most urban areas are deregulated by PUC but most rural areas have their telecommunication rates and services regulated by the PUC.
  • Customer protection
    • PUC educates the public and assists customers with complaints.
  • Enforcement
    • PUC takes formal enforcement action against violators of the Public Utility Regulatory Act and PUC rules.
  • Homeland security and emergency response
    • PUC assists TDEM on critical infrastructure matters involving electric and telecommunications utilities.
  • Assistance programs


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COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during the next few months, I encourage you to contact my Austin office (512-463-0534) to get the latest updates on health and safety protocols before making the trip down.  The rules are constantly changing. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • The Capitol is open from 9am - 6 pm, Monday - Friday.
  • The House Gallery will be open to the public at reduced capacity.
  • Committee hearings will be open to the public both in-person and virtually. 
  • A mask must be worn over the mouth and nose while in the building.
  • There are no public tours, groups, or sponsored event spaces.
  • All visitors must enter the Capitol through the north door.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing is available prior to entering the Capitol (located outside, north of the building).
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