Former chief of Texas' grid says Greg Abbott made the call to keep power prices high during freeze

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a 2021 prime time address that followed Winter Storm Uri. - YouTube Screen Capture / Gov Greg Abbott
YouTube Screen Capture / Gov Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a 2021 prime time address that followed Winter Storm Uri.
The former CEO of Texas' power grid testified Wednesday that his decision to keep energy prices at the maximum $9,000-per-megawatt-hour price cap through last February's Winter Storm Uri was ordered up by Gov. Greg Abbott, the Houston Chronicle reports.

That statement from Bill Magness, who headed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas during the storm's statewide blackouts, directly contradicts an earlier statement from Abbott's office. Last spring, an Abbott spokesman said the Republican governor was not “involved in any way” in the call to keep prices at their maximum level of 150 times normal rates, according to the Chronicle.

Abbott's office didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

Magness said that when power plants were beginning to resume operation during devastating Winter Storm Uri, the state's top utilities regulator told him Abbott wanted grid overseers to do whatever they could to avoid further rolling blackouts, according to the Chronicle.

“She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume,” said Magness, who was testifying during a bankruptcy trial for a Waco electrical co-op. “We needed to do what we needed to do to make it happen.”

The regulator to whom Magness referred, Public Utility Commission Chair DeAnn Walker, an Abbott appointee, resigned last March in the wake of the grid's collapse. Magness also stepped down amid public scrutiny following the disaster. 

ERCOT's decision to maintain power prices at their cap until Feb. 19 resulted in electric companies in the state — including San Antonio's CPS Energy — incurring an additional $16 billion in costs, the Chronicle reports, citing a report by the Texas Independent Market Monitor.

Abbott's handling of the power grid's failure during Winter Storm Uri, a disaster that killed hundreds of Texans, has emerged as one his biggest reelection liabilities. Abbott faces challenges from the right in the March 1 GOP primary and will likely square off in the general election against high-profile Democratic candidate Beto O'Rourke, who has repeatedly called the governor on his performance during the grid collapse.  

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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