Five board members of Texas grid operator ERCOT resign in wake of massive power outages during winter storm
By Madeline Holcombe, Joe Sutton, Holly Yan, and Chris Boyette, CNN
(CNN) -- Five members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Board of Directors, including the chair, resigned from their positions Tuesday, effective at the conclusion of Wednesday's board meeting, according to filings with the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
ERCOT Board Chair Sally Talberg, Board Vice-Chair Peter Cramton, Finance and Audit Committee Chair Terry Bulger, and Human Resources and Governance Committee Chair Raymond Hepper submitted a joint letter of resignation, acknowledging "the pain and suffering of Texans" who lost electricity, heat, and water during the extremely low temperatures last week.
While most Texas now have power, some of their electric providers will no longer be available. And more than 7 million people have water disruptions, including warnings to boil water before using it or having no running water at all.
In their letter, the outgoing board members wrote they are resigning to "allow state leaders a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions."
They also said they have "noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT."
Talberg lives in Michigan, Cramton lives in California and Hepper lives in Maine, according to public records. Bulger resides in Wheaton, Illinois, according to the ERCOT website.
Craig Ivey, a candidate for the board of directors, also withdrew his name from consideration for a seat on the board Tuesday, citing concerns about out-of-state board directors.
ERCOT bylaws call for 16 members of the board of directors, five of whom must be unaffiliated with any market segment.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he welcomed the resignations.
"When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power," Abbott said in a statement. "ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas' power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false."
In a statement, ERCOT said it looks "forward to working with the Texas Legislature, and we thank the outgoing Board Members for their service."
Sky-high electric bills
The frigid weather caused power use to skyrocket and forced several retail electric providers to leave the market, said Andrew Barlow, spokesperson for the Public Utilities Commission.
It's not clear how many customers will need to move to new power companies. But across Texas, skyrocketing energy costs have led to astronomical electric bills.
Susan Hosford of Denison normally pays her provider, Griddy, $2.50 on a typical February day, CNN affiliate KPRC reported.
After the first two weeks of February, she was automatically charged $1,346.17 -- which was more than she had in her checking account.
"This whole thing has been a nightmare," she told KPRC.
Hosford told the station she chose to pay wholesale for power, an option in which prices fluctuate based on demand. But those prices soared when the temperature hit record lows and power sources were damaged.
DeAndrew Upshaw said he was charged $6,700 for power to his 900-square-foot townhome, and some of his friends can't pay their rent due to automatic power bill payments.
Texas' utility regulator, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, said Saturday it was investigating "the factors that combined with the devastating winter weather to disrupt the flow of power to millions of Texas homes."
Federal, state, and some local assistance
On Monday, Abbott said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved an additional 31 Texas counties to be added to the President's Major Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance.
Abbott requested individual assistance for all 254 counties, but the White House approved 77 for a Major Disaster Declaration on Saturday, with Public Assistance for all counties.
He said the state Public Utility Commission issued a moratorium on disconnections for nonpayment.
"Texans who have suffered through days of cold without power should not be subjected to skyrocketing energy bills due to a spike in the energy market," Abbott said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a relief fund Monday for Houston and Harris County residents to help cover costs that the federal and state governments won't pick up.
The fund will support individuals as well as nonprofits that help with home repairs and temporary housing, he said.
"We don't want you to feel as though that you're in it all by yourself," Turner said.
"Recognizing that there are many families who are in situations where they don't have insurance, they don't have the financial means to make the repairs ... their ceilings have fallen in, and furniture and other things have been damaged, and they're stressing out in terms of how do we move forward ... we're working to put together a fund, a relief fund to assist people."
27% of Texans are having water problems
As relief efforts ramp up, many in the state are still struggling to supply their homes with water.
About 7.9 million people Tuesday still have water disruptions, such as boil water notices, said Gary Rasp, spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
That's about 27% of the Texas population.
Across the state, more than 1,200 public water systems have faced disruptions, Rasp said. Systems serving just under 120,000 people were still not providing service.
A week after the storm, some water systems are starting to recover. About 326 boil water notices had been dropped by Monday evening, Rasp said. Galveston and Houston lifted boil water advisories Sunday.
Houston officials advised customers to run cold-water faucets for at least a minute; dump out several batches of ice from automatic ice makers; and run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.
In Austin, a boil water notice has been lifted for all customers, the city's water utility Austin Water said Tuesday.
Austin Water spokesperson Randi Jenkins told CNN water use jumped 250% because of water lost to dripping faucets and broken pipes from the freeze.
Document the damage, leaders say
For residents facing long-term damage, the state plans to bring in plumbers to help fix broken pipes, Abbott said. He urged residents to reach out to their insurance agents.
Those without insurance may qualify for FEMA reimbursement, he said. They will need to be able to document any loss they have.
Residents should also contact their local emergency response coordinator to receive a reimbursement, he said.
Turner, the Houston mayor, also urged residents to document the damage in their homes in case they can be reimbursed.
"Use your video, take pictures," he said.
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