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ERCOT Hires Interim CEO And President As Major Grid Reforms Stall In Legislature

The control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texans.
The control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texans.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) board has selected a new CEO and president. Brad Jones will fill the role in an interim capacity in early May.

Jones was formerly a top executive at ERCOT before leaving to head up the grid operator in New York. He was an early favorite to replace the embattled CEO and president, Bill Magness, who served in the position for half a decade.

Magness has maintained that ERCOT performed well during the energy crisis, and that the Public Utility Commission and state legislature hold most of the power when it comes to mandating grid resiliency.

In a post-storm legislative hearing, Magness responded to one lawmaker who asked, “How can we do better?” by saying, “Y’all made us. You could change us.”

Jones comes to ERCOT at a pivotal juncture — not just because of the fallout from the winter outages, but also because of a slate of major new programs and market rules designed to modernize the grid.

The so-called “passport program” will increase the reliability of renewable energy through battery storage, among other initiatives. It was championed by Magness, who is leaving just as the first stages are rolled out.

But some of the biggest threats to the grid’s stability are outside of ERCOT’s control.

ERCOT doesn’t have the power to mandate major changes. That’s the job of the Public Utility Commission (PUC), which oversees ERCOT and regulates the grid, as well as the Railroad Commission, which regulates the natural gas sector. The Texas legislature oversees all of the organizations, and its efforts to mandate weatherization have stalled.

Peter Cramton, who resigned as vice chair of the ERCOT board after the outages, said one of incoming CEO Brad Jones’ major challenges will be communicating the need to weatherize the supply of natural gas.

“Gas is a very protected and treasured resource within the Texas economy and the Texas politics, so you have to pick your battles,” Cramton said. “But one thing the crisis does is it opens the opportunity for, I would hope, the legislature and the PUC and the Railroad Commission to understand that there is a serious issue here with gas supply, and now it needs to be solved.”

He said ERCOT and Brad Jones have roles to play as messengers, but that they alone cannot prevent another power failure.

In a press release, ERCOT said Jones will serve in the position for up to a year while the board searches for a permanent replacement.

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Copyright 2021 Texas Public Radio

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers energy, the environment and public health for Texas Public Radio. He focuses on stories that reveal how major changes in climate systems, energy markets and public health policies affect communities in his hometown, San Antonio, and across the state.