State senator calls for investigation of blackouts
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

April 19, 2006 -- A state senator and the committee he chairs is demanding an investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the Texas electricity grid, and the reasons Texans experienced rolling blackouts of electric power on Monday.

Sen. Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, in a letter sent Tuesday to the Public Utilities Commission of Texas, said the blackouts have brought "some very important issues that need to be addressed."

In his letter, Fraser asked PUC Chairman Paul Hudson to investigate the events, processes and procedures which led to the rolling blackouts.

"It is important that we have sufficient protocols in place to ensure these events do not happen again," Fraser said.

Sen. Fraser said it was his understanding that ERCOT made no attempt to contact members of the legislature or the executive branch of state government before the blackouts occurred.

"It also appears that local law enforcement and emergency services were not notified by the proper authorities," Fraser wrote. "I believe that ERCOT must establish appropriate notice procedures to maintain the public trust and keep all channels of communications open with the PUC and the Legislature."

The senator said ERCOT has continued to operate with a misunderstanding of the relationship and commitment to the Legislature that created it, and to the PUC, which oversees ERCOT, as well as the rights of the general public in Texas. Fraser asked PUC to meet with the Business and Commerce Committee to remedy the continued challenges at ERCOT.

"In light of the events of [Monday] and my ongoing concerns, I would like assurances that the state can continue to demonstrate its confidence in the market," Fraser said.

Fraser's letter asked the PUC chairman to present the results of his investigation into ERCOT and the power blackouts to the senate committee next Tuesday, April 25.

On Monday, power companies throughout the state had to impose rolling blackouts Monday because of unseasonably hot weather and a shortage of electricity. Thousands of people were caught without power for short periods of time as high temperatures reached into the low 100s.

As much as 15 percent of the state’s power supply was already off line Monday for seasonal maintenance to brace for the summer’s energy usage peaks, but four power generating plants also shut down unexpectedly.

ERCOT learned of the loss of the four unidentified plants shortly after 4 p.m. Monday. Then, it determined the grid needed to decrease its load by 1,000 megawatts and called for the blackouts.

Electric power was cut to areas of Sulphur Springs beginning around 4:30 p.m. Monday and continued for more than an hour as electric generating plants struggled to meet the demand and had to impose rolling blackouts. Thousands of people locally were caught without electricity for short periods of time.

Emergency service providers and law enforcement agencies in Hopkins County were given no advance notice of the power situation and were forced to rely on back-up electric generators to maintain essential services.

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