Gov. Abbott names ERCOT $16 billion billing error correction as legislative emergency item

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Gov. Greg Abbott has added the proposal to correct $16 billion in power pricing overcharges during the week of the February winter storm as an emergency item for the Texas legislature.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas, the state's regulator of electric utilities, decided against taking up a similar proposal last week. PUC chairman Arthur D'Andrea said the proposal would not accomplish what many people believed it would.

The emergency item includes any inaccurate excessive charges and any issues regarding ancillary service prices, according to a statement released Tuesday by Abbott's office.

Potomac Economics, the independent market monitor for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees Electric Reliability Council of Texas, wrote in a letter to the Public Utility Commission that ERCOT kept market prices for power too high for nearly two more days after widespread outages ended late Feb. 17. It should have reset the prices the following day.

ERCOT's decision to keep prices high, the market monitor described, resulted in $16 billion in additional costs to Texas power companies. The news of the overcharging was first reported by Bloomberg.

House Speaker Dade Phelan put seven power outage-inspired bills on his priority list for the current legislative session. They include weatherizing the electricity infrastructure in the state, creating a statewide alert system for storms and power outages and overhauling ERCOT, the nonprofit that operates the state's electric grid.

In Texas, wholesale power prices are determined by supply and demand - when demand is high, ERCOT allows prices to go up. The grid operator let prices hit the $9,000 per megawatt-hour maximum during the storm, which is supposed to incentivize power generators in the state to add power to the grid. Companies then buy power from the wholesale market to deliver to consumers, which they are contractually obligated to do.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the heads of ERCOT's CEO and all three appointed Public Utility Commissioners. Within just a few days, he was 75% of the way through the list, after ERCOT's board fired Bill Magness and the PUC's DeAnn Walker and Shelly Botkin, both appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, resigned. Only Arthur D'Andrea, another Abbott appointee, remains at the PUC.

The video above is from previous reporting.

Our partners at The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.
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