The Watchdog: For 20 years, ERCOT has been a misbehaving, secretive, arrogant, even criminal grid operator
ERCOT, the operator of the Texas electric grid, has been a problem child since the state’s electricity market was deregulated at the turn of the century.
When it comes to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, incompetence and lack of accountability and oversight is nothing new.
If you know your history, you shouldn’t be surprised about what happened in last month’s cold-weather catastrophe.
The power to bring us electricity rests in the hands of a nonprofit, mostly invisible group whose leaders claimed we were a mere 4 minutes and 37 seconds from a massive blackout that could have shut the grid down for months.
Texans wonder why it would take months. It takes that long for replacement transmission towers to be built shipped, placed and powered up.
With the help of The Dallas Morning News Archives and a history book by R.A. “Jake” Dyer of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, let me show you year by year how bad it has been.
It might make you wonder why we don’t throw up the white flag and join the interconnected national grid.
2001: Tasked with creating a pilot program to handle the new deregulated system that began that year, ERCOT blows it by going over-budget and failing to meet goals. Customers who wish to switch electricity companies are blocked. Bills generated by ERCOT are wildly inaccurate. Its budget, built on fees paid by electricity customers, is hatched in secret.
That year, the first price spike to the maximum-allowed cap hits customers, but ERCOT says it won’t happen again. Yet it happens again and again in the next few days.
2002: About a quarter-million customers do not receive bills, sometimes for months. An expensive marketing campaign promoting the new deregulated system is delayed because ERCOT can’t handle the influx of consumers wanting to switch companies.
A peek at financial statements shows ERCOT’s average salary with benefits is $99,000. Employees receive a $10,000 travel allowance. Critics pounce on ERCOT’s sponsorship of a minor league hockey team as frivolous. After promising to cut back, ERCOT asks that its customer-paid fees get doubled.
2004: This is — aside from 2021 — ERCOT’s worst year. The Dallas Morning News reveals a massive procurement scandal at ERCOT that will lead to criminal convictions. Fake companies are created by several ERCOT managers, and millions of dollars are siphoned from ERCOT funds. Legislators blast ERCOT’s weak financial controls and complain about “perceived arrogance among top officials in the face of these problems,” Dyer writes.