- DeAnn Walker, head of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC), resigned on Monday.
- A storm in February left millions of people across Texas without access to power and clean drinking water.
- Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had called for her resignation. The PUC regulates the state’s utilities.
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The head of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) has resigned, after blackouts in February left millions of people across the state without access to power and clean drinking water for days.
The PUC said Monday that DeAnn Walker had resigned from the role, “effective immediately.”
The PUC regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities, including the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a non-profit that operates 90% of the state’s electric load.
State lawmakers, including Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, had called for her resignation after she testified during a Texas Senate hearing last week that lasted almost 24 hours.
“I stand proud that I worked endless hours over the past two and a half weeks to return electric power to the grid,” Walker wrote in her resignation letter, per The Wall Street Journal. She did not explicitly say why she was resigning.
“Despite the treatment I received from some legislators, I am proud that I spoke the truth.”
A major winter storm that hit Texas on February 15 caused sources of electricity, like natural-gas plants, to go offline, while simultaneously increasing the demand for energy as people across the state turned on heaters to stay warm.
This caused a huge shortfall in energy, and the wholesale price of electricity surged 10,000%. One Army veteran said he was billed $16,000 for power.
Millions in the state also lost access to clean drinking water and were asked to boil their water, after power outages hit treatment facilities.
President Joe Biden declared it a “major disaster.”
The huge spike in bills happened because of Texas’ deregulated energy market. Customers who signed up to buy their power based on its wholesale cost, rather than as part of a fixed-price contract, are vulnerable to price fluctuations, such as those that occurred during the storm.
Just hours before Walker’s resignation, Lt. Gov. Patrick released a statement calling on both Walker and Bill Magness, the CEO of ERCOT, to resign.
“Both the PUC Chair and ERCOT CEO said they were prepared the day before the storm hit in full force, but obviously they were not,” Patrick said.
Patrick said they hadn’t consider that the freeze could shut down power plants, or that crews would not be able to make emergency repairs, and said their calculations on how much energy would be unavailable during the storm were inaccurate.
“These two issues alone accounted for hundreds of thousands of homes being without power and threatened a statewide blackout,” he said.
“They hoped for the best instead of planning for the worst,” he added.
Five of ERCOT’s board members have resigned following the disaster. Texan Sen. Ted Cruz has also come under fire after he went to Mexico during the storm.
US officials, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, have called on the state of Texas to pay residents’ hefty utility bills. Officials from Harris County, which includes Houston, are looking into leaving Texas’ deregulated power grid.
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