This op-ed is part of a series published by The Dallas Morning News Opinion section to explore ideas and policies for strengthening electric reliability. Find the full series here: Keeping the Lights On.
The week of Feb. 14 is burned into the synapses of most Texans as the week of a statewide freeze that prompted deadly widespread blackouts. What started off as fun in the snow suddenly turned bleak as we experienced gaps in almost all utilities, largely driven by a deficit in electrical generating capacity.
Reflecting on what transpired, I could not help but believe that there was a disconnect between the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state grid, and end-users. In my capacity as mayor of Castle Hills, I wrote a letter to ERCOT sharing my concerns and opinions. Five other San Antonio-area mayors added their names to the letter.
We didn’t get enough timely information ahead of the outages to help our residents make sure they had warm places to sleep, to prevent their pipes from bursting, and to make sure they had enough pantry food to last until their refrigerators were back on. I proposed ERCOT create what has since become the Texas Municipal Officers ERCOT Advisory Board.
But at the time, I didn’t expect any response to my letter. All said and done, I was content knowing I represented Castle Hills and its population of 4,200 in my letter to ERCOT, even if nothing came of it.
A month later, I received a call from ERCOT Interim Chief Executive Brad Jones. He was two days into his new role, he had read the letter, and he was interested in a recommendation that I offered to open lines of communication to city officials.
I recommended ERCOT gather a group of municipal leaders from across Texas to meet regularly and build communication channels and bonds of trust. And the framework for such a council already exists with the Texas Municipal League’s existing regional map, designed to touch every city, town and region in Texas. There’s no need for Jones to reinvent the wheel to keep in contact with local leaders; the league’s framework is designed to disseminate information broadly. I jumped at what I believe was an opportunity to make our state a little better than we found it.
Over the next month I worked to draft the framework and a board charter with the help of the Texas Municipal League’s deputy executive director, Rachael Pitts. We were on a swift timeline to schedule our first meeting before extreme weather hits this summer and might stretch power-generating resources.
Earlier this month, we held our first meeting, online, of 14 elected officials representing their respective regions of Texas, with one vacancy. We will begin regular, scheduled meetings in October.
The board listened intently as Jones and his team explained, in layman’s terms, intricacies involved with electricity demand, generation, reserves and ERCOT’s responsibilities. The meeting was productive in that the board was able to provide insight to Jones on what we experienced in our respective communities.
Additionally, Jones was able to provide information regarding what he learned in his role as interim chief executive. One specific example is ERCOT’s more frequent use of conservation alerts. Since the February freeze, ERCOT has adopted a practice of using the conservation alert tool more frequently to help keep demand in line with supply and to provide a greater reserve capacity buffer. But after Texans lose power during a freeze, each conservation alert inevitably leads to some degree of blackout PTSD.
The solution: Work on messaging to share ERCOT’s efforts so that more Texans will understand that a call for conservation isn’t necessarily a blackout warning, but an orderly way to help keep electricity flowing normally.
The board intends to help address any electricity shortfalls we face as a state. We want to be an essential communications conduit between ERCOT and end-users for years to come.
JR Treviño is mayor of Castle Hills and chairman of the Texas Municipal Officers ERCOT Advisory Board. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
Below is a list of the members of the Texas Municipal Officers ERCOT Advisory Board:
Chair - Region 7
JR Treviño, mayor of Castle Hills
Tobe Shields, mayor of Spearman
Latrelle Joy, council member, Lubbock
Deandra Chenault, councilor, Wichita Falls
Stephen Haynes, mayor of Brownwood
Tito Rodriguez, council member, North Richland Hills
Geary Smith, mayor of Mexia
Connie Schroeder, mayor of Bastrop
Cathy Skurow, mayor of Portland
Joel Villarreal, mayor of Rio Grande City
Stanley Jaglowski, deputy mayor pro tem, Lancaster
Beverly Gaines, mayor pro tem, Webster
Jesse Casey, mayor of Hallsville
David Rutledge, mayor of Bridge City
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