Eric Gay / AP
AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas power grid manager was sacked on Wednesday amid growing calls for his removal following the deadly February blackouts that left millions of people without power and heat for days in colder temperatures to zero.
Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, becomes the second senior official to leave following one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history. The state’s main utility regulator resigned on Monday.
Magness was given two months notice of termination by the ERCOT board at a meeting Wednesday evening.
“During this transition period, Bill will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms of ERCOT,” the organization said in a statement. .
Magness, who earned more than $ 876,000 in salary and other compensation in 2019, was the target of much of the outrage over the power outages that began on February 15 when a winter storm plunged the single-digit temperatures across Texas, causing a growing demand for electricity for heat. houses. Network operators unplugged more than 4 million customers as the system buckled, which Magness said was necessary to prevent an even more catastrophic power outage that could have lasted for months.
But the power did not return for days for millions of people, and the prolonged blackouts quickly turned into a crisis of tragic proportions, as people trying to warm up died of carbon monoxide poisoning. and that others were freezing to death. The storm and resulting blackouts were responsible for more than 40 deaths in Texas, but the full toll may not be known for months.
At the Texas Capitol last week, lawmakers investigating blackouts imposed on Magness for his handling of the storm.
During the hours of testimony, Magness defended actions that he said have kept intact the network that serves most of Texas’ 30 million people.
“It worked by preventing us from going into a blackout that we would still be in today, which is why we did it,” Magness said last Thursday. “Now it didn’t work for people’s lives, but it worked to preserve the integrity of the system.”
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott accused ERCOT of misleading the state about network readiness, blaming the outages almost entirely on network operators. His outrage did not extend to the State Utilities Commission, which oversees the ERCOT and is headed by people appointed by Abbott.
But the commission is also increasingly criticized. President DeAnn Walker resigned after struggling in two lengthy appearances before lawmakers in the wake of the power cuts, but said others should take responsibility for the outages as well.
At least six members of the ERCOT board have resigned following the power cuts. Many of them were living out of state, a fact which only intensified anger at ERCOT as the crisis unfolded.