The second day of marathon hearings on Texas’s unprecedented energy crisis raised concerns about the liquidity of the state’s power market, and who will ultimately pay for the disaster as some companies face bankruptcy.
Several utilities told Texas lawmakers Friday that they were still awaiting payment from the grid operator, known as Ercot, for power they provided during the grid emergency, with at least one worrying whether they would be paid at all. As the hearings continued into the evening, Ercot issued a notice saying they remain $1.3 billion short of what they need to pay generators, due to nonpayment from other market participants.
The historic outage left more than four million homes and businesses without heat, light and water during a deep winter freeze, causing as much as $129 billion in economic losses. Dozens of people died. The impact to individual companies is only starting to emerge, with some wracking up huge losses while oil and gas producers saw their output halted. Seven members of Ercot’s board have resigned in the aftermath.
- The head of a trade group representing power retailers called for retroactively adjusting the $9,000-a-megawatt-hour price cap.
- Michael Fallquist, the CEO of power retailer Griddy that saw customers slammed with exorbitant electricity bills, declined to attend the hearings.
- Utilities have raised concerns about Ercot’s ability to pay for power generated last week while retailers challenge energy charges.
- The CEO of grid operator Ercot warned that power retailers and cooperatives in Texas racked up an “enormous amount of obligations” to generators and now face bankruptcy
Texas’s grid operator Ercot remains $1.3 billion short of what it needs to pay generators who sold electricity into the system during last week’s energy crisis, it said in a notice late Friday.
The shortfall comes after several companies, including retail electricity providers, failed to pay Ercot for energy charges they incurred during the same period. Some are challenging the charges, claiming that electricity prices were artificially inflated, and have asked the Public Utility Commission to waive their obligation to pay.
To partially cover its debt, Ercot transferred $800 million from congestion revenues. If the grid operator fails to completely cover defaults, the resulting costs would be passed onto all market participants
The head of a trade group representing retail electricity providers told lawmakers that wholesale power prices should not have remained at the $9,000-a-megawatt-hour after Ercot stopped ordering power cuts late last week.
“We were no longer in a functioning marketplace,” said Cathy Webking of the Texas Energy Association for Marketers. If those prices were retroactively adjusted, that would cut customers’ exposure to the price spike, she said.
South Texas Utility Used Firewood to Prevent Freezing (2:32 p.m.)
One South Texas utility burned mesquite in barrels to warm exposed units that otherwise would have iced up and broken down during the freeze.
South Texas Electric Cooperatives also revved up diesel-fired heaters and propane torches to keep generation capacity from faltering in the historic chill, Mike Kezar, the co-op’s chief executive officer, told senators.
Public Utility Concerned About Getting Paid Amid Bankruptcies (2:30):
Denton Municipal Electric has paid Ercot $207 million for energy it purchased during last week’s crisis but has yet to receive payment from the grid operator for power the utility generated during the same period, said Assistant General Manager Terry Naulty.
“Denton has paid all of its bill for $9,000 power to Ercot,” he said. “We are concerned that because of potential bankruptcy of retail providers we will not be paid.” The utility still needs to pay its $20 million gas bill, said Naulty.
Biden Administration Says Texas Makes Own Market Decisions (2:15 pm.):
As Texas hearings continued Friday, the Biden administration appeared reluctant to intervene in the state’s power market.
It’s up to Texas to decide if “it wants to move in the direction of creating more resilience on its own systems,” Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall told reporters on Air Force One as President Joe Biden traveled to Houston. She left open the door to some federal help but appeared cool to using taxpayer dollars to subsidize retrofits of Texas power plants that could help in the next Arctic blast. That’s not a federal decision, she said.
“The first decision has to be made by the state of Texas about what kind of energy system it wants to maintain, what kind of energy market it wants to maintain and whether the financial incentives are structured for the kind of investment that needs to be made in resilience,” she said.
Power Retailers Complain of Exorbitant Energy Charges (2:08 p.m.):
Tom Hancock, the chief executive officer of utility Garland Power & Light, told lawmakers the cost of their ancillary services last week equaled 28 years of ancillary service costs based on last year’s total.
Ancillary services help the grid operator maintain reliability on the system, including by infusing the grid with quick bursts of energy that stabilize the flow of electricity.
Several retail electricity providers, including Young Energy LLC and Spark Energy Inc., have disputed the costs of those services during last week’s energy crisis, and are seeking emergency relief from the Public Utility Commission. Freepoint Commodities LLC has also appealed to the commission, saying they intend to challenge Ercot’s ancillary service charges and are concerned the grid operator lacks the liquidity to return any successfully disputed payments.
Ercot Loses 7th Board Member as Hearings Continue (1:25 p.m.):
Texas’s grid operator Ercot lost a seventh board member Friday with the resignation of Clifton Karnei, who represented electric cooperatives. An Ercot spokesperson confirmed the resignation.
The board’s chair and vice chair were among other members who resigned earlier this week in the wake of the energy crisis.
Utility Says Ercot Hasn’t Paid It in Three Days (12:59 p.m.):
The Lower Colorado River Authority, a public utility, has waited for payment from Texas’s grid operator for three days, according to President Phil Wilson. The power provider usually gets paid everyday, he said.
The grid operator known as Ercot is currently trying to manage defaults by certain market participants in the wake of the crisis to ensure that generators are paid, officials said during a board meeting Wednesday.
Wilson said high energy prices and generation issues during the grid emergency also affected the company’s revenues. “We lost money at the end of the day,” he said, adding that he hopes the utility will end the year “relatively unscathed.”
Regulator Didn’t Know Gas Could be Classified ‘Critical Infrastructure’ (11:00 a.m.):
The head of Texas’s energy regulator said she, in the lead-up to the blackouts, didn’t know natural gas facilities could be considered “critical infrastructure” spared from outages. “I didn’t know that was an opportunity,” Texas Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick told lawmakers during a house hearing Friday.
Oncor Chief Executive Officer Allen Nye, speaking in a simultaneous senate hearing, said only 35 gas facilities were on his critical infrastructure list going into the event. The power distributor, which was responsible for implementing the blackouts ordered by the grid operator, added 168 facilities after receiving calls from the Railroad Commission and gas suppliers.
‘Enormous’ Financial Obligations May Lead to Power Bankruptcies (12 a.m.):
With sky-high wholesale power prices in place for days, power retailers and cooperatives in Texas racked up an “enormous amount of obligations” to generators, the state’s main grid operator said.
Combined payments owed to generators hit $10 billion one day during the blackouts and $9.5 billion another, Ercot Chief Executive Officer Bill Magness said in a hearing at the state House of Representatives. Participants and cooperatives that owe those bills may have trouble paying and some may file for bankruptcy, he said.
Another problem on the horizon is if some retailers aren’t able to pay, it’s unclear how the debt will be paid to the generators, Magness said. The agency is currently trying to determine how many won’t be able to pay so it can come up with an answer, he said.
“We’re running into a big issue on the financial side because magnitude of money owed is enormous,” Magness said. “If a generator doesn’t get paid, we may lose generation on system, then that becomes an operational problem.”
Texas’ $9,000-per-megawatt-hour maximum power price didn’t work during recent blackouts, Public Utility Commission Chairwoman DeAnn Walker said during a state House of Representatives hearing.
The rate was set to entice generators to produce more power or for customers to consume less when reserves get low, and it has worked well during summer peaks, mostly because big industrial customers don’t want to pay the stiff bill, Walker said.
During the power outages, the PUC ordered Ercot to keep the price at the cap to try to maximize generation, and prices were at or above that level for seven straight days, yet millions were still in the dark for days.
WHY TEXAS BROKE: The Crisis That Sank the State Has No Easy Fix
“It didn’t work, and we have to fix that,” Walker said. “It’s a very complicated issue and I don’t have any ideas right now, but we need to work together to figure that out.”
— With assistance by Will Wade, Jennifer A Dlouhy, and Jordan Fabian – Bloomberg
Stuart Turley is President and CEO of Sandstone Group, a top energy data, and finance consultancy working with companies all throughout the energy value chain. Sandstone helps both small and large-cap energy companies to develop customized applications and manage data workflows/integration throughout the entire business. With experience in implementing enterprise networks, supercomputers, and cellular tower solutions, Sandstone has become a trusted source and advisor in this space. Stuart has led the “Total Corporate Digital Integration” platform at Sandstone and works with Sandstone clients to help integrate all aspects of modern digital business. He is also the Executive Publisher of www.energynewsbeat.com, the best source for 24/7 energy news coverage and is the Co-Host of the energy news video and Podcast Energy News Beat.
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