REVEALED: Gov. Greg Abbott intervened to put a positive spin on Texas' power grid

The two most powerful people overseeing Texas’ electric grid sat next to each other in a quickly arranged Austin news conference in early December to try to assure Texans that the state’s electricity supply was prepared for winter.

“The lights are going to stay on this winter,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, echoing recent public remarks by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Two weeks earlier, Abbott had told Austin’s Fox 7 News that he “can guarantee the lights will stay on.” The press conference that followed from Lake and the chief of the state’s independent grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, came at the governor’s request, according to two state officials and one other person familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was 150% Abbott’s idea,” said one of the people familiar with the communication from Abbott’s team. “The governor wanted a press conference to give people confidence in the grid.”

READ: Here's why Texas has its own power grid

A source close to Lake said the idea for the press conference was Lake's, and the governor supported it when Lake brought up the idea during a meeting.

Abbott has for months been heavily involved in the public messaging surrounding the power grid’s winter readiness. In addition to the press conference, he has asked a major electric industry trade group to put out a “positive” public statement about the grid and has taken control of public messaging from ERCOT, according to interviews with current and former power grid officials, energy industry trade group representatives and energy company directors and executives.

But the messaging has projected a level of confidence about the grid that isn’t reflected in data released by ERCOT or echoed by some power company executives and energy experts who say they’re worried that another massive winter storm could trigger widespread grid failures like those that left millions of Texans without power in February, when hundreds of people died.

Abbott has also met one-on-one with energy industry CEOs to ask about their winter readiness — but those meetings happened weeks after Abbott made his public guarantee about the grid.

“You’d think he would have asked to meet with us before saying that,” one person involved in the energy company meetings, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said of Abbott’s guarantee.

READ: 'Fraud' Ted Cruz mocked for attacking California now that millions in Texas have lost power

Ten months after the power grid failures caused hundreds of deaths and became national news, an election year is approaching and Abbott’s two top primary challengers and his top Democratic challenger have already been harshly criticizing the governor over his handling of the power grid.

“It might be a good political move, but it’s just a political move,” Peter Cramton, an energy markets expert and former ERCOT board member who resigned after the storm, said of Abbott’s promise. “It’s not surprising. His fate is on the line. So this is a sensitive political issue now.”

For many Texas energy officials and experts, the line has blurred between Abbott’s executive leadership on the power grid and his 2022 reelection campaign. By promising the lights will stay on, Abbott has wagered that Texas doesn’t experience widespread extreme weather this winter — and that the grid will work the next time freezing weather hits the state.

“The Governor is deeply engaged with the new commissioners at the PUC and the new leadership at ERCOT as they work to improve the Texas electric grid,” Renae Eze, Abbott’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “The House and Senate passed substantial reforms this year, and Governor Abbott is working to ensure those reforms are properly implemented so that the grid provides stable and reliable power for the state.”

Lake, who was appointed by Abbott and whose agency oversees ERCOT, said he has met frequently with Abbott since the summer.

“He’s super focused on it and wants to know what’s going on,” Lake said in an interview.

A majority of power companies have spent money since February preparing their equipment for extreme winter weather, but some say the grid won’t be ready if another storm as powerful as February’s strikes this winter because lawmakers didn’t require gas companies — which supply fuel to more than half of the state’s power plants — to be weatherized immediately.

“What I'm uncertain about is the gas supply,” Cramton said. “That’s the big question.”

2022 opponents use grid failures to attack Abbott

While a warming earth has brought milder winters, Abbott’s bet could be complicated by emerging science that suggests extreme cold spells in Texas could also result from climate change messing with complex weather processes.

But even though Abbott’s promise in late November was a gamble on the weather this winter, his guarantee was more likely an effort to boost his reelection campaign in 2022, Texas political communication experts said.

“I don’t think it's a coincidence he's responding with a guarantee about the power grid almost immediately in the aftermath of Beto O'Rourke's entry into the race because that's been O'Rourke's frontline attack,” said Stephanie Martin, a scholar of political communication at Southern Methodist University.

Abbott has faced criticism over the power grid from O’Rourke and both of his best-known Republicans primary opponents, Allen West and Don Huffines.

“Greg Abbott said we did everything we needed to do to fix ERCOT,” Huffines, a former state senator, said in November. “Obviously that is not the case. Texans deserve a governor who can keep the lights on.”

“This ‘promise’ is dangerous, potentially deadly,” O’Rourke said. “Experts continue to warn that Texas could face another grid failure the next time we experience an extreme weather event. Abbott and his appointees shouldn’t be betting our lives on the weather.”

The issue has animated voters, too. In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll of 1,200 registered voters in October, respondents expressed major disapproval for the state’s handling of the reliability of the grid after February’s catastrophe. Only 18% of voters approved of how state leaders handled the issue, while 60% of voters disapproved. Even state lawmakers have shown frustration that the new laws they passed earlier this year to prepare the grid for extreme weather haven’t led to enough preparations ahead of this winter.

When Abbott has been asked in recent months about criticism of the state’s handling of the winter storm crisis, he has responded that he “signed almost a dozen laws that make the power grid more effective” and he’s praised regulators for working to implement new rules following guidance from lawmakers and from Abbott.

“In politics, when you’re explaining, you're losing, and to try to talk about what happened last February in a way that doesn't just accept the abysmal failure of the Abbott administration means he has to try to explain something that's almost impossible to explain,” Martin said. “The only way out of that is to not acknowledge it — by promising it will never happen again.”

Dictating the message

When Brad Jones took over as ERCOT’s interim CEO in the spring — after the previous CEO and many board members resigned after the grid catastrophe — he began by promising that ERCOT would be more transparent with the public and state leaders.

“My guarantee to you is that we intend to communicate more clearly than we’ve done in the past,” Jones said during his first public hearing with lawmakers. “To remove industry jargon, to speak to you in ways that all of us can understand.”

In recent months, however, ERCOT has been nearly silent on social media and its leaders have barely spoken publicly. People familiar with ERCOT’s operations say the organization has needed to receive approval from the governor’s office for most of its public communications, a stark contrast to how the grid operator did business in the past.

Every spring and fall, ERCOT releases its report assessing potential scenarios for the grid during more extreme weather. And the organization’s technical experts typically brief reporters on the assessment to help translate complex electricity jargon into plain language that the general public can understand.

This fall, that briefing never happened. Instead, ERCOT simply posted its assessment for this winter to its website on a Friday afternoon in November. The report concluded that the Texas grid is still vulnerable to blackouts during severe winter weather, even with new preparations.

“We just made a mistake on that,” Jones said about not holding the briefing, adding that rather than big press conference calls, he’s been focusing on touring the state, listening to Texans and doing interviews with local media.

“First piece of it is, I need to listen,” Jones said. “I need to hear them tell me what they went through. That’s an important part of the healing process.”

Another biannual report, called the Capacity, Demand and Reserves report, contains a multiyear forecast of peak electricity demand and the expected generation resources available. The assessment is released every May and in early December. The report has not yet been released this month because the governor’s office is still reviewing it, according to people familiar with the delay. A recent ERCOT email said the report is now scheduled to be released on Dec. 29.

It’s not uncommon for elected officials to become much more hands-on in the aftermath of disasters, said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert and advisor who worked in Texas for more than two decades: “There’s an element of ‘the buck stops here.’”

But Myers Jaffe said decision-making at ERCOT, an organization that Abbott immediately blasted after the storm in February, should be left alone by politicians who don’t have electricity expertise.

“An independent, nonprofit technical organization should be making its decisions based on fulfilling its mission, and its communications should be about the actions it’s taking to fulfill that,” said Myers Jaffe, who now runs Tufts University’s Climate Policy Lab. “It shouldn't be politicized.”

But much of the public messaging this year from the grid operator has had to be approved by a governor who’s running for reelection, according to people familiar with the matter.

“I think the challenge is now that it would be very hard for the ERCOT communications office to do something that isn't viewed as political,” Cramton said.

As November turned to December, Abbott’s team asked the Association of Electric Companies of Texas to put out a “positive” statement about the power grid’s readiness for winter, according to four people in the energy industry familiar with the request. AECT, a major industry trade group, was its public face in the aftermath of the storm, testifying before lawmakers and lobbying on behalf of major power companies.

On Dec. 8, the same day as Lake and Jones’ news conference, AECT released its statement. The message stopped short of making definitive claims about the lights staying on this winter but did go into detail about preparations power plants and transmission and distribution facilities have made. It also thanked “Texas leaders and the Legislature for their efforts during the past session to strengthen the resilience of the grid, as well as AECT’s member companies for their efforts to prepare for this winter for the benefit of Texas consumers.”

After public promise, Abbott met with energy CEOs

Nearly three weeks after promising the lights wouldn’t go out this winter — and after Lake echoed him in the December press conference — Abbott’s team arranged for several energy companies to meet with the governor in Austin. Energy companies and executives meeting with the Texas governor is not uncommon, but the timing was curious to some companies involved, as well as to power grid officials and political scientists.

The mid-December meetings included large energy companies Calpine, Kinder Morgan, NRG, Vistra and Energy Transfer Partners — whose CEO, Kelcy Warren, gave $1.1 million to Abbott immediately after this year’s regular legislative session.

The executives and others involved in the meetings told the Tribune that the opportunity to sit down with the governor was important as the energy industry and state leaders try to assure Texans wary of winter that the power will stay on this year.

Abbott asked the energy CEOs detailed questions about their expectations for the coming months, their companies’ readiness for winter and whether the CEOs feel ready for another severe winter storm, according to people in the meetings.

“It was literally, like: ‘If we have another (Winter Storm) Uri, are y’all going to be ready?’” said a person involved in one of the meetings, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “We said, ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Tell me why, what is different?’”

The person added: “He was really in fact-finding mode. He didn't say: ‘You guys better be ready.’ It was: ‘I want to know if your company is ready and, if so, I want to know why.’”

Companies that spoke to the Tribune said they laid out to the governor how they had been preparing their facilities for winter.

Calpine CEO Thad Hill said in a written statement that the governor “was doing his direct due diligence ensuring the grid would be reliable this winter.” NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez welcomed the opportunity “to highlight our companywide winter-readiness efforts to meet the energy needs of our growing state,” NRG said in a statement.

Vistra CEO Curt Morgan, who has criticized the state’s natural gas producers for not adequately preparing for extreme winter weather, told Abbott that Vistra “has invested more than $50 million to further harden its power generation fleet in Texas, focused on learnings from Winter Storm Uri,” Vistra said in a statement.

Still, some wondered why Abbott didn’t gather information from the energy CEOs before promising the lights would stay on during the next winter storm.

“If it were truly about executive leadership and government transparency, then you wouldn't get what almost amounts to a slogan: ‘I guarantee,’” Martin said. “You’d get a meaningful articulation of what's behind the guarantee.”

Disclosure: The Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT), Calpine and Southern Methodist University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas bill to block COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employers failed in Legislature after business groups rallied against it

Bills intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees failed to pass the Texas Legislature before lawmakers adjourned the third special legislative session early Tuesday morning.

Signs that the legislation was in trouble came early as business groups spoke out against the proposals. Even though the issue had been added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott, the House's version of the bill was unable to muster enough support to be voted out of committee. The Senate's proposal pushed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was quickly pushed out of committee but did not have the votes for approval by the whole chamber.

On Monday, hours before lawmakers ended the session, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposed the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger was the first lawmaker to acknowledge publicly that the bill did not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.

"At the moment it's not too well developed," Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, which he called "anti-business."

"I've got some real reservations because I think it's another example of big government," Seliger said. "And we don't do that."

SB 51 had been on the Senate's calendar since Thursday, but the chamber had not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.

The offices of Hughes and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, did not respond to requests for comment.

Patrick, a Republican, is also the GOP majority's de facto leader in the upper chamber. During his two-term tenure, he's exerted power by rewarding senators who support his priorities and punishing those who don't by stripping them of powerful positions. This session, he was able to push all five of his priorities through the chamber.

More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren't required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are "safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced."

Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide even if lawmakers don't act. His order came four weeks after President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.

The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers of the legislation's risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely on federal funding and immunocompromised Texans.

The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.

"We're getting tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job," Seliger said. "They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business."

Abbott is in several legal fights with cities, counties and school districts over local mask orders that defy his ban on such orders. Texas' ban on mask mandates in schools has drawn a federal investigation for possibly violating the rights of students with disabilities.

Advocates from medical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes say they are worried about losing Medicare and Medicaid funds if the state law goes into effect, preventing them from following pending federal rules that will mandate vaccines.

"The state shouldn't be mandating a one-size-fits-all approach to hospitals," Steve Wohleb, senior vice president and general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association, told a Senate panel Thursday. "It should leave those decisions to the hospitals, who are in the best position to know what's best for their patients."

While a prohibition on vaccine requirements has been a top issue for Abbott, the subject never rose to the top of Patrick's list.

At the beginning of this 30-day special session, Patrick announced that his top priority was to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help Texas homeowners reduce their property tax burden for the year.

Patrick's other priorities included restoring money paid out of the state's unemployment insurance fund during the pandemic, preventing transgender student athletes from playing on sports teams based on the gender they identify with rather than the gender on their original birth certificate, drawing new political maps and legislation to protect dogs from being tethered during extreme weather.

Patrick also succeeded in getting Abbott to add tuition revenue bonds, which were approved by the Legislature, to the special session.

House Bill 155, a prohibition on vaccine mandates by state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, also stalled in the House.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and the Texas Hospital Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Gov. Greg Abbott tells electricity regulators to encourage building more power plants, penalize renewable energy

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Two days before state lawmakers return to Austin for a special legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday gave state electricity regulators marching orders to "improve electric reliability."

In a letter to the Public Utility Commission, Abbott directed the three-person board of directors, who he appoints, to take action that would require renewable energy companies to pay for power when wind and solar aren't able to provide it to the state's main power grid, echoing a move state lawmakers rejected in May.

Abbott also told the PUC to incentivize companies to build and maintain nuclear, natural gas and coal power generation for the grid — which failed spectacularly during a February winter storm, leaving millions of Texans without power or heat for days in below freezing temperatures.

Texas energy experts were skeptical that Abbott's orders would actually improve the reliability of the state grid, which operates mostly independently of the nation's two other major grids.

"What is here is not a serious or prudent plan for improving the grid," Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, said in an interview Tuesday. "It's more of a political job favoring some [energy] sources over others. For Texans to have a more reliable power supply, we need clearer thinking that makes the best of all the sources we have."

Abbott's letter also called on the PUC to direct the state's main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, to better schedule when power plants are offline, an issue that caused tension between state regulators and power generators after some power plants unexpectedly went offline in June and led ERCOT to ask Texans to turn their thermostats up to 78 degrees for a week during a heat wave to conserve energy.

Abbott responded to the plant outages by declaring the power grid "is better today than it's ever been."

In the letter, Abbott said his directives to the PUC are aimed at ensuring "that all Texans have access to reliable, safe, and affordable power, and that this task is achieved in the quickest possible way."

The letter doesn't include many specifics about how the PUC should carry out Abbott's requests to improve the grid. A spokesperson for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

State lawmakers responded to February's deadly winter storm with a few key changes to the power grid that energy experts have said will begin to address issues exposed by the storm, such as requiring power companies to upgrade plants to withstand more extreme weather and creating an emergency alert system. But lawmakers did not provide direct relief for everyday Texans.

"Governor Abbott has been consistently clear on his desire for a reliable grid and the 87th Texas Legislature laid out a detailed road map to that goal," PUC spokesperson Andrew Barlow said in response to questions about Abbott's letter. "While the PUC has been working on many of the items in his directive, this additional clarity is a welcome addition to our process."

As Abbott prepares to release the agenda for a special session of the Legislature that begins Thursday, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others have called on him to add energy-related issues to the list.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers and leaders have criticized Abbott for turning his attention to building a state-funded border wall rather than fixing the state power grid.

Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Some Texas power plants unexpectedly went offline last week. The grid operator says it still doesn’t know why

Last Monday, Texas' main power grid operator asked Texans, mid-heat wave, to turn their thermostats to 78 degrees during the afternoon and evening for the week to reduce electricity demand on the grid after 12,000 megawatts of power generation unexpectedly went offline — enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day.

By the end of the week, that appeal from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas expired without a public announcement, and ERCOT officials still have not said why they asked Texans to cut back on electricity use.

Were there damages to the power grid infrastructure stemming from February's deadly winter storm? Were there nefarious actors looking to manipulate the electricity market? What does this mean for power generation during the rest of the hot Texas summer?

ERCOT hasn't said — or released data to answer any of these questions raised by industry experts. And that is exactly how the Texas power grid is supposed to work, energy experts said.

"ERCOT knows what plants fail, but not why," said Bob King, an energy consultant in Austin who has worked in the Texas energy industry for more than 30 years.

ERCOT is a quasi-governmental body that manages the state's power supply; it's overseen by the Public Utility Commission, a state agency with leaders appointed by the governor. While ERCOT oversees the grid's daily operations, the grid itself is a network of independent companies, cooperatives and some cities that aren't required to quickly give ERCOT detailed explanations when power generation goes offline.

So far, ERCOT has not revealed which power plants went down last week — or even how many were down.

"Based on preliminary information received from generation owners, the vast majority of forced outages that occurred last week are due to equipment issues," ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko said. "Our Operations group is analyzing the information and will be providing a more comprehensive overview of the causes."

Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, said ERCOT was not being "sufficiently transparent in explaining what was going on and left Texans in the dark about causes for these outages."

Calpine, one of the state's largest power generation companies, said all of its generation equipment was up and running last week.

Vistra Corp., the state's largest power generation company, had one unit down: The Comanche Peak nuclear plant outside of Fort Worth shut down one of its units when the main transformer experienced a fire, according to the company, which owns the plant. Each unit at Comanche can generate about 1,150 megawatts of energy at full capacity.

"Aside from one unit at Comanche Peak, which makes up about 6% of Vistra's generation capacity in ERCOT, the rest of our fleet performed very well throughout the week," said company spokesperson Meranda Cohn.

But that one outage between the two large companies accounts for less than 10% of the lost power generation last week. ERCOT likely will not give more information to the public for 60 days, per ERCOT and Public Utility Commission rules, officials said.

In the meantime, ERCOT's independent watchdog will investigate what happened. Beth Garza, who was director of the watchdog from 2014 to 2019, said that's standard procedure after such an event.

"They will look if there is any indication if there is any nefarious or bad acting on any particular generations' part," Garza said.

Last week's power generation outages marked the second time ERCOT has asked Texans to cut back on electricity use since February's storm. Garza and other experts also raised concerns about the winter storm's impact on "thermal" sources of energy, which in Texas are largely powered by natural gas plants.

"One thing I'd be curious about: What the effects of February's cold weather was on thermal units," Garza said. "Was some of that being worked on and fixed (last week)?"

The winter storm shut down a huge chunk of Texas' natural gas supply chain, including natural gas power plants. But in the aftermath of the storm, politically powerful natural gas companies, and their regulators, mostly avoided harsh criticism from state lawmakers. Regulators even went as far as defending the industry through a public relations campaign.

Lawmakers did, however, pass legislation requiring power plants to build protection against extreme weather, a process called weatherization. But critics said lawmakers did not require all parts of the state's electricity supply chain to weatherize.

Of the approximately 12,000 megawatts of generation offline last Monday, about 9,600 megawatts, or nearly 80% of the outages, were from thermal power sources, according to ERCOT.

Less than 500 megawatts of thermal generation offline last Monday were planned to be out for maintenance, ERCOT officials said.

That data undercuts Gov. Greg Abbott's claim last week that the power plants that went offline were undergoing repairs to prepare for the summer heat. Power plants typically undergo maintenance repairs in the spring.

In April, the last time ERCOT asked Texans to cut back electricity use, the supply of electricity to the power grid was struggling to keep up with demand because a large number of power plants were offline — some due to repairs from the February storm — combined with higher demand than ERCOT predicted.

ERCOT has not said if last week's plant outages were related to April's outages.

A more unpredictable and less relied upon power source — wind — also did not provide much power generation to the grid last week while the power plants were offline.

Power from wind turbines last Monday afternoon was between 3,500 to 6,000, according to ERCOT, which was 1,500 megawatts lower than what the grid operator typically expects during the peak time of usage in summer afternoons.

Cohan, the Rice University professor, said he's more worried about the grid's overall performance than the fact that the wind was barely blowing last week.

"This is our primetime season, power plants are supposed to be ready to go for the summer and to generate as much as possible on summer afternoons," Cohan said. "So it is concerning that so many plants weren't ready last week. And last week was really just a trial run. We're likely to have temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer and demand 10% higher on hotter days in July and August. This grid wouldn't have been ready for it."

Gov. Greg Abbott says power grid better than ever as Texans asked to cut back electricity use

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday afternoon that Texas' main power grid "is better today than it's ever been" — even as residents were on their third consecutive day of being asked to reduce electricity use.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the main power grid, is urging conservation through Friday, as a number of power plants were inexplicably offline at the same time as the state was experiencing record June demand for electricity.

As of Wednesday, when Abbott made his first public comments about this week's grid conditions, ERCOT officials have still not said why so many power plants were unexpectedly offline. Approximately 12,000 megawatts of power generation were offline Monday afternoon — enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day. That's several times more than what ERCOT would typically expect to go down during June.

Approximately 9,000 megawatts of electricity were still offline as of Wednesday afternoon, an ERCOT spokesperson said.

ERCOT officials are working to determine why so many units were down this week. Some experts theorized that the deadly winter storm in February may have caused damage to plants that is causing new complications, but ERCOT officials did not offer any details.

Abbott, however, said Wednesday that power generation plants were down for "repairs."

"They got repairs done now, before [the] real heat of summer hits," Abbott said in response to a power grid question during a press conference the governor held about plans to build a border wall at the state's boundary with Mexico.

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to questions for comment about his power grid statements Wednesday.

Power plants typically make maintenance repairs during the fall and the spring months ahead of the more extreme weather seasons. In April, just two months after the winter storm, Texans were asked to conserve electricity when a significant amount of plants were down for maintenance.

Power grids must keep supply and demand in balance at all times. When Texas' grid falls below its safety margin of excess supply, the grid operator starts taking additional precautions to avoid blackouts. The first precaution is to ask the public to cut back electricity usage.

ERCOT officials said it "appears unlikely" that the ERCOT grid would need to implement outages, like it did in February, to reduce strain on the grid this week.

Earlier Wednesday, officials with ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, briefed members of the Texas House's Democratic and Republican caucuses in separate calls about the grid conditions.

Peter Lake, the PUC chair, told House Democrats that officials still cannot explain why so many power generators were offline — but said the agency is working to find out.

"We don't know if it's because of residual damage from the winter event, we don't know if it's because there was a maintenance delay because of the winter event," Lake said. "We don't know if it's a function of the mechanics of the market and the economics of the current market, but … we've got to figure that out."

Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report.

Twitter’s lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tossed by federal judge

A federal judge in California on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Twitter against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose legal efforts to investigate the social media platform after it suspended President Donald Trump's account led the company to sue.

Twitter's lawsuit included a request for a temporary restraining order that would keep Paxton and his office from enforcing a demand that seeks documents revealing the company's internal decision making processes for banning users. Judge Maxine M. Chesney said the company's legal action was "premature."

Paxton, a passionate supporter of Trump, sent Twitter a civil investigative demand after it banned Trump from its platform following January's deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter wrote in its suit responding to Paxton that it sought to stop him "from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter's exercise of its First Amendment rights."

The company claimed Paxton's "retaliatory" investigation violated the First Amendment as an inappropriate use of government authority.

"Twitter's lawsuit was little more than an attempt to avoid answering my questions about their large-scale censorship and content-moderation policies," Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.

Paxton's legal back and forth with Twitter is just the latest in the GOP's larger campaign against technology and social media companies after officials and followers faced repercussions for sowing doubts about the 2020 election that fueled the Capitol insurrection.

Paxton himself had been sowing doubts about the election for weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol, and was co-chair of the Lawyers for Trump coalition.

Now, Paxton's legal actions have focused more on large social media platforms. Twitter is just one of five tech and social media firms to which Paxton issued civil investigative demands to learn about the procedures such companies use to regulate postings or user accounts.

Paxton, who attended the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, criticized companies' moves after the siege, which included Twitter banning Trump from its platform.

"The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies," Paxton said in a Jan. 13 news release.

According to U.S. Code, an attorney general can issue a civil investigative demand during a racketeering investigation in order to acquire information or documents relevant to that investigation. These demands can be used to obtain evidence of a company's procedures and policies. According to a press release, Paxton is using civil investigative demands to learn about the procedures that social media firms use to regulate postings or user accounts.

Recently, Paxton has faced separate legal action related to Twitter, from a group of Texas Twitter users who were blocked from viewing Paxton's tweets from his @KenPaxtonTX account. The users said Paxton blocking them from his page was a violation of the First Amendment because it limited the rights of people to participate in a public forum and access statements made by the public official.

Paxton recently unblocked the nine Texans.

'Illegal' for Texas to claw back billions utilities overcharged during blackouts: regulator

In an unusual move, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joined a senate committee hearing Thursday evening for nearly a half hour to question the chairperson of the Texas utility regulator who was appointed by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.

Patrick recounted a recent phone call he had with Public Utility Commission Chair Arthur D'Andrea, whom Patrick and other senators have asked to retroactively reduce the market price for power during the deadly winter storm. D'Andrea and the PUC have declined to do so, citing unforeseen consequences of meddling in an electricity market that has already been settled.

"You said you agreed with my view that we needed to correct this," Patrick said of the phone call.

"Sir, there's no way I agreed with you that we need to correct this," D'Andrea said. "There's no way I would have done that. This whole thing is because I don't agree with you. ... it would be very easy if I agreed with you. I don't. I'm sorry."

D'Andrea, a lawyer who used to work in the Texas attorney general's office, said he did not think the PUC has legal authority to retroactively change the market price for power during the time of the winter storm.

"Even if the governor of the state of Texas told you to correct this error and this mistake, or respond to unusual circumstances, are you saying that you would not obey that?" Patrick said.

"I've worked for him for a decade and he has never asked me to do anything that I thought was illegal," D'Andrea said. "...I think it's illegal, and his first thing he told me when I came to work for him is, 'We are not doing anything illegal.'"

The lively exchange came on the same day D'Andrea told lawmakers the state's energy grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, overcharged power companies by roughly $3 billion after the winter storm, pushing back on a previous report from an agency watchdog that said the companies were overcharged by $16 billion.

Last week, an independent monitor for the Public Utility Commission reported the Electric Reliability Council of Texas overcharged power companies by about $16 billion in the days immediately following the February winter storm which knocked out power for multiple days across the state, leaving people in subfreezing temperatures. The eye-popping number prompted calls for action from elected officials including Patrick demanding the charges be reversed.

But on Thursday, D'Andrea called the figure a "mistake" and said the firm, Potomac Economics, would be officially revising its estimate. Later in the day, former ERCOT CEO Bill Magness submitted a report pushing back on the claims it overcharged to such extremes.

"This was an intentional and carefully considered decision to protect human health and safety while stabilizing the electric grid. It was not an error," Magness' report said.

But a letter submitted Thursday by Potomac Economics repeated that ERCOT overcharged companies by $16 billion. However, Potomac clarified its recommendation for how much should be fixed, calling for a $4.2 billion price correction.

Last week, the PUC said it would not retroactively reduce the market price for power to account for overcharge payments, citing unforeseen consequences. On Thursday, D'Andrea stood by that decision and said he would not reverse charges to account for even the revised figures, citing unforeseen consequences. D'Andrea is the last remaining member of the three-person board which oversees ERCOT, after the other members recently resigned amid criticism for the power outages.

It is still unclear whether and how this overcharge directly affects Texas electricity customers, however many power companies have taken a significant financial hit.

In Texas, wholesale power prices are determined by supply and demand: When demand is high, ERCOT allows prices to go up. During the storm, the PUC directed the grid operator to set wholesale power prices at $9,000 per megawatt-hour — the maximum price. Raising prices is intended to incentivize power generators in the state to add more power to the grid. Companies then buy power from the wholesale market to deliver to consumers, which they are contractually obligated to do.

But extended freezing weather made that impossible because it knocked a large portion of the state's electricity generation offline.

ERCOT maintained its highest level of emergency alert until the morning of Feb. 19 — five days after the storm initially struck the state — a signal to the market that the power grid was still unstable, which kept prices high.

"What we're discussing here is whether or not we want to go back and change the rules of the game after the game's been played," said state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, chair of the House Affairs committee.

Speaking to the committee Thursday, D'Andrea pushed back against officials who earlier this week wrote in a letter calling for D'Andrea to change his mind about retroactively reducing the market price for power.

"I think they're relying on wrong information given by the independent market monitor," D'Andrea said of Patrick and state senators who urged a reversal.

Magness, the outgoing ERCOT CEO, testified before the Senate Jurisprudence Committee on Thursday that when the grid operator came out of emergency conditions, and power supply appeared to be able to meet demand, he and the PUC decided to keep prices high for fear of losing generation again and plunging back into outages.

He was concerned with projections of high demand on Feb. 19, the risk of generators tripping offline again, the physical damage to power infrastructure after the storm, and the large industrial plants re-starting that demand a significant amount of power.

He and the PUC — disagreeing with the independent grid monitor — decided that in the interest of public safety, prices needed to be kept at the articifical cap. Natural gas prices were still extremely high, he said, and they worried the natural market price for power would not be adequate to incentivize power generators to continue to buy the high-priced fuel that week. He feared telling people across the state the emergency was over — and then plunging people back into the dark again.

"We needed to maintain integrity of the system in any way we possibly could," Magness said. "It was a judgment call."

D'Andrea said the electricity market from the week of the storm has been settled and the participants in that market operated under the rules set by ERCOT and the state. Already, some Texas consumers and companies such as Brazos Electric Power Cooperative have already been hit financially. D'Andrea said retroactively adjusting the market would lead to unforeseen problems.

"We know who's hurt, let's address that," D'Andrea. "Instead of making a huge mess that we can't foresee, and losing twice, let's just stick with the status quo."

Erin Douglas contributed to this story.

Texas overcharged power companies $16 billion for electricity during winter storm: report

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas made a $16 billion error in pricing during the week of the winter storm that caused power outages across the state, according to a filing by its market monitor.

Potomac Economics, the independent market monitor for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, wrote in a letter to the Public Utility Commission that ERCOT kept market prices for power too high for nearly two days after widespread outages ended late the night of Feb. 17. It should have reset the prices the following day.

That decision to keep prices high, the market monitor described, resulted in $16 billion in additional costs to Texas power companies. The news of the overcharging was first reported by Bloomberg.

In Texas, wholesale power prices are determined by supply and demand: When demand is high, ERCOT allows prices to go up. During the storm, PUC directed the grid operator to set wholesale power prices at $9,000 per megawatt hour — the maximum price. Raising prices is intended to incentivize power generators in the state to add more power to the grid. Companies then buy power from the wholesale market to deliver to consumers, which they are contractually obligated to do.

Because ERCOT failed to bring prices back down on time, companies had to buy power in the market at inflated prices.

The error will likely result in higher levels of defaults, wrote Carrie Bivens, a vice president of Potomac Economics, the firm that monitors the grid operator. She said the PUC should direct ERCOT to remove the pricing interventions that occurred after outages ended, and allowing them to remain would result in "substantial and unjustified" economic harm.

Retail power providers have been in financial distress across Texas since the storm; many were forced to buy power on the wholesale market at extremely high prices.

Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc., Texas' largest power cooperative, has already filed for bankruptcy protection after incurring $2.1 billion in combined charges owed to ERCOT, according to court documents filed Monday.

Many retail power providers complained in filings to regulators that generators of electricity, which were unable to produce enough power during the storm, profited and left retail companies scrambling.

"The ERCOT market was not designed to deal with an emergency of this scale," wrote Patrick Woodson, CEO of ATG Clean Energy Holdings, a retail power provider based in Austin, to the Public Utility Commission. The pricing failure, he wrote, "has pushed the entire market to the brink of collapse."

Bivens wrote that while she recognizes that retroactively revising the prices is "not ideal," correcting the error will reflect the accurate supply and demand for power during the period after the outages.

The recommendation "will not result [in] any revenue shortfalls for ERCOT's generation as the corrected prices will cover the generator's as-offered costs," she wrote. "We recognize that revising the prices retroactively is not ideal."

A spokesperson for ERCOT was not immediately available to comment.

Kenan Ogelman, the ERCOT vice president of commercial operations, who testified during a Texas Senate committee hearing Thursday, was not asked by state senators about ERCOT's $16 billion mistake. Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who chairs the Business and Commerce committee, did not indicate what action he or other senators would take on the various financial ripple effects from the winter storm.

"There are financial concerns — let's put it that way — that we have to address," Hancock said.

Reese Oxner and Shannon Najmabadi contributed to this report.