Following the deadly blackouts in February that left millions of people without electricity and heat for days in subfreezing temperatures, Texas’ power grid manager was fired on Wednesday amid mounting demands for his removal.
Bill Magness, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is the second high-ranking official to resign in the aftermath of one of the worst blackouts in American history. On Monday, the state’s top utilities regulator resigned.
In a meeting Wednesday night, ERCOT’s board of directors sent Magness a two-month notice of termination. The switch came while the House Oversight Committee was investigating the grid operator.
“During this transition period, Bill will continue to serve as President and CEO and work with state leaders and regulators on potential reforms to ERCOT,” the organization said in a statement.
Magness, who earned more than $876,000 in salary and other benefits in 2019, was the focus of much of the outcry over the blackouts, which started on Feb. 15 when a winter storm dropped temperatures to single digits across Texas, triggering a surge in demand for electricity to heat homes. As the system began to fail, grid operators unplugged more than 4 million customers, which Magness said was important to avoid a more catastrophic outage that could have lasted months.
However, millions of residents were without electricity for days, and the extended outages soon developed into a horrific tragedy, with people trying to stay warm dying of carbon monoxide poisoning and others freezing to death. More than 40 people have died in Texas as a result of the storm and the subsequent blackouts, but the full toll will not be known for months.
Last week, lawmakers investigating the outages slammed Magness for his treatment of the storm at the Texas Capitol.
Magness testified for hours, defending conduct he said kept the grid that serves the majority of Texas’ 30 million people intact.
“It worked from keeping us (from) going into a blackout that we’d still be in today, that’s 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.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has accused ERCOT of misleading the state about the grid’s readiness, blaming the outages almost entirely on the grid operators. The state’s Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT and is led by Abbott appointees, has not shared his outrage.
However, the commission has been increasingly chastised. DeAnn Walker, the chairwoman of the board, resigned after two lengthy appearances before lawmakers in the aftermath of the blackouts, but she said others should take responsibility for the outages as well.
In the aftermath of the blackouts, at least six ERCOT board members have resigned. Many of them lived out of state, which only added to the outrage directed at ERCOT as the crisis progressed.