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The PUC has issued four executive orders so far, and more may be on the way

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In response to last week’s massive blackouts, the Texas Public Utility Commission has issued a number of executive orders including a ban on utility disconnections, an adjustment to wholesale power prices, and a green light to lift important financial rules in the wholesale energy market.

The PUC’s emergency actions mark its all-hands-on-deck approach to the blackouts, now considered the state’s most severe energy crisis in at least a decade.  The blackouts left at least four million Texans without power and contributed to several deaths.

The PUC has issued four executive orders so far, and more may be on the way. Here’s a summary:

  • On February 16, the PUC signed an order directed to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”), which administers a portion of its wholesale power market.  Filed in PUC Docket No. 51617, the order instructs ERCOT to account for “load shed”—that is, forced outages—in the determination of certain prices in the wholesale energy market.

According to the PUC, system-wide prices in that segment were clearing as low as $1,200 per megawatt hour on February 16, although they should have closed closer to the $9,000 system-wide offer cap because of the grid emergency.  “The Commission believes this outcome is inconsistent with the fundamental design of the ERCOT market,” the order states.

The PUC also directed ERCOT to “correct any past prices to account for load shed.” However, the PUC later reversed itself and instead instructed ERCOT not to adjust previously settled prices.

By way of comparison, electricity prices in the segment of the wholesale market typically clear below $50 per megawatt hour.

  • On February 17, the PUC issued an executive order to limit the duration of rotating outages for individual customers to no more than 12 hours.  However, the order applies only to customers of investor-owned utilities under PUC jurisdiction—namely Oncor, AEP, CenterPoint, and TNMP.  The February 17 order can be found in PUC Docket No. 51812.

 

  • On Sunday, February 21, the PUC placed a moratorium on the disconnection of retail electric customers for non-payment.  As with the February 17 order, the moratorium applies only to customers within the PUC’s direct jurisdiction.  The order also requires retail electric providers to continue offering deferred payment plans to customers.  The order can be found in PUC Docket No. 51812.

 

  • Also on February 21, the PUC authorized ERCOT to deviate from its regular market rules “to protect the overall integrity of the financial electric market.”  The order allows ERCOT to take various actions at its own discretion, including:
    1. Deviating from deadlines relating to financial settlements and invoice payments;
    2. Using available funds—including undistributed congestion revenue right auction revenues—to cover short-paying invoice recipients;
    3. Relaxing credit requirements to provide short-term market-participant liquidity; and
    4. Suspending breach notifications to certain market participants for failure to make payouts or provide financial security.

The order requires ERCOT to report to the PUC twice each day of any action it takes, beginning on February 22.  This order also can be found in PUC Docket No. 51812.

 

— R.A. Dyer