A massive blackout in Texas shined a spotlight on a little-known policy: ERCOT officers and directors are not required to live in Texas, and Chairwoman Sally Talberg lives in Michigan. She was elected as chair of the board only days before the power outage.
More than 3 million Texans are still without power Wednesday, February 17, days after a winter storm blasted the region, bringing with it record-cold temperatures. Power had been restored to about 400,000 households by Wednesday morning, according to The Dallas Morning News, a small portion of those living without electricity in the frigid weather. A PowerOutage.us map and grid shows more than 3.4 million Texas households were without power as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. At least 13 people have died in weather-related incidents in the Houston area, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Texans, in turn, are blasting public officials including Former Colorado City Mayor Tim Boyd, and ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT officials have said it may be days before power is restored, The Dallas Morning News reported. ERCOT manages the flow of power to more than 26 million Texas residents, its website says. At its head is Talberg, who lives in Michigan far from the blackouts, officials said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Talberg Served As Chairman of the Board of Directors for Only a Few Days Before a Winter Storm Knocked Out Power to Millions of Texans
Talberg was elected as the chairwoman of ERCOT as a newcomer less than two weeks before the widespread power outages. The ERCOT board of directors elected her as the chair on February 9, 2021, an ERCOT press release said. She began serving as an unaffiliated director on the board January 1, 2021. At the same time, Peter Cramton was named vice chair. He began serving as an unaffiliated director on the board in October 2015.
“We would like to congratulate Sally and Peter on their new roles on the ERCOT Board, and look forward to working with them on addressing the challenges of an evolving grid in the years to come,” said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness.
Talberg said in a statement at the time she was excited about the new role.
“ERCOT is a world-class electric grid operator, and it is exciting to be part of this organization as it continues to evolve its markets, planning and operations in response to unprecedented change in the electric industry,” she said. “From my observation, the Board is successful in large part because of ERCOT’s stakeholder process and the role and leadership of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature.”
Dr. Melissa C. Lott, a senior research scholar at The Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA, announced the election of Talberg and Cramton on Twitter.
“@ERCOT_ISO Board of Directors elected newcomer @SallyTalberg to a three-year term as its chair and six-year veteran Peter Cramton as its vice chair,” she wrote.
Talberg thanked the board at the time for their support and the staff for their orientation.
“Excited and honored to serve as @ERCOT_ISO board chair! #ERCOT is a world-class grid operator that embraces innovation and competition,” she wrote on Twitter Feb. 9. “Thanks to the board for their support and ERCOT staff for the terrific orientation.”
Twitter users criticized her for her statement that described ERCOT favorably.
“I wonder how many people died in the last 2 days because of world class ERCOT?” one person wrote on Twitter.
2. Texas Lawmaker Jeff Leach Plans to File Legislation Requiring ERCOT Officers & Directors to Live in Texas
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said he will file legislation requiring the officers and directors of ERCOT to live in Texas, referencing Talberg living in Michigan. Leach called it “completely ridiculous and unacceptable” that she lives in Texas.
“I’m filing legislation this session requiring all @ERCOT_ISO officers and directors to be Texas residents. Completely ridiculous and unacceptable that current ERCOT Board Chair lives in Michigan!” he wrote on Twitter.
Leach has been vocal on Twitter about his criticisms of ERCOT. On Tuesday, he shared ERCOT’s tweet.
It said, “Weather, more generation outages last night bring load shed to 18,500 MW. For today…generators to return, renewable output to increase = increased customer restoration.”
Leach wrote, “Seriously?!?! THIS is your morning update?! I’ve read this 30 times and I can’t even make sense of it. Just terrible. Answer this: What do I say to the elderly couple in my District who haven’t had power in over 36 hours and are struggling to survive in their 30’ home?”
Gov. Gregg Abbott announced on Tuesday ERCOT reform would be made an emergency item, calling on an investigation of the electrical management company to ensure Texans will never suffer through a power outage of this magnitude again.
3. Talberg Lives in Michigan With Her Husband & 2 Daughters; She Has Ties to Texas
Talberg lives in Michigan with her husband and two daughters, according to her ERCOT bio. She has ties to Texas outside of her work with ERCOT. Talberg earned her master’s degree in public affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. She also previously served as an advisor to commissioners at the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
Her bio says:
She has also served in an advisory capacity to commissioners at the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Michigan Public Service Commission, addressing retail and wholesale market issues, facility siting, ratemaking, and other regulatory issues. Ms. Talberg also has experience with environmental and safety compliance and enforcement for drinking water and wastewater facilities.
Ms. Talberg holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy Studies from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. Ms. Talberg lives in Michigan with her husband and two daughters.
4. Talberg Became Chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission in 2015
Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed Talberg to the Michigan Public Service Commission on July 3, 2013. She served as chairman from January 4, 2016 until July 27, 2020. She served until December 31, 2020, the day she became the ERCOT chairman, according to the MPSC. The MPSC provides Michigan residents access to energy and telecommunications services, its website says.
Her bio says:
Through her involvement with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Commissioner Talberg served on the NARUC Committee on Gas and on the Federal-State Joint Boards on Jurisdictional Separations and Universal Service. She also served as a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Advisory Board (STEAB). From 2013-2019 she served on the NARUC Committee on Telecommunications and on the board of directors of the Organization of MISO States, of which she was President in 2016.
Prior to her appointment, Commissioner Talberg worked in the public and private sectors with a focus on energy and environmental policy and utility regulation. She served as a senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants, focusing on energy policy and helping to establish Michigan Saves, an energy efficiency financing organization. Commissioner Talberg previously served as an analyst at the Michigan Public Service Commission, managed enforcement and contested cases at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and advised commissioners at the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
5. Talberg Called for an ‘Urgent Meeting’ to Describe the Widespread Blackout in a Letter
Talberg issued a letter Wednesday, February 17, 2021, calling for an “urgent meeting” to be held on February 24 to discuss the widespread power outage.
“While ERCOT’s operators have managed to avoid a total collapse of the grid, the significant and sustained loss of electricity generation and unprecedented demand have led to millions of Texas households and businesses without power for days during extreme cold temperatures,” she wrote. “Given ERCOT’s charge by the Texas Legislature for resource adequacy and reliability, this crisis warrants the board’s full and prompt attention, beginning with an understanding of the key events and known causes to date.”
She called on ERCOT management “to provide a chronology of key events and critical actions as well as data and explanations in response to the following questions,” she wrote. The questions included asking for information on what preparations were in place, how notice was given and what caused the sustained power loss.
“Going forward, I expect the Board—informed by an in-depth investigation of the causes and contributing factors of this crisis and risks of similar events—to work with state leadership and other entities to identify and take the necessary actions to assure Texas residents and
businesses never again experience power outages on this magnitude,” she wrote. “It is critical to learn from this experience and bring about the necessary organizational, market, planning, and oversight changes to protect Texans.”