The head of the Texas Public Utility Commission resigned as fallout mounted from the energy crisis that swept the state during a severe winter storm last month.
DeAnn Walker said Monday that she would step down amid growing calls for her ouster from state lawmakers of both parties and others, following a Texas Senate hearing last week during which she defended the commission’s response to the crisis.
“I stand proud that I worked endless hours over the past two and a half weeks to return electric power to the grid,” Ms. Walker wrote in her resignation letter. “Despite the treatment I received from some legislators, I am proud that I spoke the truth.”
Millions of Texans were left in the dark without power for days during an extreme cold front that brought freezing temperatures to much of the Lone Star State, causing numerous power plants to trip offline and leading others to experience shortages of natural gas.
As the crisis deepened, the PUC ordered market prices to go to the maximum level of $9,000 per megawatt hour until the end of the emergency, up from around $1,200 a megawatt hour at the time of its order last Monday.
Prices remained at that peak price for about 90 hours. Previously, the Texas market had hit that $9,000 level only once, in 2019, for a total of three hours, according to a regulatory filing.
The result was a massive increase in power costs for retail electricity providers, local utilities and, ultimately, businesses and consumers in Texas, where power prices averaged $22 per megawatt hour last year.
A spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who appoints the members of the PUC, said that he thanked Ms. Walker for her service as chairman and would continue working with lawmakers to reform the power system.
Lawmakers have also called for leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign. Several of its board members stepped down last week.
Ercot resorted to rolling blackouts for four consecutive days last month as temperatures plunged below freezing throughout the state. Electricity demand surged as residents heated their homes, while supplies dropped as power plants and wind turbines went offline. As demand threatened to exceed supply, the grid operator ordered the state’s electricity providers to cut power to millions of Texans to relieve strain on the grid.
The financial implications of the crisis continued to unfold Monday as electricity providers grapple with enormous electricity and natural-gas bills from the storm.
In an update Monday, Ercot said electric retailers had failed to make about $2.46 billion in required payments. The grid operator, which collects that money and uses it to pay power plant operators, has used $800 million in a revenue account to satisfy some of those obligations but is still about $1.66 billion short.
The Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc., the state’s largest power cooperative, filed for bankruptcy protection overnight Monday. The cooperative, which supplies wholesale power to 16 distribution cooperatives, said in court documents that it can’t pay Ercot the roughly $2.1 billion it owes and is now in talks with lenders to secure financing.
“Simply put, Brazos Electric suddenly finds itself caught in a liquidity trap that it cannot solve with its current balance sheet,” the court statement read.
Ercot said in a statement that it would participate in the bankruptcy proceedings.