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August 13, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Joint Committee Examines Electric Reliability in Texas

AUSTIN - The Lieutenant Governor has charged two separate Senate Committees with examining the security of the Texas electric grid. One year ago, large parts of the northeastern parts of U.S were without electricity due to an equipment failure. Today, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst told the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Infrastructure Development and Security that it is essential to prevent the same kind of blackout does not happen here.

Texas is the only state with its own electric grid. Dewhurst told the members "That means that if there's a faulty transmission line in Nevada, you don't trip power here in Texas." Dewhurst said that while the system here in Texas is good, there are "bottlenecks" in certain parts of the state, and that the demand for electricity continues to grow.

"We must not discourage additional investment in our electric grid, but at the same time, we must protect our consumers' pocketbooks."

Dewhurst also said that while the blackout a year ago was not the result of terrorism, it easily could have been, saying "We know of no reasonable threat to Texas at this time, and we need to take steps to see that there will not be."

He also addressed recent allegations of corruption in ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. This is the organization that is responsible for making sure that the state's deregulated power grid stays online. Dewhurst said he was asking a Senate committee to look into the allegations, which include the hiring of a deceased person. Three ERCOT managers have been accused of personally benefiting from contracts they awarded last year.

At a press conference after his testimony, the Lieutenant Governor said that in light of the intelligence the administration has put out over the past couple of months, Texas needs to continually look at ways to protect not only the Texas electric grid, but also pipelines, ports and the entire infrastructure of the state.

Paul Hudson, Chairman of the Public Utility Commission, led off the testimony when the committee returned. He was followed by Sam Jones and Bob Manning of ERCOT, along with John Fainter who is President of AECT, the Association of Electric Companies of Texas. They described how the Texas electric industry has changed since deregulation, as well as how ERCOT is working with the Public Utility Commission on day to day issues. Chairman Troy Fraser said that reliability of the overall system was one of his main concerns along with whether the legislature had given the PUC the tools to make the system work. Sam Jones, Chief Operating Officer of ERCOT, described how their backup systems protect against blackouts. They also described how ERCOT works with government agencies to protect against interruptions that might be caused by bottlenecks in transmission or terrorist actions.

The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce is chaired by Senator Troy Fraser. The members include Senators Kip Averitt, Ken Armbrister, Kim Brimer, John Carona, Craig Estes, Mike Jackson, Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Leticia Van de Putte. The Senate Committee on Infrastructure Development and Security is chaired by Senator Todd Staples. Members include Senators Gonzalo Barrientos, Kim Brimer, Rodney Ellis. Jon Lindsay, Frank Madla, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh and Jeff Wentworth. Both committees recessed subject to the call of their chairs.

An archive copy of the meeting may be seen at the audio and video archive pages.

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