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Lawmakers want answers about state's electrical systems

Lawmakers want answers about state's electrical systems

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DALLAS - Republican Sen. Troy Fraser wants to know whether Monday's rolling blackouts across most of Texas were the result of poor planning or just a series of unlikely circumstances.

He has asked Public Utility Commission Chairman Paul Hudson to investigate how the Electric Reliability Council on Texas handled the crisis as demand for electricity was at its peak.

Meanwhile ERCOT officials said it had no repeats Tuesday of the previous day's power supply shortage that pressed utility companies into the first voluntary power outage in 17 years.

Industry officials have said the state's first rolling blackouts since 1989 were imposed because of unseasonably hot weather and a shortage of available electricity.

About 15 percent of the state's power supply was already off line for seasonal maintenance to brace for the summer's peak usage, but four more generating plants shut down unexpectedly.

Meanwhile temperatures were hitting the low 100s and the state's capacity was being pushed to its limit in time for the day's peak demand, usually between 4 and 7 p.m.

As a result thousands were caught without electricity for short periods, usually no more than 15 minutes.

Monday was the seventh day overall and second straight day of record heat in 2006 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Highs were expected to reach into the upper 90s on Tuesday before cooling back into a more normal range in the 70s and 80s on Wednesday.

Officials said the temperatures topped 94 degrees Tuesday in Brazos County. That's 1 degree higher than the record set on the same date in 1996, according to the National Weather Service in Houston.

Fraser said he wants a detailed report about Monday's incident by April 25 when the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce meets in Austin.

"I'll be asking hard questions about the events leading up to yesterday," Fraser said from his Horseshoe Bay home Tuesday afternoon. "I want to make sure that we have protocols in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."

ERCOT is a quasi public agency that runs the Texas electricity grid. It is funded by a surcharge on consumers' electric bills, and the PUC signs off on that surcharge.

PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said Hudson had been in Senate hearings all day Tuesday and wasn't sure if the chairman had seen the letter from Fraser.

"We'll certainly comply with the request and answer all of the senator's questions," Hadley said.

ERCOT also will do an internal review of Monday's actions, said ERCOT spokesman Paul Wattles.

"There is going to be a detailed review, an investigation, if you will, of the incident," Wattles said. "We will look at how the plan was executed and lessons we've learned from that."

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said ERCOT could have asked utility companies to issue consumers warnings about conservation.

Turner said the blackout also raises concerns about rates for low-income Texans and he wants legislation calling for rate relief. The blackouts produced additional concerns.

"We want to make sure if we have an even hotter summer than in the past, they prepare for those circumstances right now," Turner said.

Fraser also complained in his letter to Hudson that there was not enough notice for law enforcement and legislators.

"It is my understanding that ERCOT made no attempt to contact appropriate members of the Legislature and the executive branch when yesterday's events became imminent," he wrote.

"It also appears that local law enforcement and emergency services were not notified by proper authorities."

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry said he was satisfied with ERCOT's response, saying the circumstances were extraordinary.

"At this particular point in time we feel comfortable that ERCOT handled it correctly," he said.

"I think it's important for the public to understand what happened," he said. "Yesterday was an absolute freak of nature, if you will."

The typical usage for Texas in April is about 40,000 megawatts a day, but the state pushed 52,000 megawatts on Monday, Wattles said.

ERCOT officials forecast a demand of about 53,000 megawatts for Tuesday, with a capacity of 58,000. The increase was a result of delaying some scheduled maintenance and activating power sources that were being worked on, officials said.

The rollouts were limited to the ERCOT grid, which provides electricity to about 80 percent of Texas.

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