PEC board looks at power supply matters in executive session workshop
A rare executive session workshop of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors lasted about 3½ hours Tuesday, Aug. 30. The session was held to update the board on changes regarding power supply matters, said a PEC spokesperson.
“In the last session, the (Texas) Legislature passed laws that restructured things,” said J.P. Urban, executive vice president of External Relations at PEC. “ERCOT is going through a new process and new protocols, and the (Public Utility Commission) is also contemplating different changes to the wholesale market. A lot of this is the result of Winter Storm Uri.”
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state’s power grid, came under scrutiny during the 2021 legislative session after Winter Storm Uri in February of that year left more than 4.8 million homes and businesses without power for days. The storm resulted in 246 deaths, according to numbers released by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
New legislation required ERCOT to upgrade power generators to better withstand extreme weather, tasked the Texas Railroad Commission with inspections, and set fines of up to $1 million for non-compliance.
Senate Bill 2 also overhauled ERCOT’s governing structure. The number of board members was reduced to 11 from 16, and eight of them must be selected by a three-member committee appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house.
The bill ties ERCOT rule adoption to the Public Utility Commission, which now must approve all changes rather than only review them. PUC’s governing structure was also altered, increasing the number of board members to five from three.
All board members for both ERCOT and PUC must live in the state of Texas. Not all of the ERCOT board members did at the time of the winter storm.
“It’s a changing dynamic that continually affects pricing in the wholesale electric market and could affect how we purchase power and best represent our members,” Urban said. “The information gained here will help inform the board in their decision making.”
What can be discussed in executive sessions by public cooperatives differs from the rules for government entities such as city councils, county commissioners courts, and school boards.
“Cooperatives are nonprofit, private corporations, not government bodies,” said attorney Don Richards of Lubbock, who was on duty with the Freedom of Information Hotline the week DailyTrib.com called for clarification on the Open Records/Public Information Act. “They put themselves under their own open meetings, open records policies.”
Richards should know. He served as special counsel to the PEC for about six years under General Manager John Hewa, who resigned from his position in May 2017 after four years.
According to Richards, he helped write the policies the cooperative currently uses to determine what is discussed in executive session versus open session. Urban explained the reasoning.
“The purpose of an executive session is to discuss sensitive matters that deal with power supply in competitive markets and contractural obligations,” he said. “We don’t operate any different than any other cooperative in the country. In fact, I think we are among the most transparent.”
Richards said the same thing in his discussion with DailyTrib.com.
“PEC opened itself up about 15 years or so ago,” he said. “Though technically, it is not a government body.”
Agenda items discussed in the executive session workshop on Tuesday included strategies and assessments of:
- power supply matters, including power supply portfolio review and power supply contract matters;
- financial planning scenarios, including operational expense and capital budgets;
- facilities and real estate;
- safety matters;
- electric system and its security and reliability;
- and structure of the organization and its departments