Abbott’s campaign said the governor had no hand in directly setting energy prices during the 2021 winter storm that created billions in debt for power companies that are passing along the costs to Texans.
Abbott’s critics and his presumptive Democratic opponent in November’s election pounced on reports of testimony in federal court from former ERCOT CEO Bill Magness Wednesday.
Magness, during a bankruptcy trial in Houston on Tuesday, testified that Abbott had given orders to the Public Utility Commission to take any and all action to prevent further blackouts during the winter storm. The implication was that Abbott essentially ordered the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to artificially inflate electricity prices, which remained in place long after they were necessary.
Abbott campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Abbott had no hand indirectly setting pricing.
Magness, who was fired in the aftermath of the storm, told the court Wednesday that former Public Utility Commission Chairwoman DeAnn Walker had gotten the order from Abbott herself. Walker resigned from the commission amid the storm’s political fallout.
“She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume,” Magness testified, according to the Chronicle. “We needed to do what we needed to do to make it happen.”
To his critics, the implication was that Abbott ordered the price to stay at a $9,000 per megawatt-hour cap longer than necessary, a rate that is hundreds of times higher than the average price.
“Abbott screwed us, and he’ll continue to screw us until we vote him out,” O’Rourke said in a news release from his campaign. “He once again put the profits of his donors over the people of this state, which resulted in hundreds of Texans losing their lives and millions more losing their heat, electricity, and running water for days.”
Other lawmakers also took notice of Magness’ eye-popping testimony. Georgetown Republican state Sen. Charles Schwertner, the chairman of the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee, said Magness’ testimony contradicted testimony he gave to the committee following the winter storm.
“If true, this action misled the people of Texas and has put at peril the integrity of the Legislature,” Schwertner said on Twitter. “I plan to look into this issue further.”
The decision to inflate energy prices during the 2021′s winter storm created a windfall in profits for some power producers and natural gas companies, while several electric and gas utilities accrued billions in debt. Brazos Electric Cooperative, the largest in the state, filed for bankruptcy shortly after the storm.
But Texas ratepayers are set to be on the hook for paying off the debt. The Texas Legislature approved measures that allow those companies to enter into low-interest debt-financed by customer utility bills. Texans could be paying off those charges for decades to come.
Politically, Abbott’s opponents on both the left and right have made the power grid’s near-collapse the main talking point. O’Rourke often refers to the increase in Texans’ bills as the “Abbott Tax.”