Despite requests from the Public Information Act, ERCOT refuses to publish files on the February power grid outage
Potentially vital information about decisions made before, during and after this winter’s power grid outage may never be known.
ERCOT, the nonprofit that manages the Texas power grid, is not subject to the Texas Public Information Act and has previously denied requests for information.
FOX 4’s Blake Hanson and other reporters asked ERCOT for tapes to see how he handled preparation and response to the February storm. Things like text messages, emails, and recorded calls.
For the most part, when reporters request files, the attorney general acts as a sort of judge to determine what gets published.
But a GA notice now means that the ERCOT has a separate set of rules, in part its own rules, for the dissemination of information.
There were probably few state government agencies less well-known than ERCOT before February, but when the state’s power grid warped in a winter storm, it came under intense scrutiny, especially during the legislative session this spring.
Months later, questions remain about ERCOT’s handling of the crisis.
ERCOT recently informed FOX 4 and other news outlets seeking information under the Texas Public Information Act that the Texas Attorney General “has determined that the TPIA does not apply to ERCOT.”
Instead, ERCOT said it was governed by its own policy, overseen by the Public Services Commission.
“I think the public ultimately needs to be watched, and if you do something else you’re not going to get it fixed,” said Joe Larsen of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Larsen is a lawyer specializing in media and public information.
He said there is not enough oversight when the Utilities Commission is in charge.
“The GA is not as strong as it used to be anyway, but it’s a step,” he said. “You take it a step further by giving the PUC full control over what gets published. That’s all. They don’t respond to anyone. These are their procedures.”
ERCOT did not respond to FOX 4’s request for an interview. However, a spokesperson said, “ERCOT has and will continue to be responsive to public information requests in accordance with PUC rules. Our robust process and transparent is described on the ERCOT website. “
Larsen believes the public information law has eroded in Texas over the years.
He hopes this latest move will help spark people’s interest in its importance.
“People don’t like to send 48 hours in freezing cold and then not be told exactly why it happened. You know, it’s an abstract discussion for most people, the law on the public information, until something like that happens and it takes the abstract and makes it very personal, ”Larsen said.
ERCOT said FOX 4’s request was closed, releasing no information.
They argue that information falls under their exceptions because the records relate to pending or planned legislation and critical infrastructure.