Texas Electrical Grid Adapting to Coronavirus Challenge, Says State Senate Chairman

ERCOT Operations Center
File Photo: ERCOT

Officials responsible for ensuring the reliable supply of electricity to Texans have successfully adapted to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 health crisis, says the Texas Senate committee chairman responsible for oversight of the agency. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is currently operating under a COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness Plan to ensure delivery during the crisis.

“ERCOT and Texas utilities are no strangers to emergency preparedness,” State Senator Kelly Hancock (R, North Richland Hills), chairman of the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee that is responsible for oversight of ERCOT, told Breitbart Texas in response to an email inquiry. “They’re at the front lines of ensuring the electric grid is stable and the power is flowing, especially while so many of us are following public health guidance and staying home. That’s why we passed legislation last session to give them additional tools to protect against physical and cyber disruptions, and it’s why I am confident they are successfully adapting to this new challenge.”

An ERCOT official also spoke with Breitbart about the preparedness plan and expressed confidence they will be able to meet the state’s demands throughout the pandemic crisis.

“Everyone that can work from home is working from home,” ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko told Breitbart in a phone interview. “The crews who must work onsite are doing everything they can do to maintain social distancing and cleanliness requirements to keep workers from catching or spreading the virus.”

ERCOT provided Breitbart Texas with its ERCOT Pandemic Plan Preparations for Coronavirus (COVID-19) documented dated March 25. The document details public plans to protect employees and ensure ongoing operations.

The plans include a now mandatory work from home requirement for all employees and contractors who do not need to be on-site to perform their responsibilities.

“Almost everything can be done through the work from home program,” Sopko told Breitbart. “For those who do have to come in to work, we are implementing special procedures to make sure they are safe.”

Those procedures include:

  • At this time, anyone reporting to an ERCOT facility must agree to a temperature screen every time they come on-site. On-site workers have committed to rigorous social distancing, including inside the control room.
  • ERCOT is alternating shifts between its primary and backup control rooms. This allows for greater social distancing between grid operators.
  • Additionally, ERCOT is doing extensive cleaning of the control room and associated areas in between shifts, and each grid operator is also cleaning his/her own station and equipment again prior to the start of their shift. There are also established methods for disinfecting the doors used to enter the control rooms.
  • During this time, only grid operators and cleaning crews are allowed inside ERCOT’s control rooms.
  • Should a shelter-in-place order be mandated, grid operators have received an on-site critical infrastructure verification letter allowing them to continue working on-site.

Officials report they have contracted with a biological hazard disinfecting company to clean any facility that becomes contaminated.

Sopko said the operation of dual control rooms allows one room to be thoroughly cleaned while the second remains in operation.

Employees who must be physically on-site to perform their duties must agree to be screened for temperature or other symptoms prior to entering the facility. They are also required to maintain social distancing while working — even inside control rooms.

Texas State Senator Bob Hall (R-Rockwall) has long been an advocate for protecting the Texas electrical grid from terrorism and cyber attacks. During a phone interview, Hall expressed concern that others might see the current conditions as an opportunity to carry out an attack on the grid.

“This would be a prime time for a terrorist attack or a cyber attack,” Hall expressed. “A golden opportunity.”

Breitbart asked ERCOT spokeswoman Sopko about this. “It is certainly an issue we are mindful of,” she responded. “Attacks are something we prepare for all the time. We have told our employees to remain vigilant during this period.”

Texas has its own electrical grid. ERCOT is a member-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission and the Texas Legislature, according to the organization’s website. It is responsible for managing the flow of electricity from more than 650 generation points to more than 26 million Texas customers. ERCOT manages 90 percent of the electrical load in the state.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

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