By Gary McWilliams
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texas' power grid operator on Wednesday cited 12 energy companies and two municipal utilities for failure to pay their bills for power and services during February's deadly blackout that has led to the ouster of the operator's chief executive.
The companies and utilities owe $2.21 billion for power and services during the storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the grid providing electricity to 90% of state residents, said.
In response to the blackouts, some of which ERCOT imposed to balance the grid after freezing generators went offline, the operator ousted Chief Executive Bill Magness, following calls for his resignation by state lawmakers.
The winter storm created a surge in electricity demand that overwhelmed the grid at the same time the cold temperatures and other faults knocked out nearly half the state's power plants. High prices for emergency fuel and power saddled the companies that sell, transmit and generate electricity in the state with about $47 billion in costs, an official estimated.
Texas consumers will see higher prices as the storm-related charges and unpaid fees are passed along to remaining providers.
An ERCOT spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Magness is still listed as CEO on the ERCOT website. He took on the role in 2016.
ERCOT FACES LAWMAKERS
ERCOT officials are scheduled to go before a Texas senate committee on Thursday that is delving into the grid failure and resulting financial crisis facing the state's power industry.
As part of its duties, ERCOT acts as a clearinghouse, collecting for power and paying the companies that provide the electrons. Defaulting companies can have their customers taken and their outstanding debts are reallocated to all grid users.
The largest of ERCOT's 14 debtors, Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc, filed for bankruptcy on Monday listing $1.8 billion owed to ERCOT. A Brazos spokesman did not reply to requests for comment.
The second-largest ERCOT debtor, Entrust Energy Inc, on Wednesday became the second electric provider cut from the grid in five days. It owed nearly $234,000. Entrust did not reply to a request for comment after normal business hours.
The first company dropped from the grid, Griddy Energy LLC, had its customers moved to other providers after failing to pay an undisclosed amount.
Vinnie Campo, the general manager of renewable power marketer Bulb US, said this week that he supports a proposal before the state's Public Utility Commission to roll back some $2 billion in service fees.
Bulb was cited on Tuesday as being $30,800 short on grid payments. However, a company spokeswoman said that amount was paid. Wednesday's list of debtors showed Bulb was $5.1 million in arrears on its ERCOT bills.
"Our primary focus through the storm and going forward is protecting customers from price increases and bill shock," said Campo. "The market is in need of fixing and fast," he said, criticizing storm price increases as a "windfall" for generators.
ERCOT's disclosure of those firms behind on their bills "is perfectly fair game," said Patrick Woodson, chief executive of retail power marketer ATG Clean Energy, whose company is not on the list.
"I hope they will apply the same standards to identifying the market participants who made massive profits during this disaster," he said.
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Christian Schmollinger)