Despite Public Information Act requests, ERCOT refuses to release records on February's power grid failure

Potentially vital information about the decisions made before, during, and after this winter's power grid failure may never be known.

ERCOT, the not-for-profit that manages Texas’ electrical grid, is not subject to Texas’ Public Information Act, and has already denied requests for information.

FOX 4’s Blake Hanson and other journalists have sought records from ERCOT to see how it handled the lead up and response to February’s storm. Things like text messages, emails, and recorded calls.

For the most part, when journalists request records, the attorney general acts as sort of judge to determine what will be released.

But an AG opinion now means ERCOT has a separate set of rules, in part its own rules, for releasing information.

There were probably few agencies in the state government that were less-known than ERCOT before February, but when the state's power grid buckled under a winter storm, it was opened to scrutiny, especially during this spring’s legislative session.

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’s governed by its own policy, overseen by the Public Utility Commission.

"I feel the public needs to be ultimately given oversight to this, and if you’re doing anything else, you’re not going to get it fixed," said Joe Larsen with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

Larsen is an attorney with expertise in media and public information.

He said there’s not enough oversight when the Public Utility Commission is in charge.

"The AG isn’t as strong as it used to be in any way, shape, or form, but that’s one step," he said. "You go even one step further away by giving the PUC complete control basically over what gets released. That’s it. They don’t answer to anybody. It’s 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 and transparent process is outlined on the ERCOT website."

Larsen believes the Public Information Act has eroded in Texas over the years.

He’s hopeful this latest decision helps generate people’s interest in its importance.

"People don’t like sending 48 hours in brutal cold, and then not being told exactly why it happened. You know, it’s an abstract discussion for most people, the Public Information Act, until something like this happens and it kind of takes it out of the abstract and makes it very personal," Larsen said.

ERCOT said FOX 4’s request was closed, releasing no information.

They argue the information falls within their exceptions because documents are tied to pending or anticipated legislation and critical infrastructure.