Texas power grid operator ERCOT has two new governing board members. One is an oil and gas executive and the other new board member is leading the effort to build the first high-speed rail line in Texas.
The Public Utility Commission PUC) announced that Paul Foster, who serves as Executive Chairman at Western Refining and Dr. Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central Railway will help shape a vision of new leadership at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Aguilar's company will be a future user of the electric grid as overhead catenary power will run the planned bullet trains at up to 200 miles per hour between Dallas and Houston. Foster will serve as the chair of the ERCOT board.
Aguilar's appointment to ERCOT surely sends a positive sign for high-speed rail from the state's top three leaders, Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick and Speaker Phelan. Aguilar's company, Texas Central, had ruffled the feathers of some rural lawmakers over the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the 240-mile long rail line. During the 2021 regular session a number of bills were filed to kill the high-speed rail project but the bills did not pass. The passenger rail project continues to garner strong support from North Texas and the Greater Houston region.
The ERCOT board was reshaped by Senate Bill 2, which shrunk the number of board members from 16 to 11 and gave the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the Texas House power over the selection of eight members. Six remaining open seats on the ERCOT board are expected to be named in the next several months. The other three spots on ERCOT's leadership team include the chairman of the PUC, the Public Counsel at the Office of Public Utility Counsel and the CEO of ERCOT.
PUC board members are appointed by the governor.
"The good news only adds to the remarkable progress that ERCOT and the PUC have made in stabilizing the grid to ensure reliable power generation for Texas,” said PUC Chairman Peter Lake. “With these initial selections, the Board Selection Committee has chosen exceptional leaders to guide ERCOT into the future.”
Foster's background includes a stint as chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and on several other state boards. Foster is a major GOP donor from El Paso and was involved in purchasing a refinery out of bankruptcy, founding Western Refining Company, which then expanded with the purchase of other refineries and convenience stores. The company was sold to Tesoro in 2016 for $6.4 billion.
Outraged lawmakers reshaped ERCOT during the 2021 regular legislative session after February's winter storm shut down power to millions of Texans for days. Five of the sixteen board members resigned in the wake of the winter crisis when it was revealed that they didn't have a personal stake because they didn't even live in Texas.