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Statement: February 17, 2011
Docket No. AD11-9-000

Statement of Commissioner John R. Norris on recent inquiry into outages in Texas and the Southwest

"I appreciate the Chairman highlighting this issue today. I believe that the Notice of Inquiry we issued earlier this week focuses on the most important next steps regarding this matter.

I was in Houston during the time of the outages there and had a small glimpse at the enormous disruption that occurred. When outages like this occur, human health and safety is put at risk and there are significant financial costs to businesses and individuals. Before I left town that day, some were already making accusations about the cause of these outages. While emotions may run high in these situations, jumping to conclusions before all the facts are known is not helpful.

For these reasons, I am glad we are focusing our initial efforts on gathering the facts and identifying the true causes of these disruptions. This is an essential first step because you cannot solve a problem until you identify why you had the problem in the first place. If there were violations of reliability standards or other rules and regulations, then we should hold the violators accountable. But, we should not rush to judgment before the facts are known. To do so can cause unjustified harm to individuals and utility businesses who are not at fault.

We can also use what we learn during our inquiry to help us both try to prevent similar events in the future, and better respond to such events if they do occur. This kind of analysis regarding significant reliability events benefits everyone. It helps utilities around the country to know how to prevent similar future reliability events or better address their impacts if they do occur, assisting them in avoiding widespread outages that impact customers and cause financial and safety concerns. Further, given our jurisdiction with respect to both gas and electricity markets, I think we may be in a very good position to consider the larger impacts of these events.

As a final note, I know that NERC is working on an important process for performing significant event analyses. I applaud NERC's work on this issue because we must make sure that we do not lose sight of the lessons we can learn from significant reliability events. While addressing compliance and enforcement is necessary in a mandatory reliability standards regime, I am glad we are giving attention to the value of lessons learned as well."