Concerns Arise Over TX Power Grid Weatherizing

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2021


As winter approaches, Texas energy companies are gearing up weatherize their plants to prevent a repeat of this year’s blackouts.

In February, Winter Storm Uri caused millions of Texas consumers to lose power after the state’s power grid system failed.

Located on an island, the Texas grid isn't connected to the country’s two major power grids, leaving federal agencies unable to create regulations. With decisions over the grid left up to state lawmakes, a proposal by the Texas Railroad Commission issued in September laid out a timeline to identify, map and impose weatherization mandates for gas producers by early 2023.

Companies are reportedly able to opt out of “critical infrastructure” classification to avoid the weatherization requirements.

According to NBC News, Todd Staples, President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said gas companies already weatherize to varying degrees and “are working with a sense of urgency.”

Staples said more than 1,000 facilities out of more than 250,000 statewide have filled out the paperwork to be considered critical facilities.

Electric companies, including Oncor, AEP Texas, CenterPoint and Texas-New Mexico Power Co., have already filed a comment with the commission arguing that the proposed rule was too vague and that it “does not provide information electric utilities will need in order to efficiently and effectively incorporate natural gas facilities into their respective” emergency plans.

“If we see a recurrence of the storm we saw last year, people should probably be worried,” said Adrian Shelley, the Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

What Happened

On Feb. 14, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) asked consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity use due to anticipated record electric use during the impending Texas freeze.

"We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas," said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness. "At the same time, we are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units."

The next day, ERCOT issued an Energy Emergency Alert as outages began increasing, citing “extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable.”

The winter storm left 4.8 million homes and businesses in Texas without electricity, heat and clean water for several days in subfreezing temperatures, and more than 200 people died.

In an interview with NBC News, Curt Morgan, CEO of Texas’ largest power generator Vistra Corp., said he’d never seen anything like it in his 40 years in the industry. The company sent as much energy as it could to the state’s failing power grid, “often at the expense of making money,” he told legislators.

In response to the disaster, Governor Greg Abbot signed legislation into law in June to prepare, prevent and respond to weather emergencies and power outages.

Senate Bill 3 required weatherization upgrades for power generators and transmission lines. The Texas Railroad Commission and ERCOT would reportedly conduct inspections of facilities and could penalize for up to $1 million if failed.

However, the bill did receive criticism as it did not provide direct aid to individuals impacted by the storm or fund backup power generation for critical facilities such as hospitals.

“Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Abbott said at the signing press conference.

The bill also outlined requirements to study and implement a power outage emergency alert system for the state in the event of weather emergencies, as well as provide disaster preparedness education.

However, Morgan said one of the bigger issues is the supply of natural gas, and if another freeze hits this winter, “the same thing could happen.” During the storm, 14 Vistra power plants that run on gas ran without enough fuel. After spending $1.5 billion for what gas they could purchase, the facilities were reportedly only able to run at 30% capacity.

“Why couldn’t we get it?” Morgan asked recently. “Because the gas system was not weatherized. And so we had natural gas producers that weren’t producing.”

ERCOT added that at least 20% of the outages the week of the storm were due to power plants’ not getting enough gas, reportedly due to outages, frozen equipment and weather conditions.

In October, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which is reportedly designing the weatherization requirements for power plants, passed a short-term rule for companies to submit a report to regulators by Dec. 1 how they’re preparing their plants for winter.

Requirements included preparations for cold temperature operations, fixing any known issues from the previous winter season and training on winter preparedness.

“We’ve got to make sure this is in place for this winter,” the PUC's Chair, Peter Lake, said during the meeting. “This rulemaking will be a big step to ensuring that the physical resilience of our grid is vastly improved this winter over last winter.”

FERC Winterization Report

The Federal Electric Reliability Corporation recently released a report on the impact of the February winter storm on the Texas electrical system. The report also outlines the need to strengthen rules for cold weather preparedness and coordination to prevent future blackouts from happening.

“Extreme weather events, such as the one in February 2021, are unfortunately becoming more commonplace and the electricity ecosystem needs to come together to plan for and prepare to operate under more extreme, longer duration, and wide area weather events,” Jim Robb, the President and CEO of North American Electric Reliability Corp., said in a statement. 

Details in the report cite that a combination of freezing issues and fuel issues caused unplanned outages:

  • 81% of freeze-related generating unit outages occurred at temperatures above the units’ stated ambient design temperature;
  • 87% of unplanned generation outages due to fuel issues were related to natural gas, predominantly related to production and processing issues, while 13% involved issues with other fuels such as coal or fuel oil; and
  • Natural gas fuel supply issues were caused by natural gas production declines, with 43.3% of natural gas production declines caused by freezing temperatures and weather, and 21.5% caused by midstream, wellhead or gathering facility power losses, which could be attributed either to rolling blackouts or weather-related outages such as downed power lines.

“The final report on Winter Storm Uri is a sobering analysis that highlights the significant work that needs to be done. I previously committed to take the recommendations seriously, and I plan to do exactly that,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said. “The devastating effects of extreme cold on our bulk power system’s ability to operate in 2011 and now, 2021, must not be allowed to happen again. We have a duty to protect the bulk power system and public safety and we will do just that.”

The FERC report includes 28 formal recommendations to prevent an outage recurrence this year, such as old weather impacts on mechanical and electrical components, utilization of weather forecasts to better predict electric demand, increasing the ability to rotate rolling blackouts and additional study of the ERCOT system’s reliability issues.

The full report can be viewed here.

   

Tagged categories: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Power; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Regulations

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