AUSTIN, Texas — Officials with the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas are reassuring Texans that the power grid is prepared to withstand severe weather this winter, but energy experts are concerned that vulnerabilities still exist.
What You Need To Know
- The PUC has implemented winterization requirements for power plants and have already begun enforcement inspections, with more than 300 expected by the end of the month
- The Railroad Commission recently passed a rule requiring essential natural gas facilities to register as “critical infrastructure” so they won't be impacted by rolling blackouts in severe weather
- The PUC has already filed violation reports for eight power generation companies that failed to file their winter readiness reports by the deadline
- With many power plants dependent on natural gas for fuel, the lack of weatherization standards for natural gas infrastructure could be a problem this winter, like it was in February
“At both ERCOT and the PUC, we are operating at lightning speed to improve operations, enhance our grid and ensure reliability for this winter," said Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission. “The lights are going to stay on this winter.”
In a press conference Wednesday, Lake said the PUC and ERCOT have acquired more generators and improved emergency operations and communication.
The PUC also addressed the wholesale price of electricity in the state, cutting the maximum megawatt per hour charge nearly in half.
But most importantly, they’ve implemented winterization requirements for power plants and have already begun enforcement inspections, with more than 300 expected by the end of the month.
"Those inspections will comprise 85% of the lost megawatt hours during the storm," said Brad Jones, interim CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
“We are increasing penalties for violations of those winterization standards to up to $1 million per day, which is an unprecedented level of penalty. And I will remind folks that that is $1 million per day per incident. We're grateful for the generators who have been proactive and preparing their power plants for this winter, which is the majority of our fleet. Those who have not been proactive will be penalized swiftly and heavily," said Lake.
The PUC has already filed violation reports for eight power generation companies that failed to file their winter readiness reports by the deadline.
"I think it's fair to say that there have been improvements made. The winterization rule the PUC passed for power plants is a pretty good one. By their own telling it's a phase 1. They still need to do a phase 2. So there's still a lot of work to be done," said Doug Lewin, energy consultant and president of Stoic Energy.
But while power plants and electricity providers are being required to winterize, energy experts say the same isn’t true for natural gas facilities, which are overseen by the Railroad Commission.
Capital Tonight reached out to the Railroad Commission for comment but they didn't provide any further information.
“The PUC and ERCOT are both in kind of a tough spot because the Railroad Commission needs to do its job and winterize gas supply, and the Legislature gave them a deadline that's still more than a year out," said Lewin. "Gas supply was the the biggest problem [during the February storm]. It was going out in advance of the power plants going out. So that was a huge hole in the legislation," said Lewin, referring to SB3, the major weatherization bill lawmakers passed during the legislative session this year.
The Railroad Commission recently passed a rule requiring essential natural gas facilities to register as “critical infrastructure” so they won't be impacted by rolling blackouts in severe weather.
But that doesn’t currently include any weatherization requirements, and won’t, until officials have completed a map of the natural gas supply chain.
“Executive director Thomas Gleason said they're going to produce their first map by the end of April. That would start the six month clock and have the Railroad Commission passing some kind of a winterization requirement by October. But what exactly that means, like what kind of standard that that would be, how strong it would be [is unclear], and based on the Railroad Commission's history of light regulation, I don't have a high degree of confidence that that's going to be a strong rule," said Lewin.
With many power plants dependent on natural gas for fuel, the lack of weatherization standards for natural gas infrastructure could be a problem this winter like it was in February.
“You own a car and you take your car in for all the scheduled maintenance. You get your oil changed and make sure your tires have enough air and you do everything just right. If you don't put gas in your car, it's not going to run. So it's the same with power plants. If the power plants winterize, they put in windbreaks, they insulate their pipes, they put in, you know, air dryers to keep things dry, from freezing up, they do all of that. If they can't get gas to the plant, the plant is not running," said Lewin.
That is a fact that, despite the PUC's reassurances, Texans are likely to keep in mind.
Texas Democrats see focusing on the grid failures as part of a winning campaign strategy in 2022. Mike Collier, who's running for lieutenant governor, coined the slogan "fix the damn grid" as one of his campaign's top priorities. Click the video link above to watch our full interview with Collier and his response to the latest actions regarding the power grid.