Federal report finds more work is needed to prevent power outages during future winter storms

person on snowy road
Federal report finds more work is needed to prevent power outages during future winter storms. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)

Federal report finds more work is needed to prevent power outages during future winter storms. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)

Preliminary findings from federal regulators indicate that more needs to be done to weatherize the Texas power grid to prevent an outage similar to the one that happened in February.

Staff from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. drafted the report after reviewing the multiday outages Texas and some Midwest residents faced.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us. There was a similar inquiry after Texas experienced extreme cold weather in 2011, but those recommendations were not acted on,” FERC Chair Rich Glick said in a press release. “We can’t allow this to happen again. This time, we must take these recommendations seriously, and act decisively, to ensure the bulk power system doesn’t fail the next time extreme weather hits. I cannot, and will not, allow this to become yet another report that serves no purpose other than to gather dust on the shelf.”

What went wrong

The team examined the weather and its correlating effect on the power supply from Feb. 8-20 with the worst blackouts occurring from Feb. 15-18.


According to the report, the event was the largest controlled load shed—meaning companies reduced power availability more severely than ever before—and the third-worst blackout in the country.

Staff found February's storm was the fourth in ten years that threatened bulk power production.

While many power-generating companies were warned in early February about the weather, many still were unprepared for the severity of the storm later that month, according to the report.

In Texas, Oklahoma and Lousianna, natural gas production was reduced by more than 50% compared to its production levels earlier that month. Per the report, that loss accounted for 80% of the total power reduction seen throughout the lower 48 states from Feb. 15 to 20. In Texas, the available power during those days was half what it would normally be, the report authors found. At the lowest point, the state had access to about 20% of its normal power supply.

According to the report’s authors, this loss was due in large part to freezing infrastructure; much of the Southern U.S. generators’ infrastructure is exposed to the elements.

The problem in Texas was exacerbated by Texas’ independent grid, per the report. If Texas had an existing network to import power from other states, its blackouts would not have been so severe, though that would have reduced the extra energy available to other Southern and Midwestern states experiencing similar issues generating their own power.

The team drafted a list of 28 recommendations with suggested deadlines ranging from November 2021 to November 2023.

The report lists its nine key objectives, such as:

  • revisions to require generator owners to identify and protect cold weather-critical components;

  • building new or retrofit existing units to operate to specific ambient temperatures and weather based on extreme temperature and weather data;

  • taking into account effects of wind and precipitation in winterization plans;

  • corrective action plans for generator owners that experience freeze-related outages; and

  • ensuring the system operator is aware of the operating limitations in the generating fleet so it can plan mitigating actions.


Weatherizing

The first series of proposals targets generators to respond to a freezing event. Firstly, by November 2022 it asks the operators to identify what led to any outages during the freeze and to conduct an annual review of their cold weather preparedness.

The report also instructs operators to look at the effects precipitation would have on equipment during a winter storm and account for that in their planning.

By November 2023, the recommendations task operators with identifying and protecting infrastructure that is key to keeping the generator running in cold weather.

Calculating reliable power

The report states that each generator operator should calculate how much energy it could reliably produce and share that information to officials in charge of balancing the level of power available versus the level needed by November 2022.

Natural gas

One of the biggest issues during the freeze, the report found, was the inability for Texas and other affected states to rely on natural gas. As such, the report asks power operators to identify the “critical level” of natural gas needed to prevent a large-scale shutdown and put plans in place to prevent it from being reduced past that level in an emergency before November 2022.

Compensation

The report suggests local public utilities commissions should compensate generator operators for retrofitting or building new equipment to withstand harsh weather.

Government action

The report instructs local governments, including state legislatures, to require natural gas operators to have cold-weather plans and be prepared to operate in cold weather. To do this, it suggests operators cover key infrastructure, install heating systems or prepare backup equipment for critical sites.

Connecting Texas with the grid

The report suggests that Texas’ energy oversight organization, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, establishes connections with Mexico or infrastructure from other states. While most states share power grid services, Texas’ grid operates independently, one of the reasons Texas faced large-scale blackouts.

Other

Other recommendations include creating emergency response centers for future emergencies, creating plans to rapidly deplore response personnel in the face of an emergency and working to reduce the time of reporting generator outages.


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