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'We can't allow this happen again': New FERC report outlines blame for the Texas freeze blackouts

image credit: Christopher Neely
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Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

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  • Sep 27, 2021
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Estimates on the number of people who died due to the Texas winter storms and prolonged blackouts stand around 200. A new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that outlines the causes of the blackouts says the some of the harm could have been avoided if Texas power officials had listened to federal advice a decade earlier. 

The Texas freeze caused the state's power system to lose 61,800 MW of generation after 1,045 individual generators experienced more than 4,000 outages, derates or failures to start, according to the report. More than half of these outages happened due to natural gas units "that primarily faced fuel-supply challenges." 

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The report notes that Texas power officials had received recommendations following the 2011 winter storm that similarly forced outages across the state but the recommendations were ignored. 

"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 Richard Glick said. “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.”

Among the recommendations this time around were to require generators to winterize their units; build new or retrofit old units that can operate during extreme weather events and make sure the system operators understand the operating limits in the generator roster so they can adequately impose mitigation. 

The last point is crucial and was a blind spot in the Texas winter storms. ERCOT knew the storm was coming yet was unprepared for so many of their plants to go out. As plants went out, demand increased on the limited number of plants operating, then causing those plants to go out. It was a domino effect that could have been prepared for had ERCOT known which power plants would likely be impacted by cold weather. 

The largest cause, in the end, was freezing issues, which then triggered overloading, which then caused massive load shed across the state. The Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring the winterization of power plants but it is unknown how tight that regulation will be. After all, it is Texas. However, if the state wants to accommodate its growth as well as increasingly extreme weather, it will do itself a favor by ensuring these recommendations are obliged this time around. 

Find the FERC's full report here. 

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Larry Kauf on Sep 27, 2021

"After all, it is Texas".  Says it all.  There will be reports; there will be recommendations.  There will be lots of Table pounding and hand wringing.  What has actually been done since February to insure the security of the Grid and this happening again?  Has any Pipeline, winterized its lift stations?  Has any work been done on Wind Nacelles to get the winter "jube" in them?

Perhaps some others have actually heard or seen work being done in this direction.  Would be of interest.

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