Is Texas Ready for the Next Big Freeze?

November 8, 2021

Spectrum News El Paso

AUSTIN, Texas — Winter is coming and many Texans are still having vivid flashbacks to February’s deadly storm. But energy regulators announced late last week they will enforce new mandates.

The Public Utility Commission approved a new rule requiring power companies to better prepare for winter weather. They’re based on recommendations from 2011 that were never acted upon. The rule also requires power plants to fix “acute” issues from the February 2021 winter storm that left millions without power.

“I think the rule is actually a really good step in the right direction. There’s a lot left undone. Some of which is within the PUC’s control and some of which is not,” said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and the president of Stoic Energy.

But there’s still concern the power grid won’t be ready for this winter. Lewin said had the rules from 2011 been implemented, Texans could have avoided the tragedy seen in February.

“It’s tragic to think that had we had those in place, a lot of people would still have their lives and a lot of damage would have been avoided. You can’t go back and change that but the point is now, is to get this right,” he said.

Lewin pointed to problems with a proposed rule from the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry. The rule allows exemptions on weatherization for natural gas suppliers if they pay $150.

“I follow this very closely. I do not have confidence we are ready for this winter. I don’t have confidence the things they’re doing are going to have us ready for next winter for that matter,” he said.

Lewin noted February’s storm was historic, but that it could happen more frequently and Texas needs to be prepared

“Obviously that was a wild storm and hopefully we won’t have another storm like that. But hope is not a strategy. We need to harden our system,” he said.

WFAA Dallas:

With 67 days until the official start of winter, the threat of another widespread electric failure in Texas remains a possibility, one CEO said, as long as natural gas producers in the state are not required to weatherize their equipment.

“I will tell you I’m still worried,” said Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp.  “If we have another event like [February’s Winter Storm] Uri this winter, we are not out of the woods. There’s no doubt about it.”

The Irving-based company is the largest electric producer in Texas.

On Friday, it gave rare access inside one of its power plants to show the weatherization efforts that have quietly been underway for months.

Vistra’s power plant in Midlothian, a combined cycle [natural] gas turbine facility, can produce about 1,600 megawatts of electricity at full capacity, which is enough to power 800,000 homes. Natural gas fuels this facility.

For months, Vistra has upgraded its weatherization here and at the other 19 facilities it operates in Texas.

Though state and federal regulators have not yet announced minimum standards for weatherization, Vistra said its facilities would be able to withstand temperatures of -5 degrees.

Across the system, Vistra is reinsulating pipes, adding heaters to them and even trucked in 2,000,000 gallons of diesel that can power back-up generators for up to a week in case they have to be turned on.

“So, no one told us to go out and do this. We knew it needed to get done,” Morgan explained.

Vistra said it is spending $50 million on weatherization this year and an additional $30 million next year. The investments for reliability are small considering February’s winter storm cost the company an estimated $2 billion.

The Midlothian plant did not go down during the February freeze. It just had to scale back to 30% capacity because it couldn’t get enough natural gas.

Eight months later, that’s still the concern.

Electric plants are preparing for winter but natural gas producers in Texas are not required to do the same.

Problem is, about half of all electric generation facilities in Texas run on natural gas.

“Natural gas is fundamental to electricity. Electricity is fundamental to everyday life,” Morgan said. “I’m hoping that the [Texas] Railroad Commission [which regulates natural gas producers] will take this even more serious and actually push their constituents to weatherize sooner and register [as critical infrastructure] for this winter. Even though the process in Senate Bill 3 gives them through 2022 to do most of the work, I hope they accelerate that, and they take it serious what the legislature has told them recently that it’s unacceptable not to be prepared for this winter.”

4 Responses to “Is Texas Ready for the Next Big Freeze?”

  1. jimbills Says:

    The gas freezes at the wellheads (due to the use of water in fracking), the plants can’t get the gas, the electricity demand goes up while the supply does down, the grid shuts down. That’s the problem. Texas responded by requiring the plants be weatherized, but not the wellheads. NG suppliers get a laughably light slap on the wrist if they don’t operate during a freeze, but that’s a far lower cost to them than actualizing winterizing each well. Of course Texas isn’t prepared.

    The Texas legislature made it look to the public like something was being done while actually doing almost nothing. Sound familiar?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      As bad as it was, grid-savvy people were more worried about how close the system came to total collapse that would have taken out much of the grid for weeks if not months.

      ERCOT has to anticipate well-heads freezing and how to manage the load drops in a non-catastrophic way.

      Luckily, I could heat my well-insulated house to a toasty 43°F with my gas range-top running continuously during the 4+ days I was out of power, and it turns out I haven’t made the change to induction cooking because the type of kitchen ranges I want are out of stock (supply chain), so I can fall back on that again unless I lose gas.

    • greenman3610 Says:

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Texas (Republican) government is pretty much captured by the oil and gas industry. Abbott works for them.

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