Texas Grid Wobbles, but Holding in Winter Storm

February 3, 2022

WFAA Dallas:

DALLAS — Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) say they’ve received notice from natural gas providers of “some instances” of reduction in supply in the North Texas area, though energy experts don’t anticipate a major impact on the statewide power grid.

The reductions, known as curtailments, are expected to result in a loss of energy reserves between 1,200 and 2,600 megawatts, according to ERCOT.

Power generators that are impacted by the curtailments “will be able to use alternative fuels stored onsite or use alternative pipelines,” ERCOT officials told WFAA.

While the impact of the loss in megawatts remained unclear Wednesday, 1,200-2,600 megawatts can power anywhere between 60,000-520,000 homes at peak demand, according to estimates on ERCOT’s website and an energy expert.

Still, ERCOT officials have remained confident in the state power grid, saying Wednesday that the grid remained “strong” heading into the winter storm.

ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said “there is always a chance for local” outages during winter storms, due to ice and fallen tree limbs. But Jones said local outages “are not related to the amount of electricity generated and put on the grid.”

“While grid conditions remain strong with enough capacity, our weather forecasts show there is potential for significant frozen precipitation behind this week’s cold front,” Jones said.

Texas over the last year has implemented winterization requirements for energy providers, in the wake of last year’s February storm, which knocked out power for millions of Texans.

However, providers of natural gas, which fuels Texas power plants, were not required to winterize their equipment. Legislation passed by lawmakers required natural gas providers that identified as part of the electric supply chain be winterized by the winter of 2023.

Energy experts on Wednesday said the projected gas curtailments would likely not have a major impact on the state power grid. Unlike last year, this week’s storm is not expected to be a statewide event and will likely be limited to North Texas and Central Texas.

“These magnitudes of curtailment are not surprising and evidence of the limitations of natural gas as a reliable fuel for generators in cold conditions,” said Beth Garza, a senior energy fellow at the R Street Institute. “As long as Houston, Corpus, and the Valley stay above freezing, this coming weather will be a nonevent from a state wide supply perspective.”

Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources at the University of Texas, said the gas curtailments, if limited to North Texas, likely won’t pose a problem.

“I think ERCOT isn’t too worried because it’s an isolated curtailment and some of the power plants in North Texas have spent the last year getting backup fuel on site,” Webber said. “However, if there are widespread curtailments, ERCOT will be very nervous.”  

Associated Press:

Warming of the Arctic caused by climate change has increased the number of polar vortex outbreaks, when frigid air from the far north bathes the central and eastern United States in killer cold, a study finds.

The study in the journal Science Thursday is the first to show the connections between changes in the polar region and February’s Valentine’s Week freeze that triggered widespread power outages in Texas, killing more than 170 people and causing at least $20 billion in damage.

The polar vortex normally keeps icy air trapped in the Arctic. But warmer air weakens the vortex, allowing it to stretch and wander south. The number of times it has weakened per year has more than doubled since the early 1980s, said study lead author Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside of Boston.

“It is counterintuitive that a rapidly warming Arctic can lead to an increase in extreme cold in a place as far south as Texas, but the lesson from our analysis is to expect the unexpected with climate change,” Cohen said.

Climate scientists are still debating how and whether global warming is affecting cold snaps — they know it’s reducing the overall number of cold days, but they are still trying to understand if it leads to deeper cold snaps.

Cohen’s study is the first to use measurements of changes in the atmosphere to help explain a phenomenon that climate models had struggled to account for.

Cohen’s study “provides a potentially simpler interpretation of what’s going on,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn’t part of the study.

Cohen was able to show how there have been dramatic differences in warming inside the Arctic itself, which drives how the polar vortex can stretch and weaken.

When the area north of England and around Scandinavia warms more than the area around Siberia, it stretches the polar vortex eastward and the cold air moves from Siberia north over the polar region and then south into the central and eastern part of the United States.

“The Texas cold blast of February 2021 is a poster child” for the link between a changing Arctic and cold blasts in lower latitudes, said climate scientist Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod. She helped pioneer the Arctic link theory, but wasn’t part of Cohen’s research. “The study takes this controversial hypothesized linkage and moves it solidly toward accepted science,” she said.

I keep posting this reality check on last year’s storm, because repetition is critical in this messaging, as Fox News knows.


One Response to “Texas Grid Wobbles, but Holding in Winter Storm”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The whole pandemic/supply-chain issue is slowing access to new appliances. I got my house heat-pump and my water heater HP, but it looks like the wait for the induction cook top to replace my gas cook top will take a while.

    I’m so sick of the extra billing from Texas Gas Service since last February’s freeze that I think I’ll just shut off my gas before I get the new top and just live with a plug-in on the counter until the integrated one is available.

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