How has the Texas power grid improved a year after its near collapse?
AUSTIN (Nexstar) – On Feb. 15, 2021, the Texas power grid was four minutes and 37 seconds from complete collapse, an event that would have triggered a “black start.” It would have taken months to repair Texas’ electrical infrastructure and left millions of people without power for that long.
The February 2021 freeze again left millions of Texans without power or heat for days, killing hundreds. A year later, Texas Democrats are still calling for more action.
“Texans are dead because of a failure of government,” State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said Tuesday from the Capitol.
She, alongside other House Democrats, held a day-long summit on the anniversary of the storm, hearing from victims, medical experts and energy analysts.
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Peter Lake sat down with Nexstar’s Maggie Glynn to talk about network changes since he took office in April last year.
Lake said as the anniversary approaches, the network is more reliable than ever.
“We’re absolutely confident that this grid – it’s more reliable – can absolutely handle any extreme weather event Mother Nature throws at us,” Lake said.
Lake pointed to legislation passed by Texas lawmakers last year that directed the PUC and ERCOT to make rapid changes.
“They have ordered the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT to implement these reforms and to implement them quickly. And we saw the result of that and how well the grid performed last week during the extreme weather event,” Lake said.
While the cold snap earlier this month doesn’t compare to conditions Texas experienced in February 2021, Lake pointed to the untapped energy supply available at this year’s event.
“We had enough excess electricity during peak demand, during this period, to cover the estimated demand for ‘Winter Storm Uri’ and more,” Lake explained.
The PUC has required that power generators be weatherized by December 1, 2021.
“ERCOT, whose responsibility it is to inspect each of these installations, we have done over 300 installations, and 99% of them have gone as planned,” said ERCOT Acting CEO Brad Jones. , at Nextstar this week.
“These are large thermal blankets, they are structures built around specific facilities, so that the wind chill does not have an impact, to block the wind. It’s heat tracing, which is just like a resistance heating element in your home, that will heat up a pipe to keep it warm,” Jones said.
These 324 facilities represent 85% of the state’s total electricity production.
These weatherization requirements were established based on past cold weather events. The next phase of weatherization obliges ERCOT to take climate change into account.
“That’s what this state climatologist is doing for us, helping us see what those potentials are for our future,” Jones explained.
The fuel that powers these generators, however, the natural gas suppliers, was not forced to tamper with until this winter. The Texas Railroad Commission is expected to officially roll out these requirements later this year, before next winter.
“I wish they had moved as quickly as the Public Utilities Commission to get something done before this winter. But they couldn’t,” Jones said.
“Regardless of their rules, however, I know that many of their suppliers have implemented weatherization on their facilities since last year. And the railroad commission has also required all major natural gas producers to sign up for uninterrupted electric service, I also think that’s a good thing, we want them to take that extra step,” added Jones.
Jones said ERCOT was also working on creating a “petrol office.” Currently, gas suppliers do not report to the state when they encounter issues that affect their ability to supply generators.
“We have maybe 15% of the information we need about our gas system. If we know more about the gas system, know what, what operational problems, maybe there is a compressor that does not work, or maybe there is a maintenance plan on the installation , if we have that information that makes our whole system more reliable,” Jones continued. .
Jones said this would allow ERCOT to work ahead and avoid generators needing to disconnect.
“To ensure companies would move their planned maintenance, outage opportunities, moving areas where it could create a reliability risk to the rest of the network,” Jones said.
Apart from the physical changes, the legislation passed last year also aims to improve inter-agency communication and cooperation.
“We saw them in action in February  winter weather event, where for the first time ever, the PUC, ERCOT, Railroad Commission, TxDOT and TCEQ are all operating side-by-side,” Lake said.
The Texas Energy Reliability Council was also formed as a result.
“For the first time, the oil and gas industry regulator, power producer and companies from each of these respective industries are meeting regularly to communicate directly before any issues arise,” Lake explained.
These conversations, so far, have taken place behind closed doors.
“These conversations identify issues that could arise, issues that people see looming on the horizon. And so these private companies and companies can talk to each other before there is a problem,” Lake explained.
This is only the first set of reforms implemented by the PUC.
“We have identified the reforms. We have stabilized the network operationally. So we know the reforms we are going to put in place. And so now we are in blocking and fighting mode, implementing these reforms,” Lake said.
The commission also assesses demand-side response for future load shedding events.
“Demand response is an important part of the equation, we have implemented a new reform for our industrial demand response program which in the past had been buried behind emergency conditions and could not only be used at the edge of blackouts,” Lake said.