12.10.21 – Texas Tribune – BY MITCHELL FERMAN
Ten months after a devastating winter storm crashed the state’s electrical grid, the majority of electric generation facilities have made the changes needed to protect their infrastructure from extreme cold, Texas electricity regulators said Friday in their first status report on power companies’ preparations.
While more than 70% of companies said they are ready for winter, some submitted “good-cause” exemption requests. Regulators said a majority of the requests “do not indicate that the plants will be unprepared to operate under extreme weather this winter,” said the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator that filed Friday’s report.
“Many of the requests are for extensions of a few weeks to complete weatherizing,” the commission said in a news release.
Calpine, which represents about 10% of the power generation capacity on the ERCOT grid, is one of those companies. Calpine told the grid operator that 25 of its power stations were not prepared for winter by the regulators’ Dec. 1 deadline. But a company spokesperson said weatherization upgrades are in progress at all of those facilities and will be complete by the end of December.
“We have invested tens of millions of dollars at these facilities and have taken steps to assure reliable fuel supply for the coming winter,” spokesperson Brett Kerr said in a statement to the Tribune. “In short, Calpine is ready to meet the call to produce the power Texans need to keep the lights on.”
Friday’s report, however, only covers the electricity generation piece of the state’s power grid supply chain. Regulators overseeing natural gas, which fuels a majority of power in Texas, including power plants, homes and businesses, have been moving more slowly on weatherization improvements.
The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s massive oil and gas industry, has not yet crafted weatherization standards for natural gas companies. A committee created by lawmakers in the spring has until September 2022 to identify and map the state’s natural gas infrastructure. Then the Railroad Commission will draft its weatherization rules.
In the short term, the agency has focused on ensuring that electricity transmission and distribution companies keep power flowing to gas production facilities in extreme weather. Representatives from the oil and gas industry have said companies were not previously required by the state to fill out paperwork that would have designated their infrastructure as critical — which would have alerted transmission companies to keep electricity flowing to their production sites even during an emergency.
As widespread freezing temperatures and skyrocketing demand during the February storm increased strain on the grid, power transmission utilities were ordered by ERCOT to preemptively cut power to homes and businesses to avoid a total collapse. In some cases, that shut off the fuel supply for power plants.
Friday’s report from ERCOT showed that several companies that generate wind power also submitted weatherization exemption requests. Several of those companies did not reply to requests for comment.
Gov. Greg Abbott initially blamed renewable energy failures for the February blackouts. Energy experts have said the Texas grid relies more on natural gas than any other energy source.
ERCOT usually doesn’t rely on energy generated by wind turbines during the winter because winds are weaker in cold weather, said Dr. Gürcan Gülen, a longtime energy economist with the University of Houston and University of Texas at Austin. “Then your dependence on gas-powered generation is even bigger,” he said.
Disclosure: Calpine, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.