Texas could experience significant power outages again this winter if the extreme weather strikes the state, according to a new report released Thursday by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the entity that enforces electric reliability rules for the federal government.
NERC’s 2021-2022 winter reliability assessment report said the risk of widespread outages in Texas is statistically very small this winter. But, if the state suffered another historic storm similar to the one that struck in February 2021, NERC’s modeling shows power reserve margins could fall short of the amount needed by as much as 37%. On a conference call with journalists on Thursday NERC officials said that sort of extreme scenario could cause widespread outages.
“To see what could happen under extreme cases in ERCOT, I think is very disappointing and something that we need to see how we can rectify,” said John Moura, NERC’s Director of Reliability Assessment.
But, NERC officials emphasized that the number of outages during a major storm could be significantly reduced if Texas power companies heed NERC’s warnings to better protect power plant equipment from the cold.
Many companies are already doing that.
Last month Vistra Corporation invited reporters to its power plant in Midlothian to show how the company is spending millions across its fleet, adding more equipment including heat tracing systems designed to prevent critical components of the plants from freezing.
Under new rules implemented by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, power plants are also now required to prevent equipment that froze in February from freezing again.
But during Thursday’s winter readiness presentation NERC officials said they’re seeing signs some operators still may not be ready.
“We're disheartened somewhat to see that a number of generators had not completed weatherization plans,” said Mark Olson, NERC Manager, Reliability Assessment.
ERCOT, which runs the power grid in Texas, has said it plans to inspect 300 power plants over the span of 21 days in December.
From new records revealing the causes of the massive February power outages to new interviews revealing potential solutions, NBC 5 Investigates gets to the bottom of the state's power problems in the ongoing streaming series "Powerless," available here.
In a recent interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Brad Jones, ERCOT’s interim president and CEO, said he believes by the time his inspection teams visit those plants most will be ready to perform much better than last winter.
“So we'll be able to look directly at those units that had problems during that storm and make sure that they are not only meeting the rules of the Public Utility Commission but also are making sure they addressed anything that was a problem during the last storm,” Jones said.
On Wednesday NBC5 Investigates reported Jones is still concerned about the readiness of the state’s natural system. A federal inquiry into the February disaster determined that shortages of natural gas were the second leading cause of outages at power plants.
The Texas Railroad Commission which regulates natural gas is considering a proposal that would allow gas companies to check a box on a one-page form and pay a $150 fee to opt-out of future winterization rules. Jones said he is hopeful the railroad commission will modify that proposal and not give gas companies an, “easy out.”
Railroad Commission officials told NBC 5 investigates the plan is not intended to provide an easy out and that the agency remains focused on ensuring the gas system can supply enough fuel to power plants in a crisis. The agency has also said it is sending inspectors to hundreds of gas facilities to make sure they are ready for the upcoming winter.
NERC regulators underscored concerns about the gas system Thursday, noting that even if power plants are better prepared for this winter, fuel limitations could lead to additional outages in extreme weather.