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30 years of warnings to winterize Texas power plants, but they still froze. Will Austin finally need it?




ERCOT, which is not a state agency but a non-profit organization run by an unelected board of directors, would not release a list of failed power generation facilities this week.

State officials have failed to ensure Texas power plants can operate in extreme winter conditions despite three decades of warnings and multiple instances of the same facilities failing storm after storm, according to regulatory documents uncovered by the WFAA.

Twenty-six power generators that failed in a 2011 winter storm also failed in a similar storm in 1989, according to a review of the 2011 event prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

This review was very critical of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which oversees the state power grid, for failing to ensure that private owners of power generators spend enough money to tamper with their equipment so that it can operate in extremely cold weather.

According to the 2011 federal report, the majority of generator problems in 2011 resulted from failures of the same type of equipment that had failed in the previous event (1989). And in many cases, these failures were suffered by the same generators.

The 2011 review cites an inventory of the 1989 storm: The almost complete loss of the ERCOT network raises awareness that, even in Texas, power plant operators must prepare for emergencies in cold weather This awareness and attention to cold weather issues need to be pursued.

The 2011 report continues: Texas has now experienced this second event, and the answer is clearly that the corrective actions were either not adequate or were not maintained. Generators were not required to implement cold weather preparedness measures, and efforts in this regard have failed over time. It is also possible that the new owners or new staff of the plant may not have had the historical perspective of making these efforts a priority, at least in the absence of demands imposed from the outside.

This week, history repeated itself.

Nearly 4 million Texans have lost power in the past four days in a record-breaking winter storm that caused a near-total collapse of the states’ electricity grid. Experts say the grid, by design, is cut off from supply to the rest of the country and largely powered by market forces that prioritize cheap electricity rates over reliability.

ERCOT, which is not a state agency but a non-profit organization run by an unelected board of directors with several members living out of state on Thursday, would not release a list of facilities for power generation that failed this week.

This information will be available in our post-event report, said Leslie Sopko, spokesperson for ERCOT. Right now, our priority is to restore power to customers.

So it’s not clear how many of those power generation facilities that failed this week have also failed in past storms. It is also unclear which failed due to climate aging issues and which failed because there was not enough natural gas to fuel them. Most state power plants run on natural gas.

Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOTS, said on a media call Thursday morning that because he and others had been busy coordinating the restoration of power, ERCOT had yet to do a full analysis of reasons why various generator sets have stopped working.

What mattered was getting them back on the network and having them serve customers, he said.

In the aftermath of the 2011 storm, then senator Glenn Hegar, now comptroller of states, drafted legislation requiring power producers to file tampering reports with the Public Utilities Commission, or PUC .

The law also directed the PUC, in consultation with ERCOT, which the PUC oversees, to review the plans, analyze and determine whether those plans are adequate to ensure the reliability of the electricity grid for the summer or the summer. winter ahead; and make recommendations on how climate aging procedures could be improved.

Hegar told the WFAA that given the events of the past few days, it was clear the law did not go far enough.

It is a much more serious event than we ever had 10 years ago, he said. We need to make sure that we never, ever let our citizens experience what we have just experienced.

There are a lot of issues gone wrong here, he added. I think that the legislature, since it is in session, will ask a lot of questions, consider all the questions. And I think what is most imperative is that we have to make sure that we will never be in a situation like this again.

Hegar said his office had also asked ERCOT questions similar to those the WFAA and the public asked.

There’s a lot of blame to be done, he says. We need to make sure that, more importantly, after we restore power to people, (we) figure out how to fix the problem in the future.

WFAA found a list of plant owners that failed during the 2011 storm and started contacting them.

We wanted to know if their installations had failed during this winter storm or previous ones.

Most did not respond. But some did.

In 2011, Garland Power & Light saw two of its natural gas-fired power plants and one coal-fired power plant stop operating during this storm. A spokeswoman told the WFAA on Thursday that their installations had not failed this week.

Bryan Texas Utilities also responded to the WFAA’s request for information. An official said a coal-fired power plant failed for a few hours in 2011 due to aging issues. This factory has since been put on hold.

David Werley, of Bryan Texas Utilities, said none of his four power plants failed during the current winter storm. He told the WFAA that BTU had learned the lessons of 2011 and didn’t want a repeat, so the company skated their units.

I know our utility and expect all of the state’s utilities to have plenty of internal meetings and will also talk to regulators about what went wrong and what went well, Werley said.

This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made mandatory bloat on power plants and money to pay for them a priority in this legislative session, which is already underway.

RELATED: ‘I Take Responsibility for ERCOT Status’: Gov. Abbott Says Reform, State Aid Is Top Priority

In addition, State Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, plans to introduce a law in Austin requiring ERCOT board members to live in Texas after a WFAA article on Wednesday pointed out that the chairman of the board, vice-chairman and three other people lived elsewhere.

WFAA was also the first to report that ERCOT removed the names and biographies of board members from the site on Wednesday.

Magness, CEO of ERCOTS, said during the Thursday briefing that names and biographies had been removed as board members received communications and threats of harassment. He said that after some thought ERCOT decided that this information should be up there.

This is public information that has been on the website in the past and it made sense to go ahead and bring it back there, he said.

On Thursday evening, the names and biographies were back on the site.

About 307,000 customers remain without power statewide, including 148,000 in the Oncors service area, which includes north Texas. About 13 million Texans have to boil drinking water due to outages and line breaks affecting water systems.

Also this evening, ERCOT says that nearly 36,000 megawatts of production remain in forced outage. One megawatt can power around 200 homes. Of this still offline total, around 21,400 megawatts are thermal generators powered by natural gas, coal and nuclear power and the rest are wind and solar.

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