SAN MARCOS, Texas - This winter, electricity will flow through power lines, regardless of dropping temperatures and increasing demand, says the leaders of ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
The power pledge was made Wednesday morning even as the PUC announced eight power generation companies missed the December 1 deadline and were facing violations and potential fines for failure to file winter weather readiness reports.
"The lights will stay on, no other power grid has made as remarkable changes in such an incredibly short amount of time as we have," said PUC Chairman Peter Lake.
The guarantee, according to energy analyst Doug Lewin, is more political than practical.
"And there's absolutely no way to say you could guarantee there won't be outages," Lewin said. "There's no way you could say you could guarantee there will be outages. We're dealing in a complicated world. We need to think in terms of probabilities. ... Of course, we could have outages and they could be quite severe."
The deadly February winter storm forced state regulators to require all electrical power generators to winterize by December 1. ERCOT interim CEO Brad Jones said inspections started December 2nd and so far 55 sites have been checked. By the end of the month that number will grow to more than 300.
Jones also described what the inspectors are looking for. "Have they put wind breaks around the right facilities to make sure a wind chill doesn't cause some problems with equipment, have they put thermal blankets on the right types of equipment to make sure those thermal blankets keep those facilities warm, have they appropriately set heat tracing in place, so that pipes don’t freeze up during cold weather," said Jones.
A key part is keeping the electricity on for natural gas providers, especially those now identified as critical infrastructure. During the winter storm some connections froze up cutting supply to power plants.
Lake believes that problem is being addressed. "The new rule from the Railroad Commission removes any opt-out ability for the most large volume important pieces of natural gas supply chain from the well-head to pipelines to processing plants. And those facilities represent over 80% of the daily production of natural gas in this state," he said.
The PUC provided a breakdown on actions to protect the grid:
- ERCOT will continue policies put in place this summer that operate the grid in a conservative manner with an abundance of power reserves.
- ERCOT’s Emergency Response System that allows large electric consumer to curtail their usage under direction from ERCOT can now be used before the grid encounters emergency conditions.
- To protect consumers, the PUC has reduced the cap on high prices that can be charged when supply is tightest, lowering the cap from $9,000 per megawatt/hour (MwH) to $5,000 per MwH.
- Along with the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the PUC has adopted a rule to designate natural gas facilities that are critical to the operation of the electric grid.
- PUC rules required the weatherization of power plants in Texas by December 1. This will be verified by ERCOT inspections of power plants.
- Penalties for violating weatherization rules have increased to $1,000,000 per day per violation
Lewin believes there is still a gap in the natural gas supply protection plan because of a gap in authority.
"There is no standard. I mean, there's literally nothing regulating supply for winterization, zero. And this is…I am astounded by this, really. I've worked most of my career on power and grid stuff. I've been feeling like a lot of people trying to get smarter on the gas system. And I would challenge anybody to tell me I'm wrong on this," said Lewin.
A spokesperson for ERCOT told FOX 7 Austin an official list of the power generators who met and did not meet the December 1 deadline will be available on Friday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the PUC announced eight companies, which have a total of 13 power plants, failed to meet the deadline and the agency is recommending more than $7.5 million in administrative penalties.
Those receiving violations now have 20 days to respond to the notice of violation and can request a hearing:
- BT Cooke Solar
- Bull Creek Wind
- Cotton Plains Wind
- Lamesa Solar
- Midway Solar
- OCI Alamo
- Shell Oil Company
- Texas Big Spring LP
The PUC says that failure to file winter weather readiness reports on time does not indicate whether these companies have taken the steps to weatherize their facilities, and that subsequent inspections by ERCOT will verify if they have.
In October 2021, the PUC adopted a new rule requiring power generators and electric transmission companies to take actions based on weather preparation best practices in advance of the 2021-2022 winter season.
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