Some natural gas suppliers offline as ERCOT prepares for winter weather

The agency that manages the Texas power grid says power plants are ready for this week's winter weather and freezing temperatures.

But there are questions about whether natural gas — which powers the power plants — is ready. And we're learning there may already be problems ahead of the winter weather.

Even some critics who want more done to improve the grid do not expect this winter blast to cause major problems. But there are already issues that experts say could be problematic if something stronger were to head our way.

This winter storm is expected to impact the state in different ways.

RELATED: ERCOT gives final winterization report with first real test expected later this week

TxDOT is prepping roads in the San Antonio area. Some schools there will close Thursday with officials citing the possibility of hazardous roadways.

Closer to home, it’s just expected to be bitterly cold. But the storm is strong enough that ERCOT advised operators across the state to be ready.

And while officials at the grid operator expect everything to be alright, some gas supplies will be offline.

ERCOT Interim CEO Brad Jones shared the news in a board meeting this week.

"We’ve already received one notification of restrictions of gas supplies," he said. "It could impact somewhere in the 1,400 to 1,500 megawatts range. 

RELATED: Texas DSHS reports higher death toll from February winter storm

Bruce Bullock is director of SMU’s Maguire Energy Institute.         

"You never want to lose anything if you're in a in that kind of situation," he said. "So it's not a small amount, but it's on the other hand. It is certainly not catastrophic, and it can be made up." 

For perspective, ERCOT is currently forecasting a peak demand of 64,000 megawatts Friday morning. The forecast has already gone up from 61,000 Tuesday. At the time, ERCOT predicted around 15,000 megawatts of wiggle room.

In an email on Wednesday, ERCOT said it "will have adequate generation supplies, even with the gas curtailments, to meet the needs of Texans."

Though Jones raised concerns about data, it still doesn’t have regarding gas supply that brings power to power plants. Failure to deliver natural gas during last year's storm contributed greatly toward the statewide outages.

"There’s not a great deal of transparency around the operations of our natural gas system," Jones said. "We don’t know whether there’s maintenance going on or whether there’s been a forced outage and some limitation of supply in the network."

RELATED: After inspection, ERCOT claims Texas power grid ready to handle severe winter weather

Since last year’s deadly winter storm, regulators required power plants to winterize. Regulators have not yet required natural gas suppliers to do the same.

However, the Texas Railroad Commission — which oversees the industry — claimed Wednesday that 98% of facilities it’s visited so far have winterized. 

RELATED: 8 companies miss deadline to file winter weather readiness reports

Another major focus of grid reform was ensuring better communication among different agencies, which could still take time.

"Any bureaucracy — public or private — it takes it takes quite a bit of effort for them to change behavior," Bullock said. "And this is certainly one of those instances. "

When FOX 4 tried to gather more information about the gas outage, ERCOT directed us to the railroad commission since it regulates the industry. But a railroad commission spokesperson couldn’t say much, saying ERCOT might have been referring to a private contract that it doesn’t have authority over.

MORE: Texas Winter Storm 2021 Coverage