Mandatory power plant winterization coming to blame-shifting Texas

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As power returns, the crisis continues for millions of Texans who are still boiling their drinking water. Meanwhile, politicians continue to shift blame.

Our 13 Investigates looked at how Texas was left so vulnerable, starting with Gov. Greg Abbott who appoints the Public Utility Commission.

The Public Utility Commission oversees ERCOT and allowed it to make power plant winterization rules voluntary.

After a storm in 2011, the North American Electric Reliability Council, a federal regulatory group, suggested in this report that power plants should winterize not just to the average Texas winter, but to be able to withstand "unusually severe events."

This week, ERCOT tried to tell us it worked.

"In 2018 it was similarly cold, similarly windy, and we had very few generating plants offline," ERCOT's senior director of operations Dan Woodfin said earlier this week. "It appeared that those best practices and what the generators were doing in that regard was working."

If the voluntary guidelines work so well, it's news to NERC, the national oversight group. In 2019, just after that 2018 storm hit Texas and several other states, they decided to make a new round of winterization rules mandatory.

"This time it will be different," Howard Gugel, NERC's VP of engineering & standards told 13 Investigates. "We will mandate winter weather preparation has to occur. The plans are there and implemented."

The plan calls for annual checks and is enforceable with fees and fines if not followed.

The new rules won't go into effect until the end of next year at the earliest. There are signs in responses to NERC that ERCOT and some Texas power companies are already trying to fight them, making change a little tough.

Starting next week, Texas state lawmakers in Austin will hold hearings designed to reform ERCOT and the electric system, and lawmakers in Austin should know the steps to that dance. Reform failed at the Texas capitol after the last serious storm 10 years ago in 2011.

"It's going to take some leadership and initiative, and we haven't seen that in Austin, in decades," Ed Hirs, a University of Houston energy fellow told 13 Investigates.

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