Records show dozens of power plants repeated 2011 failures

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Nearly three dozen power facilities that failed in the 2011 winter storm failed again in 2021, according to an analysis by ABC13.

Those facilities and others are the focus of state hearings about why power plants didn't heed the warnings of the 2011 storm to better winterize and prepare for cold weather in Texas. The data suggest that had changes been made after the plants failed in 2011, it's possible they would've stayed online during the brutal winter cold in 2021.

That cold was responsible for freezing natural gas supply lines to plants, water lines that feed the power generation units and machinery freezing up. Those were among just some of the many problems that caused power plants to shut down.

Of Texas' power generators that were not operational during the storm, ERCOT's CEO Bill Magness said the freeze was responsible for 42% of the failures

In records released by ERCOT, at least 71 individual power generation units in Harris County alone failed during mid-February's winter storm at 11 different sites, including energy giants Calpine and NRG. All of the sites that failed in Harris County were powered by natural gas.

But the data is incomplete and doesn't list all of the power generation companies that had problems. Only companies that agreed to have their names disclosed were on the list, the rest remain secret.

Across the state, 1,797 units failed at least 356 power facilities in Texas, according to the records.
The storm of 2011 was much less severe over time, requiring blackouts but only for part of a day.

ERCOT officials have claimed that the scale of the forced blackouts - the largest in Texas history - were necessary to avert an even more catastrophic failure that would have wiped out power to most of the state's 30 million residents for months.

Curtis Morgan, the CEO of Vistra Corp., told lawmakers at the outset that the blackouts affected plants that could have generated more power that was urgently needed. He said when officials from his company called utility providers, they were told they weren't a priority.

Among Vistra's subsidiaries is, Luminant, which operates nearly two dozen plants across Texas. Morgan blamed outdated lists of critical infrastructure in Texas for darkening gas processers and production sites as grid managers began shutting off parts of the system.

Morgan didn't say how many of the company's plants were turned off or for how long, but he did say the company was within three minutes of power going offline at one nuclear plant, and that the main power grid in America's energy capital was just moments away from total collapse Feb. 15. He said he had reached out to state officials, including Abbott's office, with concerns.

"We came dangerously close to losing the entire electric system," Morgan said.
Of Texas' power generators that were not operational during the storm, ERCOT's CEO Bill Magness said the freeze was responsible 42% of the failures. A lack of fuel and equipment damage unrelated to the weather also contributed, but Magness said that for 38% of the plant outages, the problem remains unclear.

The outages lasted days for millions of Texas homes, and millions more lost water as water treatment plants shutdown and miles of pipes burst across the state. The toll of the storm included at least 15 hypothermia-related deaths around Houston, said Democratic state Rep. Ana Hernandez, vice chairwoman of the House State Affairs committee.

The crisis has put Texas' power and fossil fuel industry under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers who reap millions of dollars in unlimited political contributions from energy interests, more than any other sector.
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