After the deadly winter freeze in February, Texas officials have promised the lights will stay on should another weather event like that occur, and now ERCOT is sharing the next steps in its plans to keep that bold vow.
ERCOT and the PUC are the two agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid.
On Thursday, ERCOT announced that it has completed its on-site inspections of mandatory winterization efforts, adding that results show the independently-owned electric generation fleet and electric transmission companies serving the region are ready for winter weather.
ERCOT's region serves about 75% of the land area in Texas, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, most of west Texas, portions of the Panhandle and the Rio Grande Valley, according to its website. The grid serves more than 26 million Texans.
While ERCOT doesn't own or operate any electric generation units or power lines, it is responsible for balancing electric supply and demand.
ERCOT says it completed inspections at more than 300 electric generation units, which represent 85% of the megawatt hours lost during the winter storm because of outages and 22 transmission station facilities.
The group found that:
- Of 302 generation resources inspected, some generators had exceeded PUC winterization requirements.
- 10 generation resources inspected had items identified on the day of inspection requiring correction. In a release, ERCOT gave an example saying that on the day of inspection, a generation unit may have needed a windscreen to be compliant. It claims that those issues have since been fixed and that all 10 units are still operational.
- Of the 22 transmission station facilities inspected, ERCOT found that six had potential identified deficiencies. It claims most of that has already been corrected. ERCOT went on to describe the deficiencies as "generally minor items, such as cabinet heaters out of service or missing weather stripping on cabinet doors on the day of inspection." ERCOT says most of the items have been corrected.
While the new report paints a rosy outlook, energy consultant Doug Lewin says it still fails to address significant problems.
Lewin says those problems are with natural gas supply facilities since they power many of these power plants, but were unable to do so last winter after freezing up.
"There is no requirement from any regulatory body that gas supply be winterized this winter," he said.
In recent meetings, the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates natural gas, pushed back on blame for last winter's outages, saying, "The insistence that the natural gas producers are the primary culprit of the February blackouts is pure hyperbole."
The new law does not require natural gas supply to winterize until a committee completes a report on which facilities need to make these preparations. But that will likely happen in 2023 and not this winter.
Lewin also points out that this winterization update comes a day after ERCOT released a report without any press release that drastically undershot the anticipated energy demand for the next five years by 10% when compared to what Texans actually demanded during the February storm.
"The timing, to me, is suspect, frankly, and they forecast that level of demand well out to 2026 and beyond as if in the next five years they could never imagine another February happening," Lewin said.
ERCOT, a membership-based non-profit corporation, filed a preliminary summary inspection report with the PUC. Next, it will submit its final inspection report on Jan. 18, 2022.
The maximum penalties for violating weatherization rules increased to $1,000,000 per day per violation earlier this year.
Dec. 1 was the deadline for power generators and transmission companies to tell the state what they've done to winterize their operations.