Grid SecurityTexas Energy Regulators, Gas Industry Try to Reassure the Public That the State’s Power Grid Is Ready for Winter

By Mitchell Ferman and Erin Douglas

Published 11 December 2021

As state regulators and the companies that power the grid take steps to avoid another catastrophe like February’s winter storm, climate experts say this winter will likely be milder.

Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent guarantee that the lights will stay on this winter, Texas energy regulators and the oil and gas industry tried to assure Texans on Wednesday that the state’s power grid is ready for colder weather.

In Austin, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates electric utilities and oversees the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, held a brief news conference amplifying Abbott’s promise.

The commission’s chair, Peter Lake, summarized the regulatory agency’s efforts to better prepare power plants for extreme winter weather conditions, including new rules requiring a first phase for plants to outfit their equipment for extreme weather, a process known as weatherization.

The ERCOT grid is stronger and more reliable than ever,” Lake said. “We are going into the winter knowing that the lights will stay on.”

The message comes 10 months after an unusually powerful winter storm left millions of Texans without power for days in subfreezing temperatures when the state’s power grid — which largely operates independently of the major grids that connect the rest of the country — experienced widespread failures. Hundreds of people died.

In Midland, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, one of the state’s most influential energy industry groups, gave reporters a tour of two oil and gas production sites and Todd Staples, the group’s president, said he’s optimistic about the shape of the power grid going into this winter.

“I feel very confident that operators … and our partners on the electric generation units and local distribution companies are all working together in a much more collaborative fashion,” Staples said. “All designed to improve and protect the lives of Texans.”

Staples and the oil and gas producers said they did not make significant upgrades to the way they prepare their infrastructure for the cold after February’s storm. They said they have been preparing their sites for cold weather for years.

Instead, they focused on changes aimed at ensuring that electricity transmission companies keep power flowing to gas production facilities in extreme weather. Staples said oil and gas companies were not previously required by the state to fill out paperwork that would have designated their infrastructure as critical — which would have alerted transmission companies to keep electricity flowing to their production sites even during an emergency.