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

As widespread freezing temperatures and skyrocketing demand increased strain on the grid, power transmission utilities were ordered by ERCOT to preemptively cut power to homes and businesses to avoid a total collapse. But that, in some cases, shut off the fuel supply for power plants.

“Keeping the power on is the best winterization tool we have,” Staples said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s massive oil and gas industry, last week finalized a new rule that will ensure gas producers likely won’t get their electricity cut off during a future “energy emergency” such as a winter storm.

But the agency has not yet crafted weatherization rules for the industry.

A committee created by lawmakers in the spring has until September 2022 to identify and map the state’s natural gas infrastructure. Then, the Railroad Commission will draft its weatherization rules.

ERCOT Inspecting Power Plants for Winter Preparations
Meanwhile, Texas electricity regulators said they will inspect more than 300 power generation facilities this month to confirm weatherization upgrades have been made.

The Public Utility Commission on Wednesday said eight companies failed to file winter weather readiness reports by a Dec. 1 deadline. The 13 generation facilities belonging to those eight companies make up less than 1% of the state’s total power generation, the agency said. The companies can appeal the violations.

The PUC also recently tried to ensure companies don’t have to pay exorbitant prices for power during a weather emergency. February’s storm was one of the most expensive disasters in state history because of spikes in wholesale power prices and natural gas prices. Electricity regulators set power prices at the maximum rate — $9,000 per megawatt-hour — for several days in hopes that market dynamics would encourage more electricity to be supplied.

The agency is lowering the market price cap from $9,000 per megawatt-hour to $5,000 per megawatt-hour.

As winter approaches, climate experts say while it’s always possible that another severe winter storm could occur, it’s unlikely at the moment. The current configuration of the polar vortex is quite strong, trapping cold air far north. At the same time, La Niña conditions have continued this winter, which generally means mild conditions in Texas, and climate change has increased average temperatures across the globe.

It doesn’t mean [a severe winter storm] can’t happen again,” said Jason Furtado, an associate professor in the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s just that there are a couple of things working against that.”

Mitchell Ferman is a reporter for The Texas Tribune covering energy and the economy. Erin Douglas is the environment reporter for the Texas Tribune.This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.