Power outages in Texas: How the largest energy-producing state in the United States failed in freezing temperatures

“There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money,” said Dr. David Tuttle, of the UT Austins Energy Institute, in the final episode of Y’all-itics.

DALLAS – Many Texans rightly ask why the largest energy-producing state in the country cannot produce enough energy to get through a week temperatures below freezing.

What happened? Equipment failure proved to be a big part of the problem.

“Starts around 11 p.m. [Sunday night], several generating units began to stumble off-line in rapid progress due to the severe cold weather, ”said Dan Woodfin, senior director of systems operations at ERCOT, the organization that manages the state’s electricity grid.

What does it mean? Equipment literally froze in the single-digit temperatures and stopped working.

Then, as reserves fell, ERCOT asked transmission providers to turn off large industrial users who had previously agreed to be shut down. But the situation quickly deteriorated and required rotating interruptions that have lasted hours for many Texans.

Electrical production plants did not overwinter their equipment properly Dr. David Tuttle in the latest episode of I’all-itics political podcast. Tuttle is a research assistant at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money,” he added. “About every decade, we have these long periods. And then you know that weather determination has to happen, and it does not because it costs money.”

RELATED: Frozen pipes from winter storms in Texas could burst later in the week

ERCOT said nearly 34,000 megawatts of electricity have been forced out of the system. On average, a single megawatt can power about 500 homes.

This is not the first time that weather equation has been an issue of equipment failure and rotating outages in Texas.

In August 2011, six months after an ice storm paralyzed much of the state and resulted in rotating outages, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a report with recommendations.

“Generators and natural gas producers have suffered severe capacity losses despite receiving accurate forecasts for the storm,” the report said. “Units in both categories report having winter procedures in place. However, the poor performance of many of these production units and wells suggests that these procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed.”

The study revealed what happened in 2011, also happened in 1989, which is the first time ERCOT ever implements rotary interruptions.

“The experience of 1989 is instructive, especially on the electrical side. In that year, as in 2011, cold weather caused many generators to trip, slow down or fail to start. [Public Utility Commission of Texas] investigated the event and issued a series of recommendations aimed at improving the generators from the winter.

These recommendations were not mandatory, and over time, implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011, “the study found.

RELATED: Why is the power still out? ERCOT and CenterPoint explain outcomes

Fast forward a decade and here we are again.

Winter equipment – and making sure it can sustain extended periods of temperatures below freezing – has never been a requirement in Texas like other states.

“We all want to say we want to be super reliable [electricity]”Tuttle said.” It would be millions to really bulletproof the system to it. How much will we pay to protect ourselves with insurance policies for rare events? “

That’s a reasonable point. Rotary interruptions are rare in Texas, occurring only around every decade or so.

But in dangerous cold, like much of what has engulfed the state this week, lives can be endangered as many people are trapped at home and unable to travel due to treacherous travel conditions. Not to mention, some seniors live in poorly insulated homes.

But Texas lawmakers are asking questions again.

With the legislature currently in session, it is likely that this situation will get the attention of the heads of state.

“The Texas power grid has not been compromised,” wrote Government Greg. Abbott, R-Texas, on Twitter Monday afternoon. “The capacity of some companies that produce electricity has been frozen. This includes natural gas and coal generators. They are working to get production back online.”

As it manages the emergency, ERCOT defended its winter plan.

“This event was far beyond the design parameters of a typical or even extreme Texas winter that you would plan,” Woodfin told ERCOT. “They started as rotating interruptions, but they are [now] controlled interruptions and they last longer than what would normally happen due to the scale. “

But history says Texas should have known better. But what is the price we are willing to pay?

RELATED: How to stay warm in extreme cold if your power goes out

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