What power source was to blame for the power outages in Texas? Feds say these aren’t frozen wind turbines

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Days after the February freeze crippled Texas’ power grid and left millions of people shaking in the dark, Governor Greg Abbott appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News to blame frozen wind turbines for the disaster. .

“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said. “Our wind and solar power were shut down, and they collectively made up over 10% of our electricity grid, which put Texas in a state of statewide power shortage.”

Federal energy officials this week rebutted Abbott’s claim, blaming lax Texas energy regulations and the state’s failed natural gas system. The widespread blackouts affected more than 4.5 million Texans, including 1.4 million Houstonians, claimed more than 200 lives and contributed to billions of dollars in property damage.

Of the 1,045 power-generating turbines that went offline during the winter storm, 604, or 58 percent, involved natural gas generators. These natural gas-fired power plants had the capacity to produce 106,568 megawatts of electricity, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the country’s electricity grids and pipelines. One megawatt is enough to power 200 Texas homes on a hot summer day.

“Some political leaders have used the crisis to denigrate renewables, blaming wind and solar for the grid failure,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said Thursday. “Well, (this) report makes it clear that the facts just don’t support that rhetoric.

“Of course all types of production including natural gas, coal, nuclear and wind have had problems due to the extreme cold and they should all have winter facilities,” Glick added, but “Traditional production has encountered significant challenges, with natural gas-generating facilities accounting for more than half of all outages.

A preliminary report released Thursday by FERC and the electricity reliability nonprofit North American Reliability Corp. revealed that the two main factors contributing to power plant failure during the winter storm were the lack of weatherization of critical power plant equipment and Texas fuel supply issues. , in particular natural gas. Freeze and fuel problems accounted for three-quarters of unplanned power plant outages in the Midwest and South, including Texas and Louisiana.

FERC said regulators and power producers in Texas did not winterize their power plants enough, which resulted in the freezing of sensors, transmitters and wind turbines. The federal agency, which oversees the nation’s power grids and natural gas systems, recommended that power plants and natural gas producers install temporary heaters, insulation and windscreens to help prevent heat loss. future freeze.

The second main culprit, FERC said, was the fuel supply to power plants. Natural gas producers temporarily closed wells to keep their equipment from freezing, while companies that continued to operate the equipment froze at wellheads, collection and processing facilities. The icy road conditions also made it difficult for crews to exit to make repairs.

As temperatures cooled, natural gas production in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana began to drop days before blackouts began early on February 15. Over the next five days, natural gas production declined by about 20 billion cubic feet per day, causing temperatures to drop. A 50% drop from the first week of February and the biggest drop in U.S. natural gas production on record.

Texas natural gas trading groups blamed the ERCOT power outages for the large drop in natural gas production, arguing that natural gas producers and pipelines could not get their product to power plants because that they lacked electricity.

FERC, however, said the majority of production declines in North and West Texas, which is home to the Permian Basin, occurred before February 15. noted. One caveat: The FERC report includes natural gas-fired power plants from other power grids that are not part of ERCOT, but that were also affected by the winter storm.

Indeed, continued outages have also affected several natural gas production and processing facilities, most of which have not sought permission from regulators and utilities to be exempt from emergency outages. This led to a cycle in which power outages interrupted natural gas production, shutting down even more natural gas-fired power plants providing electricity to gas suppliers.

FERC, however, said it did not know what effect freezing temperatures and DC outages had on natural gas shortages, as many gas installations were not exempt from emergency power outages. .

Although Texas has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the country, the lack of electricity has limited its withdrawal. FERC found that the pipelines were barely affected by the power outages, as most have back-up power.

“We know that there is a very great interdependence in Texas, but also elsewhere, between the reliability of natural gas and the reliability of electricity, and we need to think more about it,” said Glick. “And not just us, but I think other policy makers need to think about how to ensure greater reliability on the natural gas side.”

The Texas Oil and Gas Association, the state’s largest oil and gas trading group, said the Texas legislature has already come a long way in resolving many of the issues identified in the FERC report by enacting Senate Bill 3, which made the weatherization of power plants mandatory, but not natural gas installations. The trade group, which commissioned research firm Austin Enverus to conduct its own study into the winter storm, said power outages at natural gas facilities were a “predominant factor” behind the decline in gas production. natural during frost.

“ERCOT data confirmed that fuel limitations were only 12% of the cause of the lack of electricity in natural gas-fired electric generators,” said TXOGA president Todd Staples. “The Enverus report and ERCOT data confirm that the drop in natural gas production only became significant after power losses, and again, it is well documented that a large amount of gas natural was available in storage. The Texas oil and gas industry looks forward to the full implementation of Senate Bill 3, further legislative guidance, and the assessment of the FERC report that will strengthen the reliability of our power grid.

The Railroad Commission, which oversees Texas’ natural gas network, declined to comment.

Governor Greg Abbott, who receives large contributions from the oil and gas industry, did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Webber, professor of energy at the University of Texas at Austin, said there was a lot of blame for the failure of the Texas power grid, but agreed with FERC that the problems with the gas system natural state were one of the main culprits. .

“Texas officials place great importance on (natural) gas, but that failed this year,” Webber said. “We should stop giving gas a pass.”

paul.takahashi@chron.com

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