“Power Companies Get Exactly What They Want”: How Texas Repeatedly Failed to Protect Its Power Grid Against Extreme Weather
Texas regulators and lawmakers knew about the grid’s vulnerabilities for years, but time and again they furthered the interests of large electricity providers.
In January 2014, power plants owned by Texas’ largest electricity producer buckled under frigid temperatures. Its generators failed more than a dozen times in 12 hours, helping to bring the state’s electric grid to the brink of collapse.
The incident was the second in three years for North Texas-based Luminant, whose equipment malfunctions during a more severe storm in 2011 resulted in a $750,000 fine from state energy regulators for failing to deliver promised power to the grid.
In the earlier cold snap, the grid was pushed to the limit and rolling blackouts swept the state, spurring an angry Legislature to order a study of
what went wrong.
Experts hired by the Texas Public Utility Commission, which oversees the state’s electric and water utilities, concluded
that power-generating companies like Luminant had failed to understand the “critical failure points” that could cause equipment to stop working in cold weather.
In May 2014, the PUC sought changes that would require energy companies to identify and address all potential failure points, including any effects of “weather design limits.”
In comments to the commission, the company said the requirement was unnecessary and “may or may not identify the ‘weak links’ in protections against extreme temperatures.”
“Each weather event [is] dynamic,” company representatives told regulators. “Any engineering analysis that attempted to identify a specific weather design limit would be rendered meaningless.”
By the end of the process, the PUC agreed to soften the proposed changes. Instead of identifying all possible failure points in their equipment, power companies would need only to address any that were previously known.
The change, which experts say has left Texas power plants more susceptible to the kind of extreme and deadly weather events that bore down on the state last week, is one in a series of cascading failures to shield the state’s electric grid from winter storms, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune found.
Lawmakers and regulators, including the PUC and the industry-friendly Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, have repeatedly ignored, dismissed or watered down efforts to address weaknesses in the state’s sprawling electric grid, which is isolated
from the rest of the country.
About 46,000 megawatts of power — enough to provide electricity to 9 million homes on a high-demand day — were taken off the grid last week due to power-generating failures stemming from winter storms that battered the state for nearly seven consecutive days. Dozens of deaths
, including that of an 11-year-old boy, have been tied to the weather. At the height of the crisis, more than 4.5 million customers
across the state were without power. Continue Reading…
This article is co-published with The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, nonpartisan local newsroom that informs and engages with Texans.