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Investigation into Texas freeze highlights natural gas failures, frequency of cold weather events

The joint report issued by FERC and NERC cited freezing and natural gas fuel supply issues as the two largest causes for the disaster.
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Preliminary findings of a joint investigation into the freeze that left millions in Texas without power for days last February highlighted an increasing frequency of extreme cold weather events, as well as the devastation caused by the failure of natural gas-fired plants.

The joint report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) cited freezing and natural gas fuel supply issues, including the failure to identify natural gas production and processing facilities as critical load, as the two largest causes for the disaster.

"Of the 1,823 unplanned outages, derates, and failures to start caused by freezing issues, 1,244 were in ERCOT, 473 were in SPP, and 106 were in MISO South," the report reads. "The most common sub-causes of generation outages and derates due to freezing issues were frozen instrumentation (sensing lines, transmitters) and icing on wind turbine generator blades."

Across ERCOT, SPP and MISO South regions, 55% of natural gas generating units (by MW of capacity) experienced unplanned outages and derates, compared to 22% of wind and 1% of solar.

Sean Gallagher, vice president of state and regulatory affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, commended the reliability of solar following the release of the FERC/NERC report.

“Even during record-breaking low temperatures in Texas, solar assets performed as expected during the February 2021 Texas blackout," Gallagher said in a statement. “Solar and storage will be a big part of the solution in Texas, and we look forward to working with state and federal leaders to continue to make it easier and faster to get solar projects online.” 

FERC and NERC issued 28 preliminary recommendations in response to February's extreme weather event, calling for reliability standards that require winterization for new and existing infrastructure and the protection of natural gas infrastructure from manual and automatic load shedding.

The report recommended further study of additional ERCOT connections, noting that SPP and MISO South benefited from connections with other regions.

Jeff Dennis, managing director and general counsel for the Advanced Energy Economy association, provided a live tweet summary of FERC/NERC's presentation of the report, noting FERC Chair Richard Glick's opposition to political rhetoric that renewables were the source of the problems.

"Today’s FERC/NERC Staff report to the Commission made a clear case that these cold weather-driven outages of generating resources are not 'black swan' events, but increasingly regular occurrences and that they have interconnected impacts on both the electricity and natural gas fuel supplies," Dennis said in an email to Renewable Energy World. "FERC and NERC appear poised to implement mandatory reliability standards to ensure that generators are prepared for these events and that planners and operators anticipate them better in the future."

Glick hits back on political rhetoric that renewables were a problem here. Notes all generation types were impacted, focuses on natural gas.

— Jeff Dennis (@EnergyLawJeff) September 23, 2021

Renewable energy advocates are closely watching the Texas Public Utility Commission's grid redesign to see if the renewables are unfairly burdened with resiliency costs.

In August, the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance – made up of a coalition of corporations that includes Google, Amazon Web Services, and Goldman Sachs – sent a letter urging Texas leaders to scrap anti-renewable energy proposals crafted in response to the storm.

The letter addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Public Utility Commission of Texas Chairman Peter Lake, and leaders in the state legislature, said current policy proposals are built on the false premise that renewable energy sources – like wind and solar – were to blame for the outages.

In July, Abbott directed the PUC to “allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power” and to “streamline incentives within the ERCOT market to foster the development and maintenance of adequate and reliable sources of power, like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power.”

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