August 18, 2011 - new report assesses Texas, SW blackouts

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Last February’s blackouts in Texas and the Southwest disrupted life for millions of electricity consumers.  When the weather became unusually cold for the region and an ice storm struck, a number of electric generators suffered outages, and natural gas supplies became curtailed.  As a result, real-time wholesale power prices rose to 40 times their previous level, and grid operators were forced to resort to rolling blackouts.  Even as the grid struggled to maintain its integrity, policymakers called for an investigation of what happened – and how to prevent a repeat performance.

This week, after six months of inquiry, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have released a report on the incident.  This report – linked here as a 357-page PDF – concludes that most of the electric outages and gas shortages were due to weather-related causes, but noted that proactive steps to protect reliability were lacking.

For example, although many generators did in fact winterize their plants so they could operate in cold conditions, the report concludes that no state, regional or NERC standards required generators to take this step.  The report notes that electric outages were generally caused by weather-related mechanical problems that could have been prevented by proper weatherization – measures to prevent frozen sensing lines, equipment, water lines and valves.

The report similarly concludes that the natural gas shortages and outages were mostly attributable to the lengthy cold weather, the resulting and unprecedented high demand for gas, and simultaneous reductions in supply.

Will this report change the way we protect the reliability of our grid?

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