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Energy & Environment
Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

Energy Industry Stakeholders Call For 'Retraction And Replacement' Of ERCOT Outages Report

CPS Energy crews repair equipment damage after three days of controlled blackouts February 18, 2021.
CPS Energy crews repair equipment damage after three days of controlled blackouts February 18, 2021.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released a preliminary report Tuesday generalizing the root causes of generator outages during the February winter storm.

The leading cause of outages, according to the report, appears to be “weather-related.” “Fuel limitations” and “equipment issues” are also high on the list.

“Unfortunately, Luminant believes that the data presentation in ERCOT’s report could be misleading,” Ian Haley with Luminant — an energy company headquartered in Dallas — wrote in an email to ERCOT’s Wholesale Market Subcommittee shortly after the report's release.

What exactly is the problem?

For experts and stakeholders, it boils down to “nameplate capacity.” In a section titled “important notes,” ERCOT said, “[The data] are based on generator nameplate capacity — i.e., the maximum possible MW [megawatts] output specified by the generator manufacturer.”

Basically, ERCOT is looking at the maximum theoretical capacity of the grid — how much total power the grid could ostensibly generate. But most renewables, for example, ramp down during the winter. The data in ERCOT’s report doesn’t include specific power sources, but the “weather-related” outages likely include a lot of renewables — even though they actually outperformed seasonal expectations.

The report can also be interpreted to downplay the failures of the natural gas supply system. And according to experts, natural gas issues were responsible for the bulk of the outages.

Chrysta Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney and engineer, was the 2020 Democratic nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the Texas natural gas sector. She ultimately lost to Jim Wright — continuing Republican control of the commission.

“The interdependency of natural gas and electricity was a critical failure. Natural gas couldn't flow because the equipment that was needed to flow it ran on electricity, which it did not have because of the storm shut down,” she said. “Our biggest supply (of electricity) was supposed to be coming from natural gas-generated electricity, and those plants couldn't get natural gas because the natural gas producers weren't supplying it. So, the two were critically interdependent.”

On Wednesday, Haley and several other industry representatives pushed back on the broad data categorizations and aggregation used in ERCOT’s preliminary report.

“At this point, the amount of media that has misconstrued this information — we believe — warrants the retraction and replacement or just a replacement of this data,” he told the Wholesale Market Subcommittee in a virtual meeting.

The report is “preliminary and subject to change,” according to ERCOT. ERCOT officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the stakeholder complaints.

Copyright 2021 Texas Public Radio.