As last week’s historic winter storm swept through Texas, officials from the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, ERCOT, were asking the federal government to temporarily suspend environmental limits for several power producers.
The request, signed by ERCOT Executive Director Bill Magness, asked the United States Department of Energy to issue an emergency order and declare that “there is an electrical reliability emergency within the state of Texas that requires the Secretary’s intervention. “.
The request was submitted on February 14 and asks Acting Secretary of Energy David Huizenga to allow certain power plants to operate at maximum levels and be allowed to exceed federal emissions and wastewater discharge limits until February 19. .
“This duration will ensure that additional supply is available during a period in which ERCOT can continue to experience unprecedented cold weather that has forced generation out of service,” the emergency request said. “In ERCOT’s view, the loss of energy to local homes and businesses in the areas affected by the restrictions presents a much greater risk to public health and safety than temporary exceedances of permit limits.”
The DOE request notes that the storm is expected to “result in record winter electricity demand that will exceed even ERCOT’s most extreme seasonal load forecast” and “this period will go down in Texas weather history as one of the events. most extremes in history. ” impact the state. “
The DOE granted ERCOT’s request at 7:41 pm CST on February 14. ERCOT officials were unable to tell KPRC 2 what time the request was made to the DOE, but did provide a notice to “All ERCOT Market Participants”, notifying them of the DOE request at 5:58 pm CST.
You can read the full notice here.
The wording of the request has a very different tone than the public statements ERCOT officials made three days earlier.
“Right now, we believe we have the tools to maintain a reliable system,” ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko told KPRC 2 on February 11.
While ERCOT issued news on February 14 calling on the public to save energy, several elected officials have criticized the organization for not raising any more red flags.
“If someone had told us, ‘We’re in big trouble,’ we would have made completely different decisions,” said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. “We would have opened warming centers, we would have given people a place to go.”
Henry said he had no idea ERCOT had this level of concern on February 14. Even after the storm, Magness said he believes ERCOT had an accurate forecast and had accurately predicted customer demand. ERCOT’s senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin said last week that what was not expected was the loss of 185 power plants at the height of the storm.
“You knew it was wrong, why didn’t you tell us?” Henry asked. “Why did you stick with the continuous blackout narrative?”
Henry said the county did not receive a call from ERCOT officials, but did eventually receive information from energy providers, such as CenterPoint and Entergy.
“Nobody ever called us, we had to call them and ask ‘when does filming start? We have people who have been in the dark in 16 degree weather for 24 hours, ”Henry said.
Rice University Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Daniel Cohan, Ph.D. You understand why ERCOT made the request and why DOE granted it.
“I’m an environmental engineer, I don’t want the plants to emit more pollution than they should, but everyone realized that we were heading into a dangerous situation,” Cohan said.
Cohan said he disagrees that ERCOT officials adequately predicted customer demand during this storm.
“They had planned a storm as strong as the 2011 frost and we had a stronger one,” Cohan said. “Their initial plan, at least the one they issued in November under expected demand at 5-10 percent.”
ERCOT officials have said they used the 2011 winter storm as a benchmark for preparation and projections. As KPRC 2 reported, a more than 300-page report from the Federal Power Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation noted that winterizing procedures at power producers were “inadequate or not followed. adequately”. However, the winterizing plans submitted by the power plants to the Public Utilities Commission are voluntary at this time. ERCOT officials said they review 100 of the 600 plants each year to see if winterization plans are being followed, but admit they have no authority to force plant owners to enact any specific type of plan.
The North American Electrical Reliability Corporation, NERC, which has regulatory authority over power plants, will adopt mandatory winterization rules in November 2021.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was candid in his assessment of ERCOT’s readiness for this storm.
“I think ERCOT wasn’t ready, they told us they were ready, obviously they weren’t ready,” Patrick said.
On Thursday, hearings from the Texas Senate and House of Representatives will meet to investigate the cause of these failures and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, also launched an investigation into the problems of the Texas power grid.
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