FERC, NERC Conclude “Weather-related Causes” Explain Most Electric Power and Gas Supply Problems During February’s Extreme Cold in Southwest U.S.

Michael Giberson

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have issued their report on the events surrounding electric power and natural gas supply interruptions around the Southwest United States in early February, 2001. The culprit? According to the press release: “the task force found a majority of the electric outages and gas shortages were due to weather-related causes.”

My initial snarky response was, “It took you six months to figure this out? I think ERCOT power system operators had reached the same conclusion by about 6 AM on February 2.” But, of course, at the time there was some uncertainty about contributing factors and it is useful to go back over the event carefully in order to see what can be learned from the experience.

In the case of this report, “go back over the event carefully” seems to dramatically underestimate the effort. The resulting document totals 357 pages from cover to cover, including eleven appendices on topics ranging from “Electricity: How it is generated and distributed” to “Impact of cold weather on gas production.”

Much of the report, appendices included, is more or less a primer on current electric power and natural gas systems, focusing on the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona systems, and with an emphasis on reliability and weatherization issues. The report adds to that primer an account of what went wrong during the cold snap lasting February 1-5 and then reaches some conclusions and offers recommendations. The report appears to be a “one stop shop” for policymakers, power systems operators, and others interested in what went wrong.

The FERC press release highlighted a recommendation to Southwest states to consider whether to require winterization plans. In addition, the press release noted the following (from among the total of 26 electric power and 6 natural gas system recommendations):

  • Generation owners and operators should ensure adequate construction, maintenance and inspection of freeze protection elements such as insulation, heat tracing and wind breaks.
  • Reliability coordinators and balancing authorities should require generators to provide accurate data about the temperature limits of units so they know whether they can rely on those units during extreme weather.
  • Balancing authorities should review the distribution of reserves to ensure that they are useable and deliverable during contingencies.
  • State lawmakers and regulators in Texas and New Mexico, working with industry, should determine if weather-related production shortages can be mitigated through the adoption of minimum winterization standards for natural gas production and processing facilities.

Also of interest in the report, FERC/NERC reviewed the ERCOT Independent Market Monitor’s report on the rolling blackouts (which concluded no market manipulation was involved) and similarly found that there was no evidence of market manipulation.

While there is a great deal of additional detail in this report, the overall conclusions are more or less the same as reached in earlier reviews. This information, along with the economic incentives to put it to work, will likely keep the energy industry in the Southwest from experiencing rolling blackouts next winter.

RELATED: Tom Fowler offers a summary at FuelFix.com. The rolling blackouts in ERCOT were the topic of many posts earlier this year at Knowledge Problem, the interested reader can start with this KP search: ERCOT+blackout.

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