ODESSA, Texas (Nexstar) – There will not be a need to conserve energy Wednesday night, said Brad Jones, interim chief executive officer of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Jones paid a visit to Odessa City Hall on Wednesday to meet with Basin leaders.
“We know the storm is on us, in a few hours,” Jones said.
The basin is expected to go into a winter freeze on Thursday. But it is nothing like the February 2021 storm, or even, the frigid storm seen in 2011. Regardless, Jones said Thursday’s freeze will be an opportunity to see how the power grid will fare across the state.
“Since the winter storm, we’ve been operating the grid much more conservatively and much more reliably than in the past,” Jones said.
More important, however, was why Jones met with Basin leaders: to talk about why the state’s power grid will not go into crisis mode.
So, what has changed over the course of one year? Jones says it’s three things.
First, Jones said the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has implemented regulations for power producers, also referred to as generators, to winterize. Winterization, or weatherization, is the practice of protecting a building and its interior from the elements, particularly from sunlight, precipitation, and wind.
If these generators do not winterize, they can be fined by the PUC, Jones said.
So, what does it take to winterize a power plant?
“It’s insulation around particularly sensitive equipment. It’s heat tracing which is basically a heated wire and then it’s insulated on top. It’s also weather breaks – just building a structure around something that during a wind chill event may freeze off,” Jones said.
Second, Jones said local distribution companies are better prepared for when power loads have to be shed, even if it means distributors having to find other customers who can share power, when the act of rotating electricity is needed. Right now, Jones said roughly 60% of energy consumers statewide are on a critical circuit network. They include water treatment facilities, hospitals, and residences with individuals with special needs. Only 40% of consumers are eligible to rotate electricity in the state, Jones said.
Third, communication is said to have been improved within ERCOT, so that a clear message can effectively be shared with all Texans, power generators, and distributors, about impending electricity outages or power conservation efforts. Previously, Jones said three people were operating communications for ERCOT. The number has since risen to six people. There is also a recently-created crisis communications team. Mock emergency tests have been conducted with industry communicators, like power plants and distribution companies, Jones said.
“I believe all of our generators are ready and prepared for this storm, and that’s how we communicate these events.”
In early 2021, the state of Texas saw extreme weather that left thousands of homes without electricity and water. The storm was also deadly.
Jones said during the summer, the demand for electricity peaks once a day. That peak is near the middle of the day when heat is most intense. But during the winter, there are two peaks: in the morning and in the evening when the cold is most intense. One year ago, the winter freeze led to the issue of insufficient generational output across the state. Consequently, Texans were left in the dark, some for more than a couple of days. The loss of energy output in Texas was equivalent to the entire energy output of California in a single day, Jones said.
The loss of power generation was largely attributed to weather conditions like freezing rain, which affected wind turbines, damaged natural gas units, and froze coal piles.
Jones said that during the 2021 storm, ERCOT bought the rights to turn off small industrial powers, but there was still not enough generation to meet load demand. Then, ERCOT spoke with local distribution companies to cut customer load. As generation failed, ERCOT had to balance load and distribution, Jones said.
Moreover, Jones said state generators winterized to the 2011 storm. But that in 2021, the storm “was a different storm.”
Jones also touted the partnership between ERCOT and climatologists and meteorologists to improve both load and weather forecasting.