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Texas is not prepared to handle extreme winter weather again, ERCOT report shows

A report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas shows Texas would likely have blackouts if winter conditions were extreme.

AUSTIN, Texas — A report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) shows Texas is not prepared to handle an extreme winter weather event.

ERCOT manages the energy grid in Texas. The Texas energy grid must be balanced. The February freeze, known as Winter Storm Uri, knocked many power plants offline and consumers demanded more electricity to handle the cold weather. It led to massive blackouts.

A new law went into effect this year requiring power plants to weatherize, but no deadlines are set.

The latest ERCOT report shows, “there is no planned capacity expected to become operational by the start of the winter season based on the latest developer information. This is largely due to the new practice of classifying projects approved for grid synchronization as operational rather than planned resources.”

The report is called the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy for the ERCOT Region (SARA). ERCOT looked at five different extreme weather scenarios. Four of the five scenarios show the potential for blackouts.

“Just because the numbers have some scary numbers in it, it doesn't mean that the grid is going to go down if things are normal. Even if it's colder than normal, but not an extreme winter, we should be fine. But we do know that we can have these types of events. So we need to figure out what type of event we want to be prepared for," said Joshua D. Rhodes, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, Webber Energy Group/Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin.

Rhodes said it will take more than winterizing power plants.

“We haven't really done much to address the issues we had with the natural gas sector. If we fix all the power plants that were offline because they froze but they still can't get their fuel, then we could be in a similar issue going forward,” Rhodes said.

The new Texas law requiring power plants to weatherize does not apply to natural gas facilities. A federal report shows natural gas supply issues caused 27.3% of the outages during the February winter storm. 

“The residential sector quadruples, if not increases five times, from a normal winter week to a week like that [Winter Storm Uri]. So, I also think we should be looking at energy efficiency things. Our homes are not built for that kind of weather. If our homes were better insulated and had higher-efficiency appliances, I think we could have spread a lot of that energy around,” Rhodes said.

Austin Energy offers weatherization assistance for low- to mid-income families. Anyone who rents a home, duplex, triplex, fourplex or mobile home may also qualify.

Other weatherization services are available around the state under the Weatherization Assistance Program from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.


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