Apr 7, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Cold snap caused most Texas outages during storm, grid operator says

The U.S. and Texas flags fly in front of high voltage transmission towers on February 21, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
The U.S. and Texas flags fly in front of high voltage transmission towers in Houston in February. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Weather-related problems were the leading cause of Texas power plants going offline during February's record cold snap that left millions of Texans in the dark, a preliminary report published Tuesday states.

Why it matters: These initial findings from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of electric power in the state, indicate that many facilities were unable to cope with the extreme weather.

Details: 54% of outages could be attributed to the cold during the winter storm, which caused the deaths of 125 people.

  • This "includes but is not limited to frozen equipment — including frozen sensing lines, frozen water lines, and frozen valves — ice accumulation on wind turbine blades, ice/snow cover on solar panels, exceedances of low temperature limits for wind turbines, and flooded equipment due to ice/snow melt," per the report.
  • The next leading causes were outages that existed before the storm, such as for scheduled shutdowns (15%) and equipment failure that was unrelated to the weather (14%).

For the record: Texas officials have launched a series of investigations into the winter storm power crisis.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: While it's significant that ERCOT has admitted this, the key question is whether officials will take any action to require utilities to harden their systems to prevent against a repeat.

What to watch: A bill designed to overhaul the Texas power market and grid, which would "authorize fines of up to $1 million per day for electricity and natural gas companies that don't winterize appropriately" has already has passed the state Senate and is now before the House, per the Austin-American Statesman.

Read the preliminary report in full, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: The politics of the Texas power crisis

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