It worked! Why your electricity stayed on during this cold weather.

January 19, 2024

We were very concerned. This week’s cold weather event was one of the most severe of the last 15 years. Arguably the second most severe. We all remember days of outages and resulting tragedies caused by Winter Storm Uri in 2021. That can never be allowed to happen again.

Post Uri, the Texas Legislature mandated a long and complex list of market and operational changes. We’ve also reorganized both the Public Utility Commission and ERCOT which operates Texas’ electric grid. Many of these legislative mandates are in effect while others are still in the implementation process. 

Although there is more work to be done, I am encouraged by the performance of our grid during this recent weather event. This week was a big test. Here are some of my key takeaways. 

Takeaway #1 – Record Demand, Ample Reserve and No Emergency Conditions 

This past week we broke winter power demand records but never entered emergency condition status. Emergency conditions are triggered when electricity reserves drop below 2,500 megawatts (MW). During this cold wave we maintained at least 5,000 MW in reserve and had other contingencies available if needed. 

Takeaway #2 –Thermal Fleet Had Very Good Performance; Weatherization Working 

Much of Winter Storm Uri’s outages were caused by frozen equipment across the power grid. In 2021, the legislature implemented comprehensive weatherization standards and mandated inspections to ensure compliance. Although these were expensive and complex, we know the effort is having a positive impact. Thermal forced outages caused by the weather amounted to no more than 3,000 MW. That is less than half of the forced outage totals for the thermal electric generation fleet (natural gas, nuclear and coal) during the 2022 winter storm.

Takeaway #3 – Critical Load Maps, Firm Fuel, Gas Storage and Increased Communications 

In 2021, the legislature created the Texas Electricity Supply Chain Security and Mapping Committee. This entity was charged with mapping the electricity supply chain in Texas and identifying the critical infrastructure sources to ensure power is not lost. Additionally, we formalized in statute the Texas Energy Reliability Council (TERC) to enhance coordination and communication in the energy and electric industries. 

In discussions with the industry, we learned that these changes were paramount for grid preparedness and reliability during last summer’s and this winter’s extreme weather events. The collaboration from the electric and energy industry allows providers to troubleshoot quickly before a severe problem occurs or to expedite a timely resolution. 

The legislature also implemented incentives for generators to have firm fuel (a commitment to deliver fuel under any conditions) and onsite fuel storage. This is important because during gas curtailments, you want to have on site fuel storage as a backup. This has been working very well and thermal plants are staying operational. 

Takeaway #4 – A Pleasant Addition to the Grid: Batteries 

During Winter Storm Uri in 2021, battery storage was well before its prime. Since then, battery storage has become increasingly interconnected to the grid, and much more is projected to be available. Batteries performed in this winter storm exactly how we had hoped. They discharged power on the grid during peak demand and recharged during non-peak hours. I am excited to see what the future holds for battery storage. 

Takeaway #5 – Wind and Solar Remain Variable and Unpredictable 

Although it is a large segment of our electricity supply in Texas, solar and wind generation continues to be unreliable. We have made significant efforts to encourage more dispatchable generation, but it takes time to build power plants. Also, the federal government’s large subsidies for wind and solar projects discourages construction of the reliable, dispatchable natural gas fired plants of which we are in need. 

Takeaway #6 – ERCOT’s Power Demand Forecast Overly Conservative 

Part of ERCOT’s job is to forecast power demand so that adequate power is available hour by hour, day by day. It will take some time to explore why this happened, but ERCOT’s forecasts were much higher than real time demand during this winter event. We always want to err on the side of caution and be over prepared rather than under prepared, but we need to explore how to improve our winter forecasting. It has the potential for unintended consequences like unnecessarily driving up costs for consumers. 

Takeaway #7 – Dispatchable (Ready-to Go) Generation is Necessary for Texas’ Future 

During the November 2023 election, voters approved Prop 7 to help incentivize more dispatchable and reliable generation. The Texas Energy Fund will provide loans and grants for new dispatchable generation and help existing dispatchable generators make necessary improvements. This investment for our future is just one way that the legislature has encouraged a path forward to bring the right type of power generation to Texas. 

I hope this information is helpful and encouraging. This cold wave was a good test of the changes implemented across our electric grid over the last three years. The role of the PUC and ERCOT in implementing legislative mandates, and the cooperation and work of the electricity industry, deserve much recognition.

As always, I am available for any questions you may have or your feedback.

Special Thanks: If you know any linemen for the transmission and distribution utilities, tell them thank you! These men and women are first responders during a storm, and I know they worked many long hours, in very frigid conditions, to quickly resolve any local outages.