- The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday lamented that more concrete steps in Texas were not taken after a 2011 cold snap, and committed to ensuring action is taken if the commission recommends it in its upcoming report on the mass outages that occurred in February.
- FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) in their 2011 report assessing how Texas could have been better prepared for the polar vortex that hit the state that year and caused widespread blackouts, recommended generators winterize their facilities in order to prevent such instances in the future. But FERC Chair Richard Glick said little action was taken in response to those recommendations, and pledged things would be different if the commission made similar recommendations this time around.
- “Somehow throughout the process, those recommendations ended up turning into just guidance for generating plants … So unfortunately, nothing happened and then we saw the results of that a few weeks ago,” he said.
FERC and NERC opened an investigation into bulk power system operations last month after widespread outages left millions without power across Texas and parts of the Central Plains. A similar weather event happened in 2011, though with less severe consequences, but Glick pointed to the report FERC conducted after that event and noted that recommended actions were not taken by generators.
Texas operates under a competitive market, so without mandating winterization upgrades, generators had little incentive to spend money on such upgrades, he said.
“One generator is not going to voluntarily make the changes necessary to weatherize their equipment if another competitor doesn't do that — it will put them at a disadvantage,” Glick said during CERAWeek, hosted by IHS Markit. FERC and NERC’s investigation is underway and expected to be completed by this summer, and the chairman said if it makes similar recommendations to last time, he will ensure they won’t be ignored.
“I'm making a commitment that we're not just going to let this be a report that sits on the shelf,” he said, “If it recommends action, we're going to take action.”
“It is pretty clear” what the message was in the 2011 report, he added, “and it's just disturbing that it didn't turn into action. So we need to figure out what went wrong there too, and make sure we don't make the same mistake this time.”
Currently, winterization “guidelines” exist but there is no real enforcement mechanism — generators file their plans with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas does a random “spot check” of some units to see if they are in line with the recommendations. Power generators NRG Energy and Vistra Energy during state legislative hearings last week said their plants were winterized in line with those recommendations, but also said there may be some room for improvements in the future. The gas supply-side in particular was skeptical about adding more regulations and requirements around winterization during those hearings.
Thursday was not the first time Glick expressed skepticism about the state’s level of preparedness: Earlier this month he called on state and federal lawmakers to potentially rethink ERCOT’s market model, which is a grid operated as its own interconnection, and not federally regulated by FERC except in instances of bulk reliability.