Staff from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently provided a report that includes preliminary findings and recommendations related to the February 2021 cold weather event that impacted the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Southwest Power Pool (SPP), Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and other regions.
FERC and NERC staff offered details on the report at FERC’s monthly meeting on Sept. 23.
The report reviews what happened during the freeze and outlines a series of recommendations, including mandatory electric reliability standards, to prevent its recurrence.
Following the staff presentation, FERC Chairman Richard Glick noted that a 2011 FERC/NERC report released after a prior cold weather event had recommended mandatory weatherization requirements for electric generation facilities.
“But somehow that recommendation was eventually watered down to guidelines that few generators actually followed,” he said.
“Today’s report again recommends that generation facilities be required to winterize with a number of specific related recommendations,” Glick noted.
“I guarantee you that this time FERC will not permit these recommendations to be ignored or watered down,” he said.
Glick also said that it is “becoming increasingly apparent that electric grid reliability depends heavily on the reliability of natural gas production and delivery systems.”
Noting that the electric sector has been operating under a mandatory reliability regime since 2005, Glick said that “it is worth exploring whether additional actions may be necessary to enhance the reliability of the natural gas sector to address threats posed by both extreme weather and cyber or physical attacks to pipelines and other gas facilities.”
The February freeze triggered the loss of 61,800 megawatts of electric generation, as 1,045 individual generating units experienced 4,124 outages, derates or failures to start. It severely reduced natural gas production, with the largest effects felt in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, where combined daily production declined to an estimated 20 billion cubic feet per day, FERC noted. That is a reduction of more than 50 percent compared to average production from February 1-5.
The FERC/NERC assessment points to freezing of generator components and fuel issues as the top two major causes of generator outages, derates or failures to start.
The identified causes in the preliminary report affected generating units across all fuel types. Of the 1,045 generating units affected, 57 percent were natural gas-fired units that primarily faced fuel-supply challenges.
What Went Right
In terms of what went right during the event, the preliminary report said that SPP, MISO and ERCOT reliability coordinators (RCs) coordinated and communicated well with each other.
It noted that beginning February 8, SPP and MISO began management-level discussions about the upcoming severe cold weather forecast and natural gas fuel restrictions expected, and beginning Feb. 14, they kept an open communication channel between control rooms throughout the event.
On Feb. 12, SPP began coordinating with ERCOT about which balancing authority would rely on switchable generation that both BAs depend upon as capacity resources, the preliminary report went on to say.
“The RCs recognized that all three footprints were simultaneously having emergencies and cooperated to alleviate the most critical conditions first.”
The report offers 28 preliminary recommendations including nine key recommendations. Those include changes to mandatory reliability standards that build upon the recently approved standards developed in the wake of a 2019 joint inquiry into a prior cold weather event.
The report also includes five preliminary recommendation areas for further study:
- Black start unit reliability;
- Additional ERCOT connections;
- Potential measures to address natural gas supply shortfalls;
- Potential effect of low-frequency events on generators in the Western and Eastern Interconnections; and
- Guidelines for identifying critical natural gas infrastructure loads
The recommendations also include proposed timeframes for implementation, most of which are either prior to Winter 2022/2023 or Winter 2023/2024.
The presentation of the preliminary findings and recommendations is available here.
The final report will be released in November.