Home » Texas State Reps Furious That Industry Didn’t Raise Widespread Alarm About Risk Of Power Crisis

Texas State Reps Furious That Industry Didn’t Raise Widespread Alarm About Risk Of Power Crisis

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In the days leading up to the mass power outages that swept across Texas this month amid freezing weather, meteorologists at Vistra Corp, which provides a large share of Texas’ power, had an urgent warning for the company’s top management: a big weather event was coming, and the state’s grid operator didn’t fully grasp it. 

Vistra raised those concerns with the grid operator, called ERCOT, which did eventually raise its forecast for potential grid demand in coming days by 10,000 megawatts, testified Curt Morgan, the CEO of Vistra Corp. 

But such warnings never spread far beyond the rarefied arena of power plant operators and company executives, a shortcoming that Texas lawmakers honed in on during hearings with top power company executives on Thursday. 

Neither the state’s major power providers, nor the top agencies overseeing the Texas grid, delivered widespread urgent warnings to the public about the likelihood of a major possible power shortfall as a rare Arctic blast settled over the typically warm-weather state.

“The communication was weak, it was pathetic,” said Sam Harless, a Texas state representative, who told the executives that he had heard only that there would be rolling blackouts, not outages that lasted days in some cases. “Work on your communication skills because they were poor.” Harless added: “ERCOT was pathetic, the PUC was non-existent,” referring to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees the grid operator.  

State representative Eddie Lucio berated Morgan the chief of another big power provider in the NRG, which is led by Mauricio Gutierrez. “Do not wait. If you know what the reality is, share it,” Lucio said. “[Texans] could have made life-changing decisions in real time to seek shelter, be warm, protect their families” if they had known more.

Another state representative told Calpine CEO Thad Hill that his staff had found that Calpine had not sent out any press releases or tweets about the severity of the situation until February 23rd — well after the outages began on the 15th.

Hill responded that he himself was not aware that there would be an emergency situation until the cold weather mass had already arrived. “We did not know there would be a grid emergency,” he said, pointing out that ERCOT did not issue any calls to conserve energy until the 14th.

Although Vistra’s chief, Curt Morgan, emphasized that his company had grown so concerned internally that management reached out to ERCOT, its Facebook page and some other communication channels

In an initial post-mortem of the grid’s failure, the chief executive of ERCOT, Bill Magness, outlined the actions that his organization took in the lead-up to the crisis, which included advisory notices or warnings issued on the 8th and 10th and additional notices on every subsequent day until the 15th, when power plants widely failed early in the morning. But those warnings nevertheless appear not to have gained traction with much of the public and failed to register with some state representatives.

Gas plant operators blame gas plant suppliers

The executives being grilled by the representatives also laid blame for the widespread power outages in the state at the feet of suppliers of the natural gas they need to run their gas-fired power plants, which take gas as fuel. Calpine’s CEO said that more than half of the outages its plants suffered were caused by supply issues — although he allowed that the suppliers themselves in some cases could not pump gas because their power had been cut. 

Gas plants run by the companies represented in the hearings were largely available through the crisis but couldn’t run at maximum capacity because they weren’t able to procure natural gas at sufficient pressure because of freezing issues in the supply chain. 

Morgan, the Vistra chief, said that freezing conditions affected the proper functioning of everything from wells, compressors, to processing facilities. 

“It was an issue of getting the appropriate level of pressure,” he said. “There wasn’t enough gas being injected into the system.”

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