Sunday, February 6, 2011

Freeze knocked out coal plants and natural gas supplies, leading to blackouts in Texas


Photo By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)

Source: Dallas Morning News
Here are just a few excerpts from this article:

Early Wednesday morning, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) began shutting off power to customers after a quick, deep freeze sliced through the state.

“My gut is that there were sources of power that were not contracted for and were not prepared to go when they were needed,” said Bill White, former Democratic candidate for governor and former No. 2 at the Department of Energy, where he had responsibility for the national energy grid.

If I am a generator, then I am going to make my calculations on the basis of cost and benefits. Period.” --Bill White

The cold wiped out four of Energy Future Holdings’ coal plants, three of them brand-new.

... gas wells in the Barnett Shale field began freezing and couldn’t pump supply into Atmos’ network.

Oncor , which operates the power lines in North Texas, agreed to omit Barnett Shale gas well equipment from rotating outages, but electricity regulators didn’t have a database of critical natural gas equipment.

... Luminant, already suffering from four downed coal plants, sought to ramp up its Lake Ray Hubbard natural gas-fired power plant, asking Atmos for a large amount of natural gas.

... providing the gas to Luminant would have meant shutting off residential customers and closing down part of Atmos’ system. It would have taken weeks to restore service to all of those homes.

... The issue, some say, is that Texas’ deregulated electricity system leaves reliability up to the free market.

... If supplies get tight, prices rise and more plants come online — in theory.

The problem was that no one has the responsibility to make sure that enough power was contracted for and ready for availability.” --Bill White

... one program designed to relieve an emergency isn’t fully subscribed. Emergency Interruptible Load Service pays customers to agree to shut down in an emergency. But it doesn’t have a full load of customers.

ERCOT CEO Trip Doggett is in the shower when the emergency notification comes in. When he sees the notice, he calls Ken Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of grid operations, to gather information. He then spends half an hour calling the three PUC members, the PUC executive director and one of the governor’s advisers. He then drives to ERCOT’s back-up control room in Austin and begins calling legislators.

PUC chairman Smitherman gets a call from ERCOT’s market monitor, Dan Jones. Smitherman, sick in bed with a sinus infection, doesn’t answer.

Producers struggle to get workers to the field to repair the equipment in the cold.

This is a Suspicious News Brief. Read more at Dallas Morning News.

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