Frozen Progress: Building Winter Storm Continuity in Texas
Beth Garza, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a think tank that specializes in policy research, notes that other Texas power companies are investing money in hardening their infrastructure despite the hefty bills. One example she points to is Vistra Corp., which claimed to have lost about $1.6 billion because of the February freeze; however, it also announced plans to invest in alternative fuel storage at some of its plants and other backup fuel options, such as increasing the amount of underground natural gas storage that it leases.
“The problem is there’s no requirement that says your power plant has to be prepared to operate when the temperature gets to -5 degrees Fahrenheit,” Garza says, pointing to ambiguity within previous rules and the ones recently adopted by PUC. Recent PUC rules order power plants to address and repair damages caused during the 2011 and 2021 storms, followed by a phase that calls on determining the extremity of weather that plants need to be prepared to deal with. But, according to Garza, that assessment will not be ready in time for the 2021-2022 winter season.
For smaller or more marginal power plants that already do not make a hefty profit, the bills paired with the cost of weatherizing can be enough to tempt some to retire, leaving more areas underserved. “That balance…is always at play in trying to develop these standards,” Garza says.
Garza, however, says she is hopeful that at least some gaps on the power side are being filled in. “I have confidence that (power plant owners) have already started trying to address the issues that came to light,” she says.
Along with dealing with the sources of plant failures, Garza also points to the fact that power plants now have a better awareness of where more natural gas facilities are located and can factor that into curtailment and business continuity plans.