Common sense and the Texas power grid

For better or worse, this sat around in my draft queue for longer than I had wanted. But I still consider it timely, as I haven’t heard anything new about the underlying problem and what’s been done to solve it.

As recently reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (among many other news outlets), a rather disturbing development has arisen regarding the 2021 Valentine’s Day ice storms and the resultant power grid disruption. Meters which belonged to parts of critical natural gas infrastructure had signed up for ERCOT’s Emergency Response Service (ERS). (ERCOT is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc., a non-government corporation in charge of regulating the mostly independent power grid in Texas.) Normally enrollment in this service is from large industrial users of electricity which will power down in extreme situations to keep residential customers from being affected by load shedding (i.e. rolling blackouts). From the article:

UT Austin researchers discovered that 67 electric meters run by natural gas companies were enrolled in the program. In turn, those meters, which were part of the fuel supply chain providing energy to millions of Texans, lost power when the program was activated on Feb. 15.

At least five of those meters were later identified as “critical natural gas infrastructure,” including natural gas compressors, processing facilities or other parts of the supply chain, according to Joshua Rhodes, a research associate and co-author.

“It seems inconsistent that critical infrastructure should also voluntarily allow themselves to be turned off when they are needed most,” Rhodes said.

So, not only were key parts of the natural gas supply chain powered off when they were needed the most, ERCOT actually paid these companies to shut off the power, further reducing the availability of natural gas and causing the wholesale prices of electricity to go through the roof.

This is absolutely despicable and unconscionable. How was this allowed to happen? How will we keep it from happening again? You would think this was common sense, that parts of the natural gas infrastructure shouldn’t be shut down when we have power plants that use natural gas to make electricity. The old saying “common sense isn’t that common anymore” comes to mind, thus the title I used for this post.

I’m now in the process of digging through ERCOT’s website and later news stories to see if there’s something I’ve missed. I don’t think there is, but I’ll happily follow up if it turns out this has been fixed going forward.

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