Gov. Greg Abbott says he ‘can guarantee the lights will stay on’ this winter

Federal report suggests utilization of weather forecasts to better predict electric demand

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference where he signed two energy related bills, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Abbot signed legislation into law to reform the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and weatherize and improve the reliability of the state's power grid. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Greg Abbott is guaranteeing Texans won’t have issues keeping the power on this winter.

“I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” Abbott told FOX 7 in Austin during Thanksgiving week. “I signed almost a dozen laws that make the power grid more effective.”

Abbott was referring to multiple bills he signed into law this year to reform the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

In June, Abbott signed Senate Bills 2 and 3, which requires the weatherization of power generation facilities, natural gas facilities, and transmission facilities to handle extreme weather and prevent another monumental failure of the Texas power grid as seen during Winter Storm Uri.

“During the winter storm, too many Texans were left without heat or power for days on end, and I immediately made reforming ERCOT and weatherizing the power system emergency items,” Abbott said. “These laws will improve the reliability of the electric grid and help ensure these problems never happen again.”

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), released a report on Nov. 16 about the cold weather outages Texans experienced in February and stated that “the extent to which the Event was caused by the failure of all types of generating units to prepare for extreme cold weather or associated freezing precipitation, cannot be overstated.”

“The principal cause of generating unit outages was freezing components and systems resulting from the cold temperatures and precipitation,” the report states. “Freezing issues and fuel issues combined to cause 75% of all unplanned generating unit outages, derates and failures to start during the Event.”

According to a report from KXAN, Abbott said he personally spoke to natural gas pipeline transmitters and was assured that they’re conducting winterization precautions that most people don’t know about.

In October, utility regulators in Texas approved a rule that requires power companies to weatherize their facilities against extreme weather conditions. A report from the Texas Tribune, however, states that the details on how to weatherize facilities have been left up to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates utilities.

The rule says power companies have to use “best efforts” to ensure power plants can continue to operate during winter weather conditions.

Winter Storm Uri caused the “largest controlled firm load shed event in U.S. history,” according to NERC’s report. Millions of Texans lost power and the NERC report states that an estimated 210 people died during the event.

“Analysts with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimated that the outages caused direct and indirect losses to the Texas economy of between $80 to $130 billion,” according to the NERC report.

While the severity of Winter Storm Uri was a rare occurrence for Texas, with record-setting snowfall in some areas, if it happens again this winter there is cause for concern, according to some experts.

“If we see a recurrence of the storm we saw last year, people should probably be worried,” director of Public Citizen’s Texas office Adrian Shelley told the Texas Tribune.

NERC President and CEO Jim Robb said “extreme weather events, such as the one in February 2021, are unfortunately becoming more commonplace and the electricity ecosystem needs to come together to plan for and prepare to operate under more extreme, longer duration, and wide-area weather events.”

Robb’s comment coincided with the release of the NERC report, which includes 28 recommendations that aim to prevent a repeat of the failures experienced during Winter Storm Uri.

Some of the recommendations include revisions to the NERC Reliability Standards surrounding generator winterization and gas-electric coordination and utilization of weather forecasts to better predict electric demand.

University of Houston energy expert Ed Hirs told FOX 7 that Abbott is “betting the weather stays mild, and if it gets cold that the electric utilities are ready to go.” But, Hirs said, “there is no evidence that they are.”

“I think all consumers need to be treating winter the same way those along the Gulf Coast treat hurricane season, make sure you have supplies handy,” said Hirs.

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About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.