Texas Gov. Abbott promises power will stay on this winter

The cooler air that blew into Texas Friday was a reminder winter is not far away, and a reminder of how the electrical power grid almost collapsed back in February

FOX 7 Austin asked Gov. Greg Abbott about his expectations for the grid and if he was confident it’s going to stay up.

"Listen very confident about the grid and I can tell you why, for one I signed almost a dozen laws that make the power grid more effective," said Abbott.

A big part of protecting the grid is set to happen Dec. 1 when power generators across Texas must notify the Public Utility Commission winter weatherization plans are in place. Inspections will begin in January - and with power companies reporting 15% more power generating capacity than last winter- Abbott doubled down on his confidence in the grid.

"I can guarantee the lights will stay on," said Abbott.

That promise may have strings attached to it. Dr. Ed Hirs, an energy expert with the University of Houston, offered his assessment on what may best be described as a "conditional" promise.

"Well the governor is betting the weather stays mild, and if it gets cold that the electric utilities are ready to go. There is no evidence that they are," said Hirs.

Hirs warned the power generation stated by the governor falls short of what would be needed to address another February crisis. He is also worried some natural gas pipe lines, that froze up as temperatures fell, will not be winterized. That concern is fueled by a loophole created by the agency regulating that industry.

"The Railroad Commission has given critical gas infrastructure an out, all they have to do is send in an application for exemption from the rules, $159 fee, there's still investigations going on as to whether or not the market had been purposely manipulated. FERC in its report of two weeks ago said that investigation is ongoing with other FERC offices and probably with other law enforcement agencies," said Hirs.

The Governor told FOX7 he is confident because the general public is not aware of what the natural gas industry has been doing for the past several months.

"I have talked to some of the natural gas pipeline transmitters, and they've also have been doing winterization that most people don’t know about. Most importantly is the approach ERCOT has taken this year, unlike last year. Last year they were reactive, and waited until a crisis mode before they summoned more power, more energy, now the way ERCOT works, is they work days in advance in summoning that power to make sure they will have enough power to keep the lights on," said Abbott.

For those who doubt the governor's power grid promise, Hirs recommends doing what is used for a more familiar type of Texas storm.

"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, I hate to say go out and buy generators, but if you don’t have enough natural gas you may not be able to run a generator either," said Hirs.

Officials with ERCOT were asked about winter preparations. The following statement was sent to FOX7.

ERCOT will have a 43.3 percent planning reserve margin for this winter and anticipates there will be sufficient generating capacity available to serve forecasted peak demand for winter 2022, assuming typical winter grid conditions. Details are in the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy (SARA) report.

As part of our comprehensive planning, we also reviewed a number of low-probability, high-impact scenarios. Making these scenarios available will allow better preparation for extreme possibilities. Generators across the state have made improvements in power plant weatherization.  

ERCOT also noted "significant operational improvements" over the summer and additional changes planned for the winter, including:

  • New Public Utility Commission weatherization rules;
  • New power plant inspections with penalties for non-compliance, enforced by the PUC;
  • Aggressive daily grid management; and
  • More available generation compared to last winter.

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