AUSTIN, Texas - Wednesday was the deadline for power generators across Texas to comply with new winterization rules from state regulators.
Power plants had until 5:00 PM to notify regulators of what they’ve done to protect their facilities from the elements. "We will have a very robust, effective, and safe power grid," said Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking to reporters last week.
Abbott says he’s confident the Texas power grid is ready for this winter--after February's devastating winter storm that spurred widespread outages and more than 200 deaths. "Today already there is winterization of all power generation facilities in the state of Texas," said Abbott.
Or, at least, there’s supposed to be. 900 power generators were required to submit reports to ERCOT by Wednesday night, showing they’ve properly winterized, in compliance with new rules approved by the Public Utility Commission in October.
"Mostly his deadline is about some protocols for physical preparation of power plants in terms of things they can do in the short term," said Carey King, Assistant Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.
Over the next month, ERCOT inspectors will go out and make sure those plants are in compliance. "Checking one power plant isn't just checking one thing, right? It's checking many, many locations and many components in a power plant," said King.
If they’re not prepared for extreme weather, they could face fines of $1 million per day.
"I think all of these power plant operators know if this happens, again if they don't comply with the PUC, the feds could step in. So I think there's a very high motivation in the industry to get that fixed," said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and president of Austin-based Stoic Energy.
Still, there are concerns not enough attention is being paid to another piece of the electricity equation. "Senator Lois Kolkhorst said gas supply is the Achilles heel of the system, and I believe that is an accurate statement, said Lewin.
On Tuesday, the PUC and the Railroad Commission of Texas adopted a rule barring major natural gas producers from opting out of registering as "critical infrastructure", so they don’t lose power in outages. But under the rule, these gas producers—which fuel many power plants--aren't required to weatherize themselves, and that worries some experts.
"It’s like your car," said Lewin. "If it's in tip-top shape, but there's no gas in the tank, you're not going anywhere, right? The gas has to get to the power plants," said Lewin.
And with ERCOT itself admitting last week, there are weather scenarios that would leave the grid short of power, experts say you should at least be ready for outages this winter. "Water, battery backup, a plan for how to care for family members, a full tank of gas in your car. Those are things that I'll be doing, and I would just encourage others to do them as well," said Lewin.
Next Friday, ERCOT plans to release a report detailing which power plants actually met the December 1 deadline. As for natural gas, those facilities will have to weatherize eventually.
The Railroad Commission will come out with a rule on that next summer.