Since the 2021 winter storm, ERCOT has been making changes to prioritize grid reliability, Public Utility Commission chair Peter Lake told the Tribune. For example, the grid operator asks power plants to be online and available all the time in case they’re needed, instead of going online or offline based on market demand.
The changes, along with other factors, have led to skyrocketing energy bills for Texans. Brad Jones also told the Houston Chronicle that some machines are older and may suffer reliability issues, though outage rates have been low so far.
Energy experts told the Tribune that the most glaring issue is weatherizing natural gas production facilities, which fuel the largest percentage of Texas’ power generation. During the winter storm, natural gas production plummeted due to the freezing conditions and power outages.
The Public Utility Commission, which regulates ERCOT, and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the natural gas industry, have both made efforts to make sure power generators can withstand winter weather though experts said holes in both agencies’ policies leave wiggle room to avoid weatherization.
In January 2022, the Railroad Commission said that 98% of the natural gas facilities the commission’s inspectors had visited were winterized, though the inspectors hadn’t visited every facility in the state. The Railroad Commission has still not implemented weatherization standards for natural gas companies.
A spokesperson for ERCOT said the grid operator is working with the Public Utility Commission on expanding the amount of energy available in batteries that ERCOT could call upon when demand requires it.
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