By Pamela Largue, Power Engineering International
In the wake of a February winter storm that left Texans reeling from freezing temperatures and failed power generation units, reports are starting to publish data that demonstrates the scale and impact of the disaster.
Gas spot prices skyrocket
A report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that natural gas spot prices at several trading hubs approached their record highs briefly during the week of February 14 amid significantly colder-than-normal weather that affected most of the Lower 48 states.
In Oklahoma, Oneok Gas Transmission (OGT) reached what might be the highest natural gas price at any natural gas hub in history at an average of $1,192/MMBtu on February 17, according to NGI data. The spot price at OGT was $2.91/MMBtu during the first week of February.
Almost 2,000 generator outages reported
Hundreds of Texas-based electric generation units reported nearly 2,000 outage events during the February winter storm, according to a new report from grid system operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
The ERCOT report lists each generation unit from an owner that approved release of the information. The list runs more than 20 pages long and included mostly wind, gas-fired, solar and coal-fired resources.
The lion’s share of outages reported by generators happened between Feb. 14-19 as snow, ice and temperatures below zero challenged the electric power and delivery system. ERCOT has been roundly criticized by Texas customers and its political class, with CEO Bill Magness fired and numerous board members resigning in the wake of the crisis.
“The outage information in the attached list is ordinarily confidential for 60 days after each applicable operating day,” the ERCOT release reads.
“However, in anticipation of requests for this information from the Legislature and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, ERCOT issued a notice to its market participants on February 22, requesting that each Resource Entity authorize ERCOT to publicly disclose its generator outage information notwithstanding the 60-day confidentiality rule so as to facilitate any necessary public discussion of these outages by the Legislature or other government authorities.”
Numerous utilities or other power generators opted to not allow that information disclosed, but that omission does not mean they had an outage, the ERCOT letter reads.
Wind and natural gas make up most of the Texas electric generation resource mix, so those facilities dominate the outage list. Utility-scale wind sites which reported numerous outage situations included Grandview, Santa Cruz, Dermott, Bull Creek and many others.
Among the scores of gas-fired plant outages, Kiamichi Energy, Leon Creek and Wolf Hollow are among an almost incalculable number of sites knocked offline at multiple times. The Amoco Oil cogeneration plants and others like it also reported generator outage events, according to the ERCOT report.
Overall, some 52GW of ERCOT territory generation capacity was lost during the storm, causing outages lasting days, burst pipes and some deaths. Natural gas-fired plants accounted for 27GW, or more than half of total capacity, while utility-scale wind lost some 18GW, or 57% of that resource capacity, according to ERCOT.
Coal, solar and nuclear also went offline, with the latter two only losing 12 and 13% of system capacity, the record shows.
The lost generation forced rolling blackouts and load shedding to cope with the imbalance of supply and demand during the extremely cold weather. Any further loss of grid frequency could have tripped more generation plants offline and led to a total system failure, according to reports.
The ERCOT system oversees most of Texas and is not connected to larger grid interconnections, such as the Eastern and Western Interconnections. Several reports have drawn parallels to the 2011 grid outages and rolling blackouts, but noted that the earlier event is dwarfed by the massive scale of the latest system failure.
Pamela Largue is a senior content creator and editor and has been a part of the Clarion content team for over seven years. She specializes in international power and energy-related content.