February cold 2021

A car makes it's way carefully down the street in Stillwater on Feb. 14, 2021. An extended period of bitter cold settled over the central U.S. that month, leading to natural gas shortages and rolling power outages. Michelle Charles/Stillwater News Press

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission heard reports Tuesday from electric utilities about the actions they’re taking to increase reliability in the case of extreme cold weather.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a final report Nov. 16 detailing the results of an investigation into electric system failures in Texas and parts of the south-central U.S. in February 2021.

A widespread winter storm that brought ice, snow and historic low temperatures to most of the central U.S. and extended into Canada and northern Mexico caused equipment failures for many suppliers and led to natural gas shortages that increased the price by as much as 900% in some places.

Many areas experienced rolling blackouts and power was out in some parts of Texas for several weeks.

FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation partnered on the study designed to strengthen rules for cold weather preparedness and prevent blackouts, according to a summary released Dec. 10.

Terri Pyle, Director of Utility Operational Compliance and NERC Compliance Officer for OGE Energy Corp., provided an overview of the findings and discussed how OG&E is responding to the study.

Its findings contained 28 recommendations overall, including nine key recommendations that must be addressed, she said. Those key recommendations address reliability standards established by NERC.

They are to be phased in over the course of three winters, Pyle explained.

During winter 2021/2022, electric utilities are required to identify reliability risks associated with their natural gas contracts and agreements.

By winter 2022/2023 they must develop corrective action plans for cold related outages that specify inspection and maintenance of freeze protection measures. They must also implement training for operating personnel and retrofit existing and new designs to operate in extreme weather conditions.

They must separate the circuits used to balance electric generation and demand and to reduce demand on the system, a process called load shedding, in the case of an electric grid emergency.

Load shedding needs drove the rolling blackouts called for by the Southwest Power Pool and other electric transmission organizations during February’s extreme weather.

OCC Chair Dana Murphy noted a provision that would appear to allow electric utilities an opportunity to recover costs for retrofitting facilities. She asked if that funding was meant to come from requests to state regulators or some other source. She said she was concerned federal officials were mandating some action from the states.

The meaning isn’t clear and utility companies are wondering the same thing about possible cost recovery, Pyle said.

By winter 2023/2024, the utilities are to identify and protect cold-weather critical components and systems, accounting for precipitation and wind; provide the Southwest Power Pool with the percentage of total capacity that can be relied on during cold weather and protect critical natural gas infrastructure from inability to meet demand.

Additional recommendations would be implemented by various parties.

They include analyzing systems, incorporating weather forecasts into planning, performing simulator training for operators at least yearly and evaluating load shedding plans.

Some of the recommendations were directed specifically at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the organization that operates the electric grid in that state.

ERCOT says it manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million customers in Texas, representing 90 percent of the state’s electric load.

The report recommends more links between ERCOT and other electric grids. Other recommended areas of study include measures to address natural gas supply shortfalls and establishing criteria for identifying critical natural gas infrastructure demand.

After February’s events, OG&E established a task force to perform an after action review so the company could identify successes and failures, Pyle said. It’s an ongoing process.

Mark Ryczko, Fleet Operations Performance Manager for Public Service Company of Oklahoma, said the utility wants to show that it has made strides in preventing system failures like the ones seen in February.

The company has been reviewing winterization since a similar weather pattern occurred in the Southwest in 2011 and a polar vortex covered parts of the U.S. in 2014.

Between March and August, PSO standardized processes across its facilities to get ready for winter 2022, Ryczko said. It is implementing new NERC standards and has adopted procedures that require winterization to begin by Sept. 1.

Facilities must be certified ready by Nov. 15.

Most plants are designed with hot weather operations in mind, he said. So temporary modifications for cold weather have to be undone before it warms up. They have a summer mode and a winter mode.

The utility will investigate and develop an action plan in response to any cold weather event that impacts energy demand, also known as load.

Ryczko said PSO, for the most part, agrees with the FERC-NERC report’s nine key recommendations but retrofitting facilities that are 50 years old and were built to cold standards of that time might be impractical.

He said when increased demand is expected, PSO would encourage the SPP to call on older units like its coal-fired plants to start up earlier, before temperatures drop too much.

Brian Mushimba, Central Region Director of Generation Operations for Liberty Utilities, said his company also reviewed the events of February 2021 and found the temperatures just overtook some of the processes.

In response, it performed heat tracing studies and developed plans to prepare for winter by installing insulation and cladding.

It added panels and installed windbreaks, he said. It also standardized processes for extreme weather and identified and provided training for critical staff.

Oil storage tanks at its dual fuel tanks were filled to capacity to ensure continued operation in the case of a natural gas shortage.

Liberty has 4.6 million gallons on hand and should be able to continue generating for an estimated seven days, Mushimba said. Safety features are in place to address concerns about storing large amounts of flammable materials.

The company also invested in three wind farms, he said. The turbines are equipped with heaters that allow them to operate at temperatures as low as -30 celsius. The heaters did help to prevent the turbines from freezing up.

Tuesday’s meeting was one of a series OCC has held with entities involved in supplying power to state residents. The discussions will continue, Murphy said. 

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

Trending Video

Recommended for you