Texas Winter Weather Recommendations
In 2012, Quanta Technology developed a Weather Emergency Preparedness Report for the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT). The report was developed in response to legislation in Texas following the February 2011 cold weather event. On October 18, 2021, the PUCT staff issued a proposal that in part states:
“Specifically, the rule requires generators to implement winter weather readiness recommendations identified in the 2012 Quanta Technology Report on Extreme Weather Preparedness Best Practices (2012 Quanta Report) and to fix any known, acute issues that arose from winter weather conditions during the 2020-2021 winter weather season.”
The PUCT adopted the rules on October 21, 2021. Download the news release.
The Report was largely a review of Emergency Operating Plans submitted by various Texas entities, an analysis of the ERCOT system for potential weather vulnerabilities, the team’s opinion on the scope and usefulness of the plans, and recommendations for improvement.
Since Dave and I were deeply involved in writing sections of the 2012 report, we wanted to share our thoughts about PUC adopting recommendations from the Quanta Technology Report on Extreme Weather Preparedness Best Practices and discuss some of the key recommendations and other proposed mitigations in light of the February 2021 weather-related outages in ERCOT. The report included a review of Emergency Operation Plans which contained hurricane and pandemic preparedness in addition to cold weather.
Jim – That report was developed a while back, but I recall its intent to be a review of known best practices for not only winter weather conditions, but summer and pandemic preparedness plans as well. We’d hoped the material would be deemed useful and implemented, at least in part, in the foreseeable future.
Dave – The report looked at the resources in Texas, what their limitations were based on the emergency operating plans that were required to be filed with the commission, and developed recommendations for better extreme weather preparedness. At that time, emergency operation plans at many generating facilities addressed fire, chemical spills, bomb threats, etc. but not extreme weather preparedness. Those that did address extreme weather focused on personnel and plant safety, not plant availability.
We also completed system studies to review extreme weather vulnerabilities including cold weather, heat, drought, and of course hurricanes.
Jim – Some of the specific generator points were gained from experience at an LCRA coal-fired plant in La Grange, Texas in March 1985. I specifically recall checks and rechecks of heat tracing panels, constructing wind breaks out of scaffolding and plastic sheets, and of course deploying two dozen or so portable “salamander” heaters to cold sensitive areas up and down the boiler structures. And then the ongoing task of keeping the heaters fueled with kerosene by way of five-gallon cans – hand delivered of course.
Dave – The report identified a number of areas for improvement. First, identifying the actual weather limitations of generating resources was recommended. For thermal plants this included fuel, inlet air, water, etc. For wind generation cold weather limitations, identification if there was heat or cooling in the nacelle (the generating unit at the top of the tower) and if blade deicing capability to extend the range of operation existed. Simple things made a significant difference. For example, in a number of cases, instrumentation that operated on compressed air froze during the February 2011 event, pointing to the need for simple fixes such as draining condensation from air lines, heat taping, adding insulation, closing doors, and creating temporary enclosures.
Extreme weather preparedness needs to be systematically implemented seasonally and personnel trained annually. In the 2011 and the 2021 events, plant operators were caught off guard.
For fuel-related issues, we discussed dual-fuel options where if the fuel supply is interrupted, an on-site alternative fuel would be available. Such an approach needs to be highly coordinated within the region to identify the generating resources most critical for such operation.
Overall, preparedness and training are the keys to success for such events. February 2011 was not the first cold weather event in Texas and February 2021 will not likely be the last. Personnel should never be caught off guard. Everyone from the grid operator to plant personnel should be aware of and prepared for the potential of extreme weather and how the system or their plant will operate in such conditions.