Utilities officials: Christmas freeze was ‘not an event’

Austin. Texas utility officials touted the reliability of the grid during winter storm Elliott, which brought freezing temperatures across the country and state over the Christmas holidays.

Temperatures dropped to 11 degrees in Dallas and 10 degrees in the Midland-Odessa region December 22-25, officials said, leading to record winter energy demand.

Despite this, the grid persevered, Dan Woodfin, vice president of system operations for the Texas Electricity Reliability Board, told members of the Texas Public Utilities Commission on Thursday.

“At no time during cold weather operations did ERCOT need to declare an emergency or even get close enough to issue a warning or expect additional reserves,” Woodfin said.

Although the Texas network had overcome another hurdle, it was still being tested. This event led the state to break another record on the evening of December 22 and the morning of December 23, when demand peaked at about 74 gigawatts of electricity.

The grid also experienced 5.7 GW of additional thermal power outages and 11.6 GW of wind power outages, resulting in more stressful conditions on the morning of December 23 than the previous evening.

Woodfin added that the evening of Dec. 23 had the busiest conditions as the state continued to experience some power outages as well as light winds throughout the day.

In addition, the state and other system operators across the country underestimated the required load, Woodfin said.

While the state knew there would be a cold weather event on Dec. 22, it was deeper and faster than weather models predicted, resulting in a higher load.

Woodfin added that network operators are already evaluating lessons learned and working to improve modeling and processes.

“I want to emphasize that these lower forecasts did not affect reliability because we were deliberately preparing for a higher load than the forecast models predicted, and eventually it happened, so we were ready for it,” Woodfin said.

PUCT chairman Peter Lake emphasized Woodfin’s description that Winter Storm Elliott was a “non-event”.

“We had an extremely cold arctic blast, but it was not a network event,” Lake said. “This should be an outstanding showcase of the serviceability forums that this commission, this agency, staff, ERCOT and the ERCOT teams have worked so hard on.”

PUCT leaders also touted changes made to strengthen the state’s network and ensure reliability. This includes a new “solid fuel” supply program that provides incentives for companies to have a back-up source of fuel for power plants on site.

Other rule changes to ensure reliability include, among others, weather requirements, comprehensive mapping of natural gas resources, and improved communication between government emergency response agencies.

“We see that the network that we have now and the generation that we have now are reliable,” Lake said.

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