FERC’s Glick Links Texas Blackouts Report To Climate Resilience Effort

Source: By Rick Weber, InsideEPA • Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2021

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff are calling for new reliability standards in a preliminary report on February’s widespread blackouts in Texas and throughout central portions of the country caused by severe storms, with FERC Chairman Richard Glick saying the issue is “directly related” to the commission’s climate resilience work.

“We need to reassess how we consider what reliability really is in the face of the changing climate,” Glick told reporters following FERC’s Sept. 23 public meeting where the report was released.

Glick said the findings underscore the need for the commission’s work to build out the grid to expand access for renewable energy, in part by floating a preliminary rulemaking this summer on transmission policy, as well as by formally soliciting input on improving grid resiliency.

He said the report on the Texas blackouts shows the intermittency of wind and solar power is not the threat to grid resiliency that critics of FERC’s proposed rule claim. Also, the commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which jointly produced the report with FERC, will “expeditiously” issue new reliability standards.

A final report is expected in November, following which NERC will begin drafting the new standards that FERC will have to approve. Glick said FERC will move quickly to make the standards enforceable once NERC writes them.

Specifically, the FERC staff report recommends revising reliability standards to require generator owners to identify and protect cold weather-critical components and to build out or retrofit power generators to expand their operational parameters “based on extreme temperature and weather data,” among a half dozen other recommendations. Perhaps most importantly for ensuring the commercial viability of these upgrades, the report says utilities should be allowed to recover their costs through rate increases.

“Generator owners should have the opportunity to be compensated for the costs of building or retrofitting their units to operate to a specified ambient temperature and weather conditions through markets or through cost recovery approved by state public utility commissions (e.g., as a reliability surcharge) to be included in end-users’ electric service rates,” the report says.

The draft FERC and NERC findings come amid the commission’s broader efforts to address climate change, and under Glick’s chairmanship, FERC has emerged as a key actor to begin implementing President Joe Biden’s goal of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, which will require transforming the nation’s power sector.

FERC is engaged in multiple major climate policy debates, including a proposed overhaul of its rules for building transmission lines to integrate high levels of renewables, oversight of grid operators’ policies to accommodate various types of clean energy sources, and an update to how the panel assesses the climate impacts of approving gas pipelines and other infrastructure.

Also, FERC has been promoting greater expansion of inter-regional transmission, which renewable energy advocates support as a way to mitigate the intermittency of solar and wind generation by allowing access to power in areas where the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.

‘Wake-Up Call’

FERC unanimously approved draft rules in July to update the federal process for siting new transmission facilities, including possibly broadening cost allocations to account for the system-wide benefits from improved resilience to increasingly severe weather, such as the polar vortex that caused widespread power outages in Texas this February. Comments on FERC’s draft proposed rule are due Oct. 19.

“This is a wake-up call for all of us. There was a similar inquiry after Texas experienced extreme cold weather in 2011, but those recommendations were not acted on,” Glick said in a statement announcing the release of the staff report. “We can’t allow this to happen again. This time, we must take these recommendations seriously, and act decisively, to ensure the bulk power system doesn’t fail the next time extreme weather hits,” he added.

NERC President and CEO Jim Robb added in a statement: “These preliminary findings provide clear and comprehensive insight into what happened on the grid during the February freeze and our joint recommendations provide a roadmap for what actions need to be taken next in order to prevent a repeat occurrence. Our coordinated efforts — across both the electric and natural gas industries — will provide the way ahead. NERC and FERC are committed to working together to make this happen.”

Robb said reliability standards approved by FERC in August would provide the “framework” for quickly moving the requirements laid out in the report.

Last winter’s power outages in Texas and other areas of the country were the subject of numerous congressional hearings, with Democrats arguingthe power system’s failure underscored the need for enacting Biden’s climate and economic proposals to “build back better,” which include a massive expansion of transmission capacity to integrate renewables and accommodate an increase in electricity demand from the widespread use of electric vehicles and the electrification of building and industrial heating systems.

Glick struck a similar tone in his remarks to reporters. “It’s not just Texas that we’re talking about today. We saw that with Hurricane Ida, we’ve seen it throughout the West with forest fires and unbelievably hot days and nights,” he said, referring to more recent weather patterns that have caused power outages and have prompted calls for actions to mitigate climate change.

The winter storms in Texas affected the operations of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

“The Event which is the subject of the inquiry occurred from February 8 through 20 2021, during which the extreme cold weather and precipitation caused large numbers of generating units to experience outages, derates or failures to start, resulting in energy and transmission emergencies,” the report says. “The total Event firm load shed was the largest controlled firm load shed event in U.S. history and was the third largest in quantity of outaged megawatts (MW) of load after the August 2003 northeast blackout and the August 1996 west coast blackout.”

“During the Event, shut-ins and unplanned outages of natural gas wellheads, as well as unplanned outages of gathering and processing facilities, resulted in a decline of natural gas available for supply and transportation to many natural gas-fired generating units in the south-central U.S.,” the report says. — Rick Weber (rweber@iwpnews.com)