New report suggests Texas’ grid was 5 minutes from catastrophic failure

Image of a woman bundled against the cold on a bed in a furniture store.

Enlarge / HOUSTON, TX – FEBRUARY 18, 2021: Dialina Ganzo, 29, rests on a bed while taking shelter at a Gallery Furniture store that opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts. (credit: Go Nakamura / Getty Images)

With autumn arriving in much of the US, it won’t be long before parts of the country start experiencing cold weather again. Texas residents can be forgiven for the thought triggering a bit of PTSD, given that last winter saw the near-collapse of the state’s power grid, leaving many residents without any power for several days of below-freezing weather.

A long list of factors contributed to the mess, and in the immediate aftermath, it was difficult to understand their relative importance. But now, grid regulatory and governance groups have put together a preliminary report on the event, along with some recommendations for avoiding future calamities. A central conclusion is that the grid failure was tightly coupled to the failure of the natural gas supply—in part because natural gas processing facilities were among the places that saw their power cut.

The basic stats

The preliminary report has been put together by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in combination with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a nonprofit set up by utilities to help set standards and practices that keep the grid stable. The draft itself isn’t being released at this point, but the two have posted a detailed presentation that describes the report’s contents. A final version will be released in November.

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