Thursday, June 10, 2021

Documents reveal natural gas chaos in Texas blackouts


Edward Klump, Mike Lee and Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporters

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Texas' electricity leaders were deeply focused on natural gas shortages days before blackouts crippled the state in February and plunged the state's power industry into chaos, according to documents obtained by E&E News.

A phone log shows more than 100 calls to or from DeAnn Walker, then-chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, discussing gas curtailments. It begins Feb. 10 — well before massive power outages started on Feb. 15 — and runs through Feb. 19.

Walker spoke to everyone from the chief of staff of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to power company officials. During the cold blast, Abbott promoted fossil fuels and blamed renewable energy before walking back some of that criticism.

The PUC records provide a more detailed picture of how concerned state leaders were about the natural gas industry prior to and during the crisis. While gas is crucial to keeping the lights on in Texas, the industry's powerful lobby has successfully avoided new regulations on its operations for years. The documents also show concern from Texas legislators that electric grid managers didn't push the industry hard enough to weatherize the system after a 2011 storm that caused rotating power outages.

At least 151 people in Texas died in the wake of the winter storm that led to widespread power outages, according to a state tally. Millions of people lost access to clean tap water as treatment plants lost electricity, and there was widespread property damage from frozen pipes.

While numerous wind facilities had issues in Texas, gas-powered generation had the most megawatts of generating capacity offline of any resource during the February power crisis, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose region includes about 90% of the state's power load.


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