Texas Electric Grid Still Not Ready for Extreme Winter Weather -NERC

(Reuters) — The Texas electric grid could suffer a massive shortfall in generating capacity in a winter deep freeze, potentially triggering outages similar to those in February, according to a report on Thursday by an electric reliability authority.

The assessment by the North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC), a nonprofit regulatory authority, comes as Texas lawmakers and regulators continue to investigate ways to bolster the grid to avert a repeat of last winter's blackouts, which left 4.5 million customers without power in a deep freeze that killed more than 200 people.

In normal winter conditions, the anticipated reserve margin - a cushion of extra capacity versus demand - is comfortable at nearly 42% for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for about 90% of the state.

But if severe frigid weather hits, it could disrupt pipeline natural gas supplies and power stations, leaving a capacity deficit as high as 37%, NERC said.

The Texas grid is mostly isolated from other U.S. grids, with a limited ability to import electricity when a local shortfall materializes. ERCOT also operates the only major U.S. grid that does not have a capacity market - a system that provides payments to operators to be on standby to supply power during severe weather events.

ERCOT said in a statement that it had made significant progress since last winter. "The electric grid will be able to perform significantly better this coming winter than in the past," it said. 

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said on Thursday it referred two matters from the February freeze in Texas to its investigations division to look for possible market manipulation or other violations.

FERC said its analytics and surveillance division has been examining wholesale natural gas and electricity market activity during the February freeze, also known as winter storm Uri, to determine if any market participants engaged in market manipulation or other violations.

The analytics group analyzed gas and power market and trade data, evaluated hotline tips and met with numerous interested parties.

Those examinations led to 14 inquiries into gas and electricity market participant behavior, resulting in the two matters referred for investigation.

FERC said its examination remains ongoing and additional matters may be referred for investigation.

The freeze left more than 4.5 million people in Texas without power - some for as long as four days - and killed more than 100 people.

During the winter storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates most of the power grid in Texas, ordered rolling blackouts to prevent the grid from collapsing as extreme cold shut numerous power plants and froze gas pipelines.

In addition, power and gas prices soared to record highs in several parts of Texas and other U.S. Central states during the storm, costing utilities and their consumers billions of dollars that will have to be paid back over years.

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