DALLAS — The Texas electric grid was not built to withstand "much less than 10 degrees," U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, said on Saturday evening. But low temperatures set records over the last week with some reaching zero degrees, meteorologists said.
The Dallas congressman made the statement on Saturday after speaking with Curt Morgan, CEO of Irving-based Vistra Corp. It owns and operates the Luminant energy company.
Allred said Vistra, which was prepared for the severe winter weather, drastically increased its output to make up for those power generators who went down in the storm.
“They told me their team began to sound alarms on Feb. 9 when their meteorologist saw freezing temperatures in the forecast, knowing Texas’ infrastructure was not built for much less than 10 degrees. They alerted ERCOT immediately, as well as the Texas Railroad Commission and other state government officials,” Allred said.
“By their account, no one seemed to react with the haste and urgency they believed necessary, and they emphasized that ERCOT’s projections of the power supply were far below the demand they were seeing."
The congressman now questions whether ERCOT, an independent 501(c)4 corporation, state officials and other power generators took the severity of the forecasts seriously.
“We knew this storm was coming well enough in advance to take commonsense actions, like the ones Vistra did, to salvage as much power as possible” Allred continued.
The Dallas Democrat said Texas should draw on federal funds to update its electric grid to the next generation of technology.
“We have this in our infrastructure bill that we passed last Congress and we will pass later this year in this Congress – to try and invest in the next generation of electrical grids – both to promote renewable energy and battery storage but also resiliency,” Allred explained. “That’s something that Texas will hopefully be able to draw on in terms of federal funding to update our grid. What we’re trying to do is update our grid, lower emissions and make it more reliable. I think we’re seeing right now that our system is really subject too much to weather extremes.”
Allred made the comments in an interview on Sunday’s Inside Texas Politics.
“Our grid was not prepared for this,” the Dallas Democrat said on the TV program. “Why were the power generators not prepared for a predictable weather event? And why – once they did go offline – was the communication so poor? Why [during the height of it] was Dallas’ skyline lit up while Dallas residents were literally freezing in their homes. That’s unacceptable.”
In the U.S., there are three electric grids – one that powers the east coast, another that powers the west coast and then the Texas grid in the middle of the country which is managed by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
But the Texas grid was designed to be independent, and because of that, it is almost cut off from the other two.
At most, Texas can receive 800 megawatts from the eastern grid and about 400 megawatts from Mexico. But on Wednesday, during the worst of the brutal winter storm, Texas lost about 45,000 megawatts of electrical generation. The eastern grid had to suspend its paltry help because it was facing its own problems with the same storm.
“It is true that having a grid that has a diverse set of inputs is a good thing for us,” Allred added. “What it has to be is resilient enough when if you have a weather event it doesn’t all go off at the same time. And that’s what we’re seeing right now – whether it’s nuclear, natural gas, coal, solar or wind – that they’ve all been subject to these freezing temperatures – that we’ve had all those generators go off line at the same time, and we can’t have that happen ever again.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Congress would investigate what happened in Texas.
“The regulations and the protections have to be in place, and the planning has to be in place, that when something like this happens you can draw on emergency supplies. I think there’s going to have be a full review of what happened. And it can’t be a partisan thing.”
Allred said it was counterproductive for Republicans to blame Texas’ infrastructure catastrophe on renewable energy when renewable energy like wind and solar made up a third of the outages. The majority of the power plants that failed were fueled by natural gas, coal and nuclear, ERCOT said.
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“Renewable energy for us keeps our prices down. We lead the nation in wind energy and about two thirds of the power that’s out right now is the thermal energy,” he explained. “It’s not the renewable energy that’s causing most of these outages.”