EnergyBlackout Warnings Fall Flat as Winter Front Passes with No Power Grid Issues

According to state officials, the power grid "performed well" throughout the winter event.
February 7, 2022
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Icy roads and panic over an unrealized catastrophe were the worst consequences of the arctic front that rolled through Texas last week. Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 17 counties in the state, most of which are in North Texas and Central Texas.

For many, the cold snap brought flashbacks to the fiasco a year ago, but the winter storm came and went without any power grid-related issues.

Texas’ much-maligned power grid featured no problems, consistently keeping above 80,000 megawatts (MW) of generation capacity available. A large excess of over 10,000 MW was available all throughout the winter event. Much of that excess capacity was online due to the 15 percent capacity the state added this winter by making available typically summer-focused peaker plants.

During peak hours, 1 MW can power 200 homes at once, and even during its most stressed moment, the grid had enough excess electricity to power 3 million more homes.

The front moved in during the latter half of last week, bringing with it sub-freezing temperatures and some precipitation. But even with the colder-than-usual weather, it didn’t come close to reaching the levels of last year’s storm — in temperature, precipitation, or scope across the state.

The Texan Tumbler

Throughout the event, natural gas generation, which is just over half of total installed capacity, supplied roughly that proportion during the peak demand Friday morning. The state originally projected potentially tight grid conditions early Friday morning, but that did not come to fruition in part because predicted icing problems for the wind turbines out in West Texas were less severe than expected.

At the point of peak demand, coal generation accounted for 17 percent of the supplied demand followed by wind energy making up 16 percent.

Wind reached a quarter of the supply meeting demand just after midnight Friday morning.

According to the state, no generators ran into cold weather issues like occurred last year — something that was attributed to the around 300 facilities that were weatherized in accordance with the legislature’s mandate.

Another measure taken by the state was to fill the critical infrastructure designation gap that caused a devastating cycle that cut off power to the very entities necessary for generating electricity. Last week, 2,900 facilities had been designated critical infrastructure compared with less than 100 last year.

Despite no power grid-related issues, nearly 70,000 people found themselves out of power during the event due to local mechanical problems — mostly downed power lines from ice, wind, and fallen branches.

As of Monday morning, only 3,000 people across the state remain without power. The high this time around was dwarfed by the 4.4 million without power during last year’s blackouts.

“The Texas power grid is more reliable and resilient than it has ever been,” Abbott said mid-Friday morning.

While the power grid had no issues, road conditions were unsafe for much of Thursday. There was a 14-vehicle crash Thursday evening in Austin. The Texas Department of Transportation had deployed pre-treatment to roads across the state before the storm hit, but the rain that came before the snow may have washed some of it away, per department officials.

Throughout the week, the storm became a source of rhetoric as Texas Democrats, Beto O’Rourke chief among them, warned of another grid collapse — a warning that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.

As the skies cleared, Abbott’s campaign touted the slate of legislative reforms made after the 2021 blackouts as the reason for the grid’s resilience against the winter weather event.

The winter storm from last week did not reach the severity level of last year’s. No one-to-one comparison exists, but the state’s policies ensured an excess of power was available, deflating the frenzied warnings.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.