Part of the state legislature’s broad response to the 2021 blackouts is a mandate that Texas’ energy industry protect its infrastructure from more extreme temperatures, especially the severe cold.
The state’s power plants completed this process late last year, including over 300 plants that accounted for the lion’s share of the outages during the winter storm. When winter weather arrived in February, although less severe than its 2021 predecessor, the state maintained sufficient generation and the only outages were due to local transmission issues.
Over half of Texas’ electricity generation capacity is fueled by natural gas, and infrastructure along the gas supply chain ran into some cold weather issues too. The new rule from the Railroad Commission is designed to prevent that from happening again.
“Today’s proposed rule strikes an appropriate balance to ensure facilities are prepared for extreme weather events while providing needed flexibility for operators to ensure compliance with Commission standards,” Commissioner Jim Wright said on June 28. “This flexibility component is crucial as we must ensure weatherization requirements do not adversely harm current or future production of our natural resources.”
It mandates weatherization strategies for processing plants, storage facilities, wellheads, and pipelines that deliver gas specifically for electricity generation. These techniques range from insulation to heat tracing, but what is deployed at each piece of infrastructure is up to the companies that own the facilities. The commission oversees inspection, and failure to meet the standards can result in an administrative fine of up to $1 million per day.
These facilities are among the 65,000 included in the state’s Electricity Supply Chain Map, a joint project between the Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission which oversees the state’s power grid.
Operators are expected to submit their reports by December 1.
Working with the state’s climatologist, the commission provided a list of temperatures facilities must be prepared for by county. Midland County’s temperature range spans from negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit to 116; Harris County’s runs from 5 to 111; and Jefferson County’s encompasses 4 to 108.
Last December, the commission finalized its critical infrastructure designation rule — a response to February 2021, when gas-producing facilities were cut off from power when the state implemented sustained blackouts. This is because many were not designated as critical infrastructure, a profound paperwork error.
The weatherization rule is currently open to public comment through August 15, after which the commission will approve its final version pending any changes.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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.