More than $7 million in fines have been imposed as PUC utilizes new powers to fine entities for lack of cooperation; staff members are being hired as inspections of ERCOT-related facilities are ramped up; the vast majority of power generation problems have been resolved, ERCOT says
January 17, 2022 — ERCOT is meeting in the early days of this week as it attempts to put systems in place for weatherization of power generators.
Monday’s meeting cointinued with a second meeting Tuesday, while closed executive sessions expected.
With board members now fully seated as of the past few weeks, subcommittees and special short-term committees that have been on hold while ERCOT and the PUC are reorganized are now getting underway again.
Weatherization policies and procedures are now coming together, with needed staff members being hired, with contract labor among the first hirings.
ERCOT has been using in-house staffers to help with inspections while efforts ramp up.
The grid operator has a deadline to submit its final weatherization and inspection report Tuesday.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas met on Monday, with an update on the hiring of new staff to contribute to inspections of facilities, but ERCOT is waiting for more specific instructions from the Public Utility Commission of Texas before full staffing efforts get underway.
PUC Chairman Peter Lake has noted that there are now teeth in the penalties for not weatherizing, which has not been true in the past, so inspections are being taken more seriously.
One of the most challenging projects turns out to be accurate data collection, and new systems are needed to do so, said Woody Rickerson, ERCOT VP of system planning and weatherization.
Neither agency is getting more closely involved in supervision or weatherization of individual natural gas production facilities; the Railroad Commission of Texas remains in control.
All three agencies are involved in extensive mapping of important and critical natural gas infrastructure, although the project is nowhere near completion.
First draft of the map is expected in April, with final mapping expected by late summer or early fall.
ERCOT said on Monday it’s had to quickly gather information from around the state, including requiring 847 generators to submit readiness reports, and the vast majority, 828, filed before deadline.
The remaining 19 followed up later.
Almost all transmission service providers filed their compliance reports on time, by December 1st.
More than 300 facilities have been inspected, taking about 3,600 hours in 2021, a huge increase over the policy of doing an average of 80 inspections per year (conducted by one person) before the legislature mandated more inspections last year.
About 302 generators were inspected (comprising more than 80% of capacity that ended up offline during last February’s Winter Storm Uri), ERCOT said.
One result of the effort: most of the deficiencies found during compliance filings and inspections have been resolved by mid-January.
Of the 532 generation entities that claimed good reasons for not being able to comply with the latest weatherization rules, 418 have been resolved, 54 are still being tracked by ERCOT.
In addition, there are 60 generators that are not in compliance and are being referred to the PUC for any further action.evaluation and possible penalties.
Among the things inspectors are looking for are heat tracers for pipes to help prevent them from freezing and wind screening for protection of equipment against the cold of winter.
Asked about how the grid might fare should Texas face a storm similar to last February’s power crisis, ERCOT weatherization and inspection director David Kezell replied, “That’s the $10,000 question, isn’t it?”
“I feel very confident that it would shrink substantially. I won’t hazard a guess as to what percentage of it but I believe it would shrink substantially,” he said, without venturing a prediction of how things might go.
The PUC, meanwhile, is looking at raising penalties for violations of Texas reliability policies by providers such as CenterPoint and Entergy because of concerns that reported violations (or deficiencies) are not being corrected in a timely manner.
Among on-site inspections, ERCOT said on Monday that 22 were transmission facilities, 174 were dispatchables and 122 were intermittent providers such as renewable power.
Ancillary services are still answering to market forces, although black-start facilities are required to have fuel on site for emergencies.
Revising black-start rules is continuing, with the PUC giving it priority — and ERCOT says it’s inspecting black-start plants including requiring energizing of power lines to demonstrate their readiness for emergencies.
ERCOT also says it’s beefing up its team to respond to reports of forced electrical outages, especially weather-related outages.
The PUC said on Monday it’s levied fines of more than $7 million against companies that are not fully cooperating with correction of generation problems — demonstrating that the PUC is taking seriously its new punitive powers to enforce policies.
ERCOT bylaws were revised October 12th, but more changes may be needed, it was noted Monday, including streamlining of bylaw amendment procedures, which are time-consuming and slow in part because of lengthy submissions to the PUC and discussion process.