Ask 2: What is ERCOT doing to avoid power outages?

FILE - This Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 file photo shows power lines in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (David J. Phillip, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

At KPRC 2, we’re dedicated to keeping Houstonians informed. As part of our Ask 2 series, the newsroom will answer your questions about all things Houston.

Question: What is ERCOT doing to avoid power outages?

Answer: In February 2021, Texans experienced dayslong power outages as the state’s main power grid struggled to keep up with the demand for electricity during a deadly winter storm.

Since the incident, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has urged Texans to conserve power to help avoid outages when there is a high demand for power such as during extreme winter and summer temperatures.

In June, Texas lawmakers passed legislation that aimed to prevent electricity blackouts.

[RELATED: Gov. Greg Abbott signs sweeping legislation into law to prevent another Texas power grid failure]

KPRC 2 previously reported that Senate Bill 3, which was passed in the House and Senate and signed into law, would require electricity providers operating on the grid managed by ERCOT to weatherize equipment, which would include upgrading plants to withstand more extreme weather and creating a statewide emergency alert system, according to Texas Tribune.

However, Texas senators were furious in late September that natural gas companies won’t have to better prepare their facilities for extreme weather before this winter and rebuked the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s massive oil and gas industry, for not fixing the problem sooner.

A so-called “loophole” that lawmakers spent the hearing condemning and the slow timetable for winterizing the state power grid were part of legislation they approved during the regular legislative session in the spring.

Gov. Greg Abbott made weatherizing the state’s electricity generation infrastructure an emergency priority immediately after February’s deadly winter storm, which left millions without power for days in freezing weather and caused the deaths of 700 Texans, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis.

In June, Abbott signed bills lawmakers had approved aimed at ensuring the weatherization process happened. At the time, Abbott said “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid.”

Senate Bill 3, which Abbott signed into law, calls for creating a committee to map out the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, then gives the Railroad Commission 180 days to finalize its weatherization rules.

The Texas Tribune reported in September that lawmakers on the Senate Business and Commerce Committee were frustrated that the new law allows natural gas companies to opt out of weatherization requirements if they don’t voluntarily declare themselves to be “critical infrastructure” with the state.

They also criticized the timelines laid out by the legislation they approved earlier this year and by the rule-making process now underway at the Railroad Commission that has made weatherizing the state’s natural gas system — a key component of the power grid — a slow, frustrating task, the Tribune added. Read this story for a full rundown on the issue.

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