Former Central Texas congressman now on ERCOT says grid ready for next winter blast

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 6:20 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Many lessons were learned when Old Man winter unleashed his fury on the State of Texas in February 2021.

It was a winter blast for which few were prepared, including the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT.

The agency, which is in charge of overseeing the state’s electric grid, fairly or not has been bearing the brunt of the blame for the outages which left millions of Texans in the dark and the cold.

Among them, David and Betty Hall of Axtell, Texas.

Their home was without power for nearly four days when the snow fell and temperatures plunged.

“The first night I decided, ‘I’m not staying in this cold house.’ So I came out to my car and turned it on. I brought my dogs. We opened up my car, let down the back seat, and turned on my car and that’s where we slept,” Betty said.

David had it worse. He stayed in the house in an effort to keep the pipes from bursting. “It was cold. It was very cold. It was rough,” David added.

ERCOT did some major restructuring when things thawed out and power was finally restored.

Former Congressman Bill Flores was one of the people picked for the agency’s new council. He accepted the position because he saw it as an opportunity to help people and make a difference.

“If you look at who’s at fault it was, it’s really everybody. There were thousands and thousands of decisions that people made that caused things to go wrong,” Flores said.

The former congressman was named to the council as the vice-chairman. Born and raised in Texas, and with an energy background, he believes he is uniquely qualified for the position.

His predecessor lived in California, more than a thousand miles away from the consequences of decisions that ultimately led to the statewide disaster.

“That was a situation that caused me some anxiety as well. I wondered why we could have a board that had members out of Texas. Some had justifications for that but I think it’s always better if you have people who understand and have to live with the consequences of the things they do,” Flores said.

Flores says ERCOT got to work coming up with a plan to make sure the state was prepared for the next winter blast. One of the first things it did was require the 700 plus generating plants in the state to weatherize.

“There are water pipes that in generation plants are used for cooling and generation. One of the simple things to do is put heat-sensing tape that provides some warmth to keep the pipes from freezing. Wrap them in insulation. Another thing is to put up wind fences to block the wind from supercooling critical areas of a plant. Those are a couple of minor things,” Flores said.

Minor things, but while most plants got to work right away, there was some pushback from a handful of producers.

“There were some people who blew off ERCOT when we sent out the weatherization requirements. These particular operators chose to either ignore us or not do the work. We notified the Public Utility Commission. They instantly levied millions of dollars in fines. That got the entire industry’s attention,” Flores said.

Right now, more than 90 percent of the state’s generating plants are in full compliance. One possible problem has nothing to do with electricity. It involves the natural gas industry.

Last year, some plants that could have remained operational couldn’t get enough natural gas. The natural gas industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, where Flores says the wheels are turning slower.

“We’ve got enough gas to go around in Texas. We just need to make sure we have the weatherization and operations protocol in place to get it from the wellhead to the home that needs the heat or the electric generation plant that needs it to run their generators,” Flores said.

Flores believes the steps taken by ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission, and the power generators will be enough to prevent future disasters.

“There are no perfect grids anywhere in the world. If I had to put it on a scale of 1 to 10. I feel we’re on an 8 or a 9 that this won’t happen again,” Flores said.

Millions of Texans like David and Betty Hall hope he’s right.

“I’m hoping that they have this figured out. But I’m kind of expecting it to happen again,” David said.

Certainly, ERCOT doesn’t shoulder the entire blame for last winter’s failures. You can also point a finger at one of the things that make Texas great: the spirit of independence.

Back in the 30s, the government decided to regulate states that got electric power from across state lines. That’s when Texas decided it would have its own independent power grid, beyond the scope of federal regulation.

That was all fine and good, until it wasn’t.

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