Freeze Forces Southwest Utilities to React

Friday, August 19, 2011 @ 03:08 PM gHale

February’s big freeze provided problems for everyone, but the power generators in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona should have done a better job of handling the conditions to avoid outages that occurred, said a report just released.

In addition, Southwest power producers need to beef up their cold-weather defenses, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. report.

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Officials from both organizations, which oversee the nation’s power providers, issued the report after a six-month inquiry. It also looked at freeze-related problems with natural gas suppliers.

“The cold weather was unusually severe, but many outages in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico could have been avoided” with more adequate winterization procedures, said Norman Bay, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Enforcement.

Similar cold-weather in 1989 in the eastern half of Texas caused some of the same problems, and some of the same power generators had problems during February’s freeze, the report noted.

A record-breaking cold spell in the first week of February left more than 4 million people without power for periods when rolling blackouts occurred as power plant systems froze. In the Texas power grid 210 electric generating units had weather-related problems, the report said.

Sixty-seven percent of power generator failures directly tied in to cold temperatures, including frozen equipment, frozen water lines, frozen sensing lines, frozen valves and blade icing, the inquiry found.

No state or federal regulations require power generators to winterize power plants, the inquiry found. The report urges states to look at implementing such regulations in the future.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. plans to begin the process of amending its reliability standards to add requirements for winterizing power plants.

Power generators and natural gas producers reported having winterization procedures in place, the report noted. But the report scolded companies for not doing a better job with their winterization efforts.

“Poor performance of many of these generating units and natural gas wells (during the freeze) suggests that these procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed,” the report said.



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