Cold snap knocks Texas electric generators offline

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 11, 2014 at 8:23 pm •  Published: March 11, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — January's polar vortex knocked several important coal-fired electricity plants in Texas offline, and the Sierra Club on Tuesday said the loss of power shows the state needs more wind turbines and energy conservation programs to avoid possible rolling blackouts.

The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid that supplies electricity to 85 percent of Texans, issued a report on Friday detailing how six coal-fired plants either shut down or failed to provide the energy expected on Jan. 6, when a cold air mass brought frigid temperatures to Texas.

The temperature did not drop as low as it did in February 2011, when ERCOT resorted to rolling blackouts due to lack of power, but the sudden loss of power on Jan. 6 triggered an Energy Emergency Alert. Frozen instruments were the most-cited problem for why the plants shut down or failed to produce as expected.

Al Armendariz of the Sierra Club said wind energy and conservation efforts, known as demand response, proved their value.

"This new report from ERCOT shows that clean energy solutions, especially clean, cheap Texas wind and demand response performed as expected and under pressure, whereas numerous coal-fired and gas-fired power plants across the state couldn't handle the January cold snap," he said.

Conservative lawmakers in Austin have complained about tax breaks provided to wind companies, while generators have complained that low natural gas prices make it economically unfeasible to improve their existing plants or build new ones. Environmentalists want to shut down older coal plants, which they say create too much pollution.

The blackouts in February 2011 led to special legislative hearings, and power generators promised to weatherize their equipment to prevent future outages. ERCOT fined Luminant $750,000 for failing to supply the power it promised.