FERC, NERC open inquiry into operations of bulk-power system during extreme winter weather

In a Feb. 17 statement, EEI President Tom Kuhn said that the generation capacity shortage “is not something electric companies, electric cooperatives, and public power utilities can directly address”

FERC and NERC will open a joint inquiry into the operations of the bulk-power system during the extreme winter weather conditions being experienced by the Midwest and South central states, according to a Feb. 16 statement posted on FERC’s website.

The emphasis for now must remain on restoring power to customers and securing the reliability of the bulk-power system, the statement noted, adding that in the days ahead, FERC and NERC will formally begin the inquiry, which will work with other federal agencies, states, regional entities, and utilities to identify problems with the performance of the bulk-power system and, where appropriate, solutions for addressing those issues.

The Electric Edison Institution (EEI) on Feb. 17 said that as extreme cold weather and a series of winter storms continue to impact electricity customers across the country, investor-owned electric companies, electric cooperatives, and public power utilities are working together to ensure that power is restored to customers safely and as quickly as possible.

EEI noted that more than 2 million customers in Texas are without power as ERCOT continues to order electricity providers to interrupt power delivery.

“Most electricity providers in Texas are transmission and distribution companies and do not generate electricity,” EEI President Tom Kuhn said in the statement. “The shortage of generation capacity is not something electric companies, electric cooperatives, and public power utilities can directly address. They must follow directives from ERCOT and other grid operators. Our frontline employees who operate the transmission and distribution systems are actively keeping that system operational and in balance, while restoring power to customers as soon as generation resources become available.”

In addition to extreme cold, several states, including Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and West Virginia, have been hard hit by devastating ice and winter storms, EEI noted.

ERCOT on Feb. 17 said that it continues to restore power as quickly and safely as possible, with about 3,500 MW of load, or enough to power 700,000 households, restored overnight.

ERCOT said that as of 9 a.m., it instructed local utilities to shed 14,000 MW of load, representing about 2.8 million households.

“The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online,” Dan Woodfin, ERCOT senior director of system operations, said in the statement.

Since the winter storm began on Feb. 15, about 185 generating units have tripped offline for one reason or another, ERCOT said, adding that some factors include frozen wind turbines, limited gas supplies, low gas pressure and frozen instrumentation.

As of 9 a.m., on Feb. 17, about 46,000 MW of generation had been forced off the system during the extreme winter weather event; of that, 28,000 MW is thermal and 18,000 MW is wind and solar, ERCOT said.

The Midcontinent ISO (MISO) on Feb. 16 said that due to the prolonged winter weather event causing forced generation outages and high load demand across the bulk electric system, it declared a Max Gen Event – EEA for the South Region, including most of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Texas. That declaration directed all load balancing authorities in the affected areas to implement periodic power outages, MISO said.

Entergy, for instance, on Feb. 17 said that its Louisiana customers are again asked to voluntarily reduce their electricity usage, particularly between 5 p.m., and 10 p.m., due to electricity demand potentially exceeding the available generation as a result of the extreme cold and weather conditions impacting the company’s service territory. Entergy said that MISO has made that request to utilities in its footprint.

Also in Louisiana, Cleco said on Feb. 17 that about 20,000 of its customers are without power due to freezing rain and ice.

“Several of the parishes we serve are currently experiencing freezing rain and ice from a second winter storm, and with temperatures expected to remain near or below freezing for most of the day, more power outages are likely,” James Lass, director of distribution operations and emergency management with Cleco, said in the statement. “As conditions deteriorate, we are asking customers to avoid unnecessary travel, operate generators outside in well-ventilated areas and stay away from downed power lines.”

Cleco said that in addition to its personnel, the company has secured nearly 400 contractors to assist with power restoration.

In a separate Feb. 17 statement, Oncor Electric Delivery Company said that there continues to be a lack of available generation, and as a result, controlled outages remain in place, as directed by ERCOT.

Oncor said that due to lowered power demand overnight, it and other utilities were able to restore some of the previously dropped power load and increase its capability to rotate some outages. However, Oncor said, even with that increased capability, it still has many customers who continue to experience extended outages.

The company noted that the location of rotating outages depends on various load factors, including the amount that ERCOT has directed Oncor to drop and the amount available to be safely disconnected. Those types of outages primarily occur in residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, Oncor said, adding that it also strives to avoid dropping hospitals and other critical loads and infrastructure.

Similarly, American Electric Power’s (AEP) AEP Texas on Feb. 17 said that it is rotating some outages on a limited basis to allow restoration to some critical services customers and groups of customers who have been without power since Feb. 15 or before, with those rotations to increase as power generation increases.

AEP Texas noted that it is required by ERCOT to shed the directed amount of load in order to maintain system stability, adding: “The amount of load shed in this emergency has been unprecedented.  There is limited availability of other circuits to shed, or electricity to move, thus preventing us from restoring load for most of the customers that remain out of power.”

In its Feb. 17 update on the situation, CenterPoint Energy said that as of 8 a.m., there were about 1.37 million Houston-area customers without power.

As power supply conditions allow, power to impacted customers is being restored by CenterPoint in intervals of time on a rotating basis, the company said, noting that customers’ electricity may be on and off periodically.

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About Corina Rivera-Linares 3152 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.