Chronicle Alleges the Texas Big Freeze was Entirely Preventable

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waving colorful national flag of texas state.

 

The Houston Chronicle has a story out today about the ongoing fallout from the Texas Big Freeze and resulting blackouts in February, that is absolutely infuriating. If it is accurate, it means that a failure by regulators to adequately communicate the need for critical natural gas facilities to fill out a one page annual form and to adequately monitor its compliance led to the deaths of 57 Texans.

Here is a link to the piece and an excerpt from it:

When Texas lawmakers met last month to begin sifting through the wreckage of the state’s energy grid, many expected to hear tales of poorly insulated power plants rendered inoperable by the latest winter storm.

Instead, energy executives raised an even more confounding problem: dozens of natural gas facilities had not filled out a two-page application for outage exemptions before the storm, meaning their facilities lost power at a moment when their fuel was needed most to feed struggling power plants.

“We had basically people calling saying hey, turn a power plant back on, or turn a gas processor back on, and it’s like, it’s too late,” said Curtis Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp., whose subsidiary, Luminant, is the state’s largest power generator. “You can’t do it when you’re in the middle of it.”

Yet the process of getting a facility designated as critical infrastructure couldn’t be easier. The owner simply needs to fill out the two-page form each year and turn it in to the local utility company.

A full assessment of how big a role electric power cut to gas facilities played in the grid outages is likely months away. Yet how some of Texas’s largest and most sophisticated energy companies, depended upon by nearly every resident and business, failed to complete a two-minute paperwork chore remains one of the most baffling mysteries of last month’s deadly outages.

[End]

 

This was a joint responsibility of the PUC, the Railroad Commission, the natural gas industry and the power generators, but none of those segments provide a spokesperson for this story willing to take a shred of responsibility for this massive failure of simple communication. The blame-shifting throughout the story is pretty phenomenal.

To be absolutely clear here: IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF REGULATORS TO ENSURE THEIR REGULATIONS AND ADVISORIES ARE COMMUNICATED CLEARLY, EFFECTIVELY AND CONSISTENTLY, AND TO MONITOR THEM FOR COMPLIANCE. It is maddening to find out after 57 people are dead that there was apparently just 35% compliance with this simple task, and that the PUC and RRC had no compliance monitoring system in place, if this story is accurate. None.

Here’s an idea that will cost the state ZERO DOLLARS: Have the PUC and RRC work together to establish a task force chaired by a disinterested party whose mission will be to facilitate communications related to this form, with the goal of ensuring 100% compliance by the end of this year.

I’d even volunteer to lead it. This really is not that hard.

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