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Thursday, 19 December 2013 18:43

Texas Utilities Kept Plants Up in Latest Freeze

Power lines around the Dallas-Fort Worth area were felled by falling branches in the recent ice storm. But power plants were largely unscathed, avoiding a repeat of the Super Bowl winter storms three years ago.

“There have been a few outages because of the weather, but nothing like 2011,” said Dan Woodfin, director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“I think we can definitely say the processes for preparedness for cold weather events have definitely gotten a lot better,” he said.

Over three days in February 2011, vicious cold and high winds caused more than 200 plants to go down—about 40 percent of Texas’ generating capacity. ERCOT initiated rolling blackouts that left customers across the state without power for hours at a time.

Weather conditions were not as extreme this time, according to ERCOT. The lowest temperature in Dallas this cold spell was 19 degrees early Monday. In the February 2011, storm temperatures fell to 13 degrees with winds gusting at more than 50 mph.

Still, the storm was the most serious test of the Texas power industry since the events of 2011, Woodfin said.

At Luminant, the state’s largest power generator with plants across North Texas, preparations began in earnest two weeks ago when forecasts of a massive cold front moving towards the region appeared, said Steve Horn, senior vice president of fossil generation.

Extra staff was ordered. Insulation and wind barriers were checked. Heated wires protecting water pipes—the source of so much trouble three years ago—were turned on.

“Any time the weather goes below freezing, it’s a significant event for us,” he said. “In small sensing lines with just a little bit of moisture in them, if they freeze that can take out a large power plant.”

For the state power industry, avoiding a repeat of 2011 was critical, said Mark Armentrout, former chairman of ERCOT and president of the consulting firm Texas Technology Partners. In the days following those storms, executives were dragged before the state Legislature, where they were grilled about what steps they’d taken to protect their plants.

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