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    3 takeaways of ERCOT's Monday town hall in Allen


    January 27, 2022 - Garrett Gravley, ggravley@starlocalmedia.com

     

      The Electric Reliability Council of Texas's (ERCOT) interim CEO implored Allen residents to ask him "tough questions" during a Monday town hall.

      The event, hosted and moderated by Allen Mayor Ken Fulk at the Allen City Council chambers, sought to address statewide concerns following 2021's Winter Storm Uri and the rotating power outages that resulted from it. The CEO, Brad Jones, described the storm as "unlike anything that I had ever seen in my lifetime" and contended that officials underprepared for it in treating it like a 2011 winter storm that, unbeknownst to them, would be less intense than Uri.

      "We have about 84,000 megawatts of capacity during the winter that we count upon," Jones said on Monday. "50,000 megawatts of generation capacity was outaged during the storm. 50,000 – well over half of our available generation was not available to us, and when I say outage, it was forced out."

      Jones added that during the winter storm, communications to households was inconsistent between ERCOT, power distributors and retail electricity providers.

      "Retail electric providers had one message," he said. "The distribution providers had another message. We had a third message. The generators were giving a fourth message, and what that meant is that people that were sitting in their homes expecting the lights to come back on within an hour were not getting the information they needed. They were hearing so many different versions of this story."

      Following his opening remarks, Jones answered questions from residents who attended the town hall virtually and in-person. Below are three key points from the Q&A.

      Distributors are trying to reduce household burden

      To be exempt from rotating outages, a facility must be given "critical infrastructure status" from the Texas Railroad Commission. Jones said that roughly 60% of the state's customer load shares a circuit with buildings that are granted critical infrastructure status.

      "It's an extraordinary number, which means that only 40% of customers are even able to share in this rotation," Jones said. "That means we're putting a lot of the burden on that 40 when the 60 is not burdened."

      Jones said that distributors are working to "section off" circuits so that non-critical customers on the same circuit can share the burden with customers on non-critical circuits.

      Power generators are getting weatherized

      Jones said that before Winter Storm Uri, the process of weatherizing power generators was voluntary. Weatherization became a requirement in the aftermath of the storm, with the Public Utility Commission giving the Texas Railroad Commission the ability to require weatherization of gas facilities under penalty of a fine of up to $1 million per day of noncompliance.

      Wind turbines throughout the state are now weatherized too, said Jones.

      Ousted ERCOT chair brought diversity of experience, Jones said

      Jones briefly discussed a controversy that arose in the immediate aftermath of the storm, when legislators and reports noted that then-ERCOT chairwoman Sally Talberg lived in Michigan.

      In reflecting on the controversy, Jones implied that Talberg should not have been ousted from her chair, arguing that her Midwest origins made her familiar with cold weather and therefore an asset to ERCOT.

      "When we have a winter event, within weeks, we essentially let go the chair of the board of directors who had only been there for two weeks – who wasn't responsible for anything that happened," Jones said. "It's that diversity that I believe makes the board even better."

      Still, Jones spoke favorably of the current board and its current members.

      The full video of the town hall can be viewed below:

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