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ERCOT cites 7 causes for statewide outages during winter storm

Weather-related problems, existing outages and equipment malfunctions top the list.

HOUSTON — A preliminary report from ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, lists seven main causes of power generator outages during the winter storm that crippled Texas.

The report released Tuesday covers outages from Feb.14 to Feb. 19 and was submitted by power generator representatives in response to ERCOT’s first round of information requests. The leading cause was weather-related problems such as frozen equipment, frozen water lines and ice accumulation on wind turbines and solar panels. Those issues represented 54% of outages during the grid failure’s peak on the morning of Feb. 16.


Fifteen percent of outages were existing before the cold-weather event, according to the report. Those included ongoing planned and forced outages due to maintenance and units closed for the season.

“This is part of the electricity-only market in Texas,” KHOU 11 energy analyst Ed Hirs said. “These companies are not paid to have their generation available 12 months out of the year.”

The third-leading outage cause, 14% of peak outage failures, was reported to be facility equipment failures or malfunctions not related to the cold. Hirs said it’s a perennial problem in Texas, which, unlike regulated energy markets, offers little incentives for power companies to properly maintain their generation fleets.

RELATED: Texas officials, leaders testify to Congress about winter power failure

“It’s like not looking after your automobile. If you put your car away for three months, four months and you go out to the garage and try to start it, it’s not going to start,” Hirs said.

The fourth leading factor was reported to be fuel limitations, causing 12% of outages during the peak failure point.

Hirs said that low figure contradicts the recent testimony of some energy executives at legislative hearings in Austin, who laid heavy blame on natural gas supplies.

“Here with this report from ERCOT, it seems to be a much smaller factor,” Hirs said. “So we’re getting a conflicting narrative.”

All the information in ERCOT’s report has not been independently verified and is only summary data. In a letter to Arthur D’Andrea, Chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, ERCOT said it is not able to disclose specific plant outage causes because the information was submitted confidentially as is considered “protected information” under ERCOT rules.

ERCOT said it plans to ask power generators to waive the confidentiality of the specific outage causes after it receives additional data.

The agency said it anticipates completing its final analysis of the cold weather event by the end of August.