AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Public Utility commissioners unanimously passed new weatherization standards for power plants and transmission providers Thursday, calling the action a “landmark ruling” to shore up the state’s power grid for the upcoming winter season.
“This rulemaking will be a big step to ensuring that the physical resiliency of our grid is vastly improved this winter over last winter,” PUC Chairman Peter Lake said.
“I think it absolutely makes our system more reliable in winter time,” added commissioner Jimm Glotfelty.
To comply with the energy reform requirements under Senate Bill 3, power generators and transmission providers must fix anything that broke during the February freeze. They're required to provide a “notarized attestation,” essentially swearing under oath that repairs were made.
Facilities must also upgrade equipment to include adequate heat tracing on pipes, insulation of critical components and thermal enclosures and windbreaks around sensitive equipment.
“Never before have we had such robust weatherization standards in place with enforcement authority,” said commissioner Lori Cobos.
The new standards were identified nearly a decade ago in a report drafted after another Texas winter storm in February 2011. But those items were only recommended “best practices” and not binding by state regulatory rules.
“It is certainly well overdue,” said KHOU 11 energy analyst Ed Hirs.
“This has been an open item that we've needed to address for a long time and not addressing it cost hundreds of Texans lives and $100 billion plus of damages,” Hirs said.
The new rules include vague language on enforcement, allowing violators a “reasonable amount of time to cure deficiencies.” The Public Utility Commission also has yet to define penalties -- the range of fines for facilities that don’t comply.
“A rule is only as good as the enforcement of it,” Hirs said. “ERCOT doesn’t yet have the staff to go out and do the inspections and enforce the rules.”
The action taken Thursday is the first of two phases in rulemaking process. The second phase targets the creation of a more comprehensive, year-round set of weather emergency preparedness reliability standards that will be informed by an ongoing weather study by ERCOT and the Office of the Texas State Climatologist.
The new standards do not address weatherization of critical natural gas facilities. The Texas Railroad Commission regulates that component of grid reliability and new rules are expected by March 2023.