SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. is experiencing extreme weather conditions — but at least Utah can handle it. However, some states like Texas were underprepared for the winter weather.
Texas unprepared for extreme weather conditions
Power outages across Texas have left millions of people in the bitter cold this week. According to Poweroutage.us, over 3.2 million customers remained without power as of Tuesday night.
Texas is on its own power grid
The country is divided into three grids: one covers the Eastern U.S., another the Western states and then there is the Texas grid, which covers nearly the entire state. The Texas grid is called ERCOT and is run by an agency of the same name: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. However, the ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The result is “an electrical island in the United States,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT, in an interview with USA Today. “That independence has been jealously guarded, I think both by policymakers and the industry.”
ERCOT manages about 90% of the state’s power for 26 million customers.
Power grid failure
The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance.
But planning for this winter, officials didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning.
Every one of our sources of power supply underperformed. Every one of them is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events in different ways. None of them were adequately weatherized or prepared for a full realm of weather and conditions.
— Daniel Cohan (@cohan_ds) February 17, 2021
Utah prepared for extreme weather conditions
Like Texas, Utah has experienced its own service disruptions in the past. In September, thousands lost power across northern Utah when a high-wind event damaged infrastructure across multiple counties.
But Rocky Mountain Power spokesman David Eskelsen told KSL TV Utah’s energy grid is better prepared than Texas’ for winter weather events.
Utah is part of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which serves 14 western states, two Canadian provinces and even a bit of Mexico.
“We [in Utah] have interconnections with more utilities,” Eskelsen said. “And those interconnections were constructed years ago specifically for reliability purposes.”
Western states keep more energy in reserve — about 12%, Eskelsen said, for contingencies — and are able to buy and sell power among themselves.
“We’re also more used to winter weather and preparing for winter weather,” he added.
All these things together make Utah unlikely to have the same problems plaguing Texas right now in the event of extremely cold weather, he said.
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