Texas expands industrial demand response program as grid goes to the brink of rolling outages

Utility Dive
Original Article

Texas regulators on Thursday voted to extend the state’s industrial demand response program. Retrieved from Public Utilities Commission of Texas.

Dive Brief:

  • The Public Utility Commission of Texas on Thursday voted to raise the budget for the state’s industrial demand response program, known as Emergency Response Service, or ERS, a day after a sweltering heat wave pushed the grid to the brink.
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas deployed the ERS program on Wednesday for about 3.5 hours and saw demand drop by roughly 1,000 MW, grid officials said at the PUCT’s open meeting on Thursday.
  • The expansion adds $25 million to the ERS budget, which previously sat at $50 million. Regulators also signaled a willingness to extend the program further, though some stakeholders had advocated for immediately raising its budget even more.

Dive Insight:

Thursday’s PUCT meeting began on a sobering note, with a public comment period focused on rising bills and the risk an unstable grid presents to vulnerable residents.

“There is absolutely no excuse for our state to have a power grid that cannot support the needs of Texans, especially when we pay ridiculously high electric bills,” Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, read from comments submitted to her organization this week. Customers with medical issues could die in the event of a power outage, she said, and savings are being depleted.

The ERCOT grid set two new peak demand records this week, and on Wednesday wholesale power prices reached the market’s $5,000/MWh price cap as wind output fell and fossil fuel outages increased. Twice this week the grid operator asked customers to reduce electricity consumption, and on Wednesday it turned to industrial demand response as well.

“A substantial part of the ERS reserve was used yesterday,” PUCT Chairman Peter Lake said. “It was used effectively, to ensure reliability.”

The $25 million expansion is effective immediately, and more could be added, regulators said.

“I’m not sure that the amount that we’re authorizing is enough. But I also know that we can come back and do this again, if we have to,” Commissioner Jimmy Glotfelty said.

“We still have a lot of hot days ahead of us,” Lake said. “We’ve got a full half summer ahead.”

Enel North America dispatched its demand response systems in Texas to assist on Wednesday. The company’s Head of U.S. Public Policy Mona Tierney-Lloyd said the state’s population is booming and rising temperatures are stressing the electric grid.

“We think it was a good step by the PUCT to approve increasing the emergency response service budget and the availability of these emergency response resources,” she said. “We also think this year is going to be a proof point on whether that additional $25 million was adequate.”

With energy demand “multiplying” in ERCOT, “encouraging more distributed participation in the market is a good area of focus,” Tierney-Lloyd added.

The Advanced Energy Management Alliance had advocated expanding the ERS program cap to $200 million, in comments filed July 5. “The economic impact of grid outages is enormous, and the cost of additional insurance to help avoid the need for involuntary forced outages pales in comparison,” the group said.

Commissioners received an update on grid performance from ERCOT Vice President of Corporate Strategy and PUC Relations Kristi Hobbs. There have been 30 records set on the ERCOT system in the last 70 days, she said, but reliability has been maintained in part because of new tools authorized by the PUCT.

On Monday, a new peak demand record of 78,264 MW was set around 5 p.m., though Commissioner Lori Cobos noted the system had excess reserve capacity of 5,496 MW at that time. On Tuesday another peak demand record was set, of 78,419 MW, but the system still had 4,487 MW in reserve, she said.

A new record was not set on Wednesday, but lower levels of generation meant the ERS program was deployed.

“There was successful deployment of our emergency response services, and working with [utilities] for distribution voltage reduction,” Hobbs said. “Both of those programs, being very reliable, helped us yesterday to keep from getting to emergency situations.”

Public Utility Commission meets the same week ERCOT struggles to keep up with demand

CBS Austin
Original Article

(CBS Austin)

There was no conservation alert Thursday, as the ERCOT website showed plenty of electric supply to meet the demand. This morning the Public Utility Commission met here in Austin, during a hot week when the electric demand threatened to surpass the supply on two days, triggering conservation alerts. The Public Utility Commission heard comments from around the state, expressing concerns about the cost of electricity after the price cap was hit for four hours — and concerns about losing electricity again.

“From Susan Pardoe of Dallas, 75252. I have severe sleep apnea. sleeping without my c pap could result in death. during the winter outages I had to have family fight to help me stay awake,” read Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “The high prices are depleting my social security please help us survive,” she read, before submitting 60 similar comments to the commission. She was just one of several who signed up for public comment.

The supply is one of several issues in front of the commission. The biggest — the record demand.”2022 is on track to be the hottest record in Texas history so I read it is the third hottest summer in us history,”

But Austin-based energy consultant Doug Lewin says there is a lot the commission did not talk about. “I was pretty frustrated by the lack of explanation of what’s going on with the state’s thermal fleet, thermal meaning coal, and gas,” he said. Lewin says coal and gas generated less energy than expected during peak demand Wednesday.

Four environmental advocacy groups, gas company settle Clean Air Act lawsuit

Odessa American
Original article here

A flare burns on May 24, 2018, atop a drill pad on land near Carlsbad. The oil-rich Permian Basin straddles West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. (Courtesy Photo)

The Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Environment Texas, and Texas Campaign for the Environment reached an agreement with gas plant owner, DCP Operating Company, after the company agreed to make improvements that reduce gas flaring.

The company also agreed to pay $500,000 to help improve local air quality and public health in the Odessa area. In addition, the company agreed to pay automatic penalties in the future – up to $14,500 per ton of hydrogen sulfide – if emissions exceed certain limits.

The settlement, announced in a consent decree filed Friday in federal court for the Western District of Texas, resolves a March 2021 lawsuit. The environmental groups, represented by Environmental Integrity Project, filed suit under the Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” law based on concerns around flaring at the company’s gas processing plant in Goldsmith, near Odessa.

Colin Cox, Attorney with Environmental Integrity Project, said: “When it comes to both climate change and environmental justice, the Biden Administration has been talking the talk for almost two years. But federal enforcement of environmental laws has fallen by over 50% in the past three years. Time is short for the Biden EPA to walk the walk. Today’s settlement is one example of what EPA should be leading to reduce greenhouses gases and toxic pollution in the oil and gas fields.”

Tens of thousands of oil and gas drilling sites in the Permian Basin extract gas, much of which must be stripped of dangerous hydrogen sulfide before it can be piped to Gulf Coast ports and petrochemical plants. The Goldsmith gas processing plant, located about 15 miles northwest of Odessa in Ector County, and other similar plants in the region remove that hydrogen sulfide and other impurities, compress the gas, and send it via pipelines to markets, mainly on the Gulf Coast. This lawsuit focused on the flaring of sour gas, resulting in the emission of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the air. Prior to this action, the Goldsmith Gas Plant was among the largest emitters of flared acid gas in the state.

Corey Troiani, Senior Campaign Strategy Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment, said: “Today’s settlement goes to show that oil and gas companies can reduce air pollution and flaring when they are motivated to do so. Our state environmental agencies have dropped the ball on pollution enforcement, which is why we need to call on the Biden Administration EPA to ramp up and strengthen basic enforcement of all our nation’s anti-pollution laws. These are EPA’s best tools to drive down not just toxic and asthma-causing pollution but also greenhouse gases.”

Luke Metzger, Executive Director, Environment Texas, said: “Our state agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has turned a blind eye to flaring in the Permian Basin, leaving it up to citizens to enforce environmental laws. We are grateful to see this matter resolved with real benefits to Ector County.”

The proposed consent decree will be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice before it is formally approved by U.S. District Judge David Counts.

This lawsuit is the second case brought by environmental groups against a large gas plant in Ector County in the past five years. The first suit against James Lake Gas Plant was also resolved in a settlement that reduced sour gas flaring at the plant as well as funded the purchase of replacement air filters for every classroom and office in Ector County Independent School District.

Opinion: To cripple Putin, we must transition to renewable energy

Houston Chronicle

By Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment and John Beard, Founder of Port Arthur Community Action Network

As the world grapples with yet another crisis funded and facilitated by fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry, foreign dignitaries, and administration members are attending the annual CERAWeek conference here in Houston. Corporate chiefs would have us believe that the solution to the problems that petro-dollars create is more fossil fuels, including boosting exports of U.S. oil and gas to Europe.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Vagit Alekperov, oil giant Lukoil chief, in the Kremlin in Moscow, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2001. (AP Photo/ITAR-TASS, Presidential Press Service) ITAR TASS, SUB / AP

We were young people during the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, and remember being shocked at the long lines at gas stations. Our parents hunted for gas stations with any available fuel and shorter lines. We were too young to understand geopolitics and the role fossil fuels played in creating conflict and crisis.

As we look back, Americans learned firsthand how petrostates can weaponize fossil fuels and inflict lasting harm on our day-to-day lives. Of course that doesn’t compare to the life and death realities Ukrainians face right now.

We also know Americans face daily and cumulative adverse health impacts caused by the U.S. fossil fuel industry. This is particularly true in communities like Houston’s east side and Port Arthur, where John lives. Many families are forced to bear those health burdens, as they currently depend on that industry for their livelihood.

The crisis in Europe demonstrates it is more important than ever to go all in on reliable renewable energy, so that Putin, and others like him, cannot use fossil fuels to incite geopolitical crises and fund war. Communities in the U.S. and worldwide will also benefit from the decreased fossil fuel pollution and the weather disasters linked to the resulting climate change.

Yesterday, the EU Commission announced plans to cut Russian gas imports by more than 65 percent in 2022, while rapidly scaling up renewables and energy efficiency measures. This announcement comes despite the fact that the European Union imports 41 percent of its gas from Russia. The EU has developed the political will to use this crisis as an opportunity to do what is best for the citizens and the planet and to send the strongest possible message to Putin.

It’s time for our political leaders to show the same resolve.

Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said recently, “The way to fight Putin, in the long run, is to shift the world economy away from the oil and gas that keeps him affluent, armed and arrogant. . . . [W]e must also move swiftly to end the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Plus there are so many benefits for working families. Investments in renewable energy generate roughly three times more direct and indirect jobs than comparable investment in fossil fuels. The U.S. can create 25 million new jobs by 2035 by investing in projects that cut carbon pollution using existing technologies. And building a 90 percent clean grid can support more than 500,000 jobs each year, many of which are family-sustaining union jobs.

Texas certainly needs investment in our electric grid.

We should not bow down to the oil and gas corporations. Although some have withdrawn from Russia for now, the fossil fuel industry enabled and empowered Putin. For years, Exxon, BP and Shell helped Putin, and other petrostate autocrats, foster fossil fuel energy insecurity and geopolitical tensions. U.S. financial institutions bankrolled fossil fuel projects in Russia. Fidelity, BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase and others invested $5.8 billion dollars in Russian oil and gas giants Lukoil, Rosneft and Gazprom. Without these petrodollars, Putin and his ilk could not afford to be waging war on their neighbors.

Looking to exploit Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. oil and gas industry can barely contain its glee in arguing for a U.S. oil and gas cavalry to the rescue. Increasing fossil fuel reliance, however, would require new export (and import) terminals. It would take years and billions of dollars for the U.S. to build these export terminals — doing nothing to solve the current problem — and lock in fossil fuel infrastructure for decades.

Russia’s war with Ukraine is the most recent example of global bad actors manipulating fossil fuel supplies, sources and prices to drive political tensions. A just and clean energy transition can’t wait. Retooling our economies to facilitate a swifter and inevitable transition to the global installation of renewables, energy efficiency and climate justice is the path forward to safeguard people living now as well as future generations. And for families living around fossil fuel facilities and infrastructure in Texas, the transition to renewable energy will bring sustainable jobs, cleaner air and a quality of life that fossil fuels failed to provide.

Editorial: Resign, Craddick and Christian. Regulators misled about winter storm and failed to prevent another

Houston Chronical
By The Editorial Board
Original Article Here

Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian was one of the first public officials to peddle the narrative that renewable energy sources were the cause of widespread power outages in Texas during Winter Storm Uri. (Michael Cavazos/Photo)

Nine months ago, Wayne Christian was standing in his dark house, wearing three layers of coats to keep warm, one of millions of Texans who lost power from a ferocious winter storm. On the morning of Feb. 17, Christian, the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s natural gas industry, phoned into the agency’s emergency Zoom meeting to test drive a statement that could spin the crisis in favor of oil and gas.

“The takeaway from this storm should not be the future of fossil fuels, but the dangers of subsidizing and mandating intermittent, unreliable forms of energy at the expense of using our resources to make the grid more resilient to extreme weather events,” Christian said.

It took less than 24 hours for the statement to become gospel — and for wind and solar, which played bit parts in the winter storm tragedy, to be cast as arch villains.

Long before public officials could take inventory of the storm’s damage — as many as 700 people dead, more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses, including 1.4 million in the Houston area, were without power for days — Christian’s chief goal seemed to have nothing to do with protecting Texans and everything to do with protecting industry, and his political career. In email responses, he doubled down on absolving the natural gas industry, according to the Texas Tribune, even including his statement in a newsletter to his political supporters.

Meanwhile, Christian’s fellow commissioner and the agency’s former chairwoman, Christi Craddick, declared that the industry did not need to uniformly weatherize — “one-size-fits-all is always a challenge for us,” she told the Legislature. She told a U.S. House committee in March that the oil and gas industry were not the problem, but rather “the solution.”

“Any issues of frozen (natural gas) equipment could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages,” Craddick said. (The RRC’s third commissioner, Jim Wright, was elected last November, and had only been in office a short time when the storm struck.)

Running interference was the last thing Texas or the natural gas industry needed from state regulators. Consumers as well as everyone involved in keeping the lights on in Texas needed one thing above all else from their government officials: the truth. And the truth of Winter Storm Uri was that a sudden cold snap brought Texas’ vaunted independent power grid to within minutes of a weeks-long collapse, not primarily because wind energy is unreliable, nor because gas companies bungled paperwork.

Texans died because our infrastructure wasn’t ready for even a three-day cold spell. It wasn’t ready because the companies that build and maintain that infrastructure hadn’t done the necessary weatherizing to prepare for extreme cold. They hadn’t done it, in part, because no one in government told them they had to.

Christian and Craddick misled Texans about the causes of the deadly blackouts. They’ve failed to insist that gas suppliers make urgent investments to winterize facilities and equipment. As such, the commissioners have left us in danger of another grid disaster.

For that, they should resign.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency released a 300-page report earlier this month, concluding that while all parts of the energy industry shouldered blame for the blackout, natural gas operators’ frozen equipment cut off twice as much gas supply as the utilities’ rolling blackouts and downed power lines. According to the report, the gas industry’s failure to weatherize caused nearly 60 percent of power outages to occur at natural gas-fired plants, rebuking Craddick’s testimony.

After a similar statewide blackout in 2011, the same federal agency recommended weatherizing both power plants and the natural gas supply. Those warnings were ignored and history repeated itself.

In a statement to the editorial board, Craddick stood by her testimony to lawmakers and Congress, asserting the federal report “begs more questions than answers.” Christian’s spokesman said he’s “working on a full response on this subject and will have that ready following the commission’s open meeting on Nov. 30.”

More than two-thirds of the campaign donations to the sitting commissioners have come from oil and gas allies, according to Commission Shift, an activist group campaigning for more stringent ethics rules. The group raises a good question: If all three commissioners are permitted to trade oil and gas stocks, why would they crack down on an industry that keeps them flush with cash?

We know the answer. And we know the consequences of an agency rife with conflicts of interest: Texas is as vulnerable to a potential blackout as it was a year ago. A recent analysis from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that the state could be in for a repeat of last winter’s storm, with widespread outages if the cold forces power plants offline at times of peak electricity demand.

ERCOT acknowledged that some power plants have improved their weatherization, but largely on their own volition. While the Legislature passed changes to shore up the power grid, its implementation is left to the Railroad Commission, which has allowed broad discretion, leniency and minimal fines. Case in point: a proposed rule, to be finalized at the Nov. 30 meeting, lets natural gas producers obtain a weatherization exemption for a mere $150.

Outraged lawmakers are demanding commissioners scrap the rule. If they had any concern for Texans’ safety, they would listen.

How many more times will Texas have to suffer through massive outages before the commission fulfills its duty? Gov. Greg Abbott installed new leadership at ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, with officials in place who at least appear to be taking winter preparations seriously.

The governor doesn’t have the same power to clean house at the Railroad Commission. That’s why it’s up to Craddick and Christian to resign.

Craddick was always a dubious fit for the job, given her family’s financial ties to the natural gas industry. Her attempt to influence state and federal policy by peddling oil and gas fan fiction just confirmed her true loyalty is not to voters.

Christian, the Patient Zero for this infectious narrative on the culpability of renewable energy, faces re-election next year, if he doesn’t resign. We’re looking for a challenger who sees Texas’ success in developing wind energy and other renewable fuels as a complement to oil and gas sectors, rather than as the object of “clean energy fantasies” as Christian put it recently.

Here in the Lone Star State, we’ve learned not to expect much from public servants elected to police industry. But should we settle for regulators who have ignored calls for reforms after two storms, who have prioritized industry’s bottom line — and their own political careers — over protecting Texans’ lives and businesses from blackouts, and who, as we speak, are preparing to loosen weatherization rules as winter approaches and Texas’ power grid is as vulnerable as ever?

We shouldn’t. This is nobody’s idea of good government — or even competent government. Not even in Texas.