Thursday, February 03, 2011

DFW Power Shortages - Winter Storm

I don't understand several things about the power shortages reported in Texas yesterday and today.  Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't summer air conditioning load much larger than winter heating load?  Is 20-deg. really that cold?

Why did ERCOT lose 50 generators totaling about 7,000MW?  I heard one radio report that the west Texas wind mills failed to provide power during this storm, but have been unable to find anything written about it.

Next day...Oncor, the transmission company admitted making a mistake by cutting off critical care hospitals while implementing ERCOT's "rolling blackout" order.  Oops, my bad!  Going forward, the Oncor spokesperson said they need to work on their "processes".   This new wave management gibberish drives me nuts.  It seems to me that the current approach to ducking responsibility is to fog the issue with meaningless lingo.

When our utility was TXU or even the TESCO, DP&L, TP&L companies before that, I don't recall them having the same problems doing what they were charged to do; generate and deliver electricity.  Sure, there were upsets due to tornado or hurricane damage, but losing 7,000 MW to a cold snap, come on now.

About 3-years ago TXU was purchased by 3 large investment fund managers and broken in to several subsidiaries--a generating co. and a transmission co. among them.  I'm not a fan of bankers, accountants, and lawyers trying to "run" technical enterprises.  Invariably, they focus on the short-term balance sheets and resist making long-term reliability investments.

If the technical group were out ranked and out classed by the financial gurus, then I would expect expensive things like preventative maintenance work to be a hard sell within the organization.  Ultimately, as the old adage goes, you can pay now or you can pay later...but with regard to keeping equipment running, you are going to pay sometime.

A technical guy will recommend doing the routine maintenance so you can better control the reliability, but a financial guy will want to wait until it breaks and he is forced to spend the money.  Unfortunately, waiting leads to unscheduled outages at the least convenient times.  But luckily for the geniuses making the "wait" decisions, retribution is rarely forthcoming because few outsiders understand the real problem they induce.

I think this is a sort of replay of the foolishness in the BP blowout this past summer. 



Anonymous said...

I waited for a spelling champ to take a shot at this; none tried, so here I am.

Yes, more energy is used during A/C peak times. But during this event, 2 plants went off line (though this happens often) triggering a chain of events. Demand was great as you know, and many gas wells had freeze offs due impurities and cold weather...water etc...this was a problem. Then Atmos and Center Port gave preference of gas to home owners, hindering favor to power plants (Oh my). Also compressor stations (of gas senders but powered by elec) got caught in the rolling blackouts, which by there not being enough of them anyway, they were then impared from sending enough gas to power plants.

I think there were a # of 'up yours moments', but one interestiing one was TXU phone Williams (RR Commissioner ran for governor or some bigger post) TXU demanded more gas from Atmos (our area) and Center Port (Houston area) and wants Williams to demand it. But the 'up em's' part is, 'if we do so we have to cut gas off to households'.

There are plenty of power stations. Needed is more compressor stations (gas), preventions of freeze offs (per Chessepeak say so?), and get priorities straight (compressors first!) during is a test of know how to manage the high and low extremes.

Sorry about the choppiness, there is little room here. all *IMHO

Gus said...

I think the underlying problem is poor management. A close look at top management changes after 2007 might reveal some significant losses of experience. Local electric companies have handled this kind of weather before without this kind of failure. In fact, the Texas electric utilities have always been among the most conservative equipment operators of any in the nation. They have always been slow to adopt new technologies which I've always viewed as both parochial and conducive to reliability.