On September 23, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) Staff released their report and recommendations regarding the 2021 Winter Freeze during the September Open Meeting at FERC. In this joint review, Staff reviewed what happened during the freeze, what caused the failure, and outlined various recommendations to prevent similar events in the future.

The report explained that in February 2021, the southern part of the country was hit with unprecedented cold weather that triggered massive electric outages that impacted millions of electric customers throughout the regions of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (“ERCOT”), Southwest Power Pool (“SPP”), and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (“MISO”) South. It stated that the February cold weather event was the fourth event of its kind in the last decade to jeopardize the bulk-power system reliability. FERC and NERC’s report explained that the cold weather event triggered the loss of 61,800 megawatts of electric generation, during which 1,045 individual generating units failed to start, and natural gas facilities and other generation sources were unable to operate in the severe cold. The report explained that Texas and the south-central US rely heavily on natural gas to meet their electric needs, but their natural gas and electric infrastructure rely on each other to deliver electricity to customers. The report concluded that both systems failed to generate and deliver electricity to customers during the cold weather conditions due to a lack of proper winterization of infrastructure.

On February 16, 2021, FERC & NERC announced their joint inquiry to “examine the root causes of the reliability events that have occurred throughout the county, in particular the regions served by ERCOT, MISO, and SPP.” Their assessment “points to [the] freezing of generator components and fuel issues as the top two major causes of generator outages, derates or failures to start.” The joint report makes 28 recommendations but highlights nine key recommendations, including changes to mandatory reliability standards. Highlights of these recommendations include: (1) “revisions to require generator owners to identify and protect cold weather-critical components”; (2) “build new or retrofit existing units to operate to specific ambient temperatures and weather based on extreme temperature and weather data”; (3) “take into account effects of wind and precipitation in winterization plans”; (4) create “corrective action plans for generator owners that experience freeze-related outages”; and (5) “ensure the system operator is aware of the operating limitations in the generating fleet so that they can plan mitigation actions.” Ultimately, the report concluded that owners and operators of these facilities need to undergo massive changes to prevent their equipment from freezing to ensure their facilities are reliable during cold weather conditions.

FERC Chairmen Glick stated, “This is a wake-up call for all of us. There was a similar inquiry after Texas experienced extremely cold weather in 2011, but those recommendations were not acted on. We can’t allow this to happen again. This time, we must take these recommendations seriously, and act decisively, to ensure the bulk power system doesn’t fail the next time extreme weather hits.” Further, the president and CEO of NERC stated, “These preliminary findings provide clear and comprehensive insight into what happened on the grid during the February freeze and our joint recommendations provide a roadmap for what actions need to be taken next [to] prevent a repeat occurrence.” Both agencies are committed to working together to make the changes necessary to prevent a reoccurrence of events.

The final findings and recommendations are expected to be issued in a full report this winter. The presentation of the preliminary findings and recommendations is available here.