Texas Freeze Knocked out Coal Plants

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"The breakdown of coal-fired plants was at the heart of electricity grid problem."

The operators of Texas' electricity grid blamed myriad problems at power plants across Texas for last week's rolling blackouts. But interviews and a review of documents by The Dallas Morning News reveal that the breakdown of a cluster of coal-fired plants in Central Texas was at the heart of the problem.

To compound the problem, many of the natural gas-fueled plants that would normally fire up to restore power didn't have enough gas.

So early Wednesday morning, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas began shutting off power to customers after a quick, deep freeze sliced through the state.

The grid lost 7,000 megawatts of capacity, enough to power 1.4 million homes, and 50 power plants stopped working. Texans endured eight hours of rolling blackouts.

"It appears the people in the control room were faced with something out of a bad science-fiction movie," said Public Utility Commissioner Ken Anderson.

Regulators questioned whether power plant operators had adequately prepared for the cold weather by shielding equipment from the elements, and whether protocols developed in the 1970s slowed coordination between electricity and natural gas leaders. Natural gas regulators prioritize households instead of power plants.

The experience also raised the question of whether Texas' unique free-market electricity system ensures adequate power in an emergency.

"My gut is that there were sources of power that were not contracted for and were not prepared to go when they were needed," said Bill White, former Democratic candidate for governor and former No. 2 at the Department of Energy, where he had responsibility for the national energy grid.

"If I am a generator, then I am going to make my calculations on the basis of cost and benefits. Period."

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