Freezing cold reveals flaws in Texas power policies

Fort Worth Star-TelegramFebruary 4, 2011 

A key state senator blamed some of Texas' power problems Wednesday on a decades-old policy that, at least for one day, unintentionally pitted the state's natural gas system against electricity power plants, both of which were struggling to meet near-unprecedented demand amid an ice storm that settled across most of the state.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said the much-hated "rolling blackouts" ordered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas were caused in part when Atmos Energy reduced natural gas pressure to power plants generating electricity, a normal procedure when natural gas usage is reaching critical levels.

Fraser described the situation as "the right hand not talking to the left," which left millions of Texans with intermittent power on the coldest day in North Texas in close to 20 years.

He said he will hold hearings in the next two weeks with testimony from officials from ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission, Atmos Energy and the Texas Railroad Commission in an attempt to change the protocol, which he said dates to 1972, before the state was so dependent on natural gas.

"We had a unique situation [Wednesday] with surging demand for electricity and gas," Fraser said. "There were a lot of circumstances we weren't aware of.

"I had never heard of this protocol, and it had never come up before in a hearing. But this is obviously not acceptable."

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