Winter Storm Elliott, the Christmas 2022 bomb cyclone storm that caused temperatures to drop drastically below freezing and brought high winds and snow to the eastern U.S., caused “unprecedented” generating unit losses that resulted in power outages for millions and threatened the reliability of the electric grid. The final report on the event, prepared by staff from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), was recently presented to the commission members. It contains 11 recommendations for actions that should be taken to prevent similar failures during future extreme winter weather. Among those actions are cold weather reliability improvements for power generators and natural gas infrastructure, as well as for the energy grid in general. The report also states that congressional and state legislation or regulation is needed to establish reliability rules for natural gas infrastructure to ensure cold weather operation. There is now no entity charged with ensuring the reliability of the natural gas infrastructure, which is the largest fuel source for power generation in the U.S. The report said there were “unprecedented, unplanned generation unit losses” of nearly 90,000 megawatts (MW), and nearly 80 percent of generating units failed to perform at temperatures above their own documented minimum operating temperatures. The utility serving the New York City area faced such low pressures on its pipelines it was forced to declare an emergency and use its own liquefied natural gas facility to keep the power on. Natural gas pipeline pressures dropped due to freeze-related production declines of 23 percent in the Marcellus shale and 54 percent in the Utica shale, as well as other freeze and equipment problems. “Every cold weather inquiry report that has studied natural gas production has found cold-related declines in natural gas production, by as much as 70 percent in some cases,” the report states. PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission operation that coordinates the electricity market for 13 states, including Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, reported in its preliminary analysis that the cold led to extremely high and sustained peaks in electricity demand from Dec. 24 through 25, overshooting initial forecasts. The cold also created problems for natural gas-fired generators, which experienced a multitude of mechanical issues at their plants and supply chain problems upstream. FERC Chairman Willie Phillips said in a release that “major improvements” must be made to cold-weather reliability of the natural gas and electricity production and grid systems. “I have said repeatedly: Someone – it doesn’t have to be FERC – must have the authority to establish and enforce natural gas reliability standards.” The report also states that robust monitoring of how the industry is implementing the current cold weather standards to determine if reliability gaps exist, and recommends that the North American Energy Standards Board convene a meeting of gas and electric grid operators and gas distribution companies to identify communication improvements during extreme events. The final report will be published this fall.
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