Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg
Texas’ days-long power outages during last February’s deep freeze almost stretched into weeks or even months thanks to a string of failures at “black start” generators.
More than half of the state’s 28 black start generators, which are crucial for bringing a collapsed grid back to life, experienced outages themselves, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. Of the 13 primary generators, nine encountered trouble, as did six of 15 secondary generators acting as backups in case the primary backups failed. Some had trouble getting enough fuel to run, while others were damaged by the cold weather.
Every North American grid has black start generators, but there’s no nationwide standard regulating them. Each state or grid operator decides how to operate the generators. Some use a mix of fossil fuel generators and hydroelectric dams…
But Texas no longer has any hydroelectric black start facilities. All of its black start generators use natural gas as a primary fuel, and only 13 generators at six sites can use fuel oil as a backup. When natural gas supplies run short, generators without an alternate fuel source are unable to provide vital services to the grid. Plant operators are required to maintain a reserve supply of fuel, but it wasn’t clear during the February freeze that they were all fulfilling this obligation. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages most of the state’s electrical grid, is reportedly in the process of trying to recover some of the payments made to black start facilities that failed during the outage.
The Black Start facilities were getting regular payments to provide an emergency service. When this disaster struck, they were unable to provide that service. IMHO, they not only do not deserve payment for that immediate incident, they must be able to provide proof of previous readiness or refund payment for some or all of that previous period.