Daily on Energy: Natural gas failures during Texas deep freeze prompt FERC call for mandates

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TEXAS POWER INQUIRY: A highly anticipated report released this morning by nonpolitical staff from FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation makes clear that failures at fossil fuel-fired power plants were the biggest culprit of Texas' grid failures during a February cold snap that left millions of people in the dark for several days.

“Some political leaders use the crisis to bash renewable energy. Well, today’s report makes it clear the facts don’t support the rhetoric,” FERC Chairman Richard Glick, a Democrat, said at a commission meeting this morning in which staff presented the report, which is considered preliminary with a final version set to be issued this winter.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has pinned the state’s grid troubles on renewable energy because their availability is dependent on the weather, even as data showed failures at natural gas-fired plants contributed far more.

Natural gas plants failed because they weren’t weatherized to keep running in extremely cold temperatures, which is rare in the South but could be a more common occurrence because of climate change.

Another shot at mandates: As a result, the report recommends that regulators impose stricter reliability standards that mandate power plant operators invest in upgrades to protect their facilities and equipment from the cold.

Texas infamously previously declined federal regulators' recommendations to impose mandates after a similar, less severe cold weather event in 2011.

Glick stressed that would not happen again.

“I guarantee you that this time, FERC will not let these recommendations be ignored or watered down,” Glick said. “I cannot, and will not, allow this to become yet another report that serves no purpose other than to gather dust on the shelf.”

Glick emphasized that all types of generation experienced problems and “all should have winterized” including natural gas, coal, wind turbines, and nuclear units.

The numbers are grim: At its height, the February freeze triggered the loss of 61,800 megawatts of electric generation, the report said.

Of the 1,045 generating units that suffered outages, 57% were natural gas-fired.

Natural gas plants tripped offline as equipment froze, both at power facilities themselves and at wellheads.

The extreme cold severely reduced natural gas production in the U.S., which suffered the largest monthly decline on record in February, mainly affecting output in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Challenging Texas: Glick rued that the outages from freezing of generation equipment and fuel shortages “didn’t need to be as bad” as it was.

He pointedly chided Texas for its go at it alone approach to managing its grid, which made it challenging for the state to balance its load by quickly importing electricity from neighboring states.

Texas famously has an independent grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, and FERC has little authority over it.

"I say to our friends in Texas, this isn't about jurisdiction, it's about saving lives,” Glick said, adding FERC would seek to work with the state to ensure Texas retains a “strong voice in its energy future.”

Texas politicians have resisted changes to its model. We’ll see if that changes now.

Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writer Josh Siegel (@SiegelScribe). Email jsiegel@washingtonexaminer.com for tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email, and we’ll add you to our list.

MANCHIN STILL SEES ‘BIG PROBLEMS’ WITH CLIMATE IN RECONCILIATION: Key swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia emerged from a White House meeting with Biden yesterday declaring there had been no breakthrough on climate provisions to be included in a final Democratic-only reconciliation package that both chambers can agree to.

“I have big problems” with the climate provisions, Manchin told reporters from media outlets including CNN. “Probably [the president] and I are in a different place on that.”

Manchin has threatened to oppose policies that are overly prescriptive on curbing fossil fuel use and recently criticized Democrats’ plan to pay utilities to generate more clean electricity while penalizing companies that fail to do so, declaring that “it makes no sense to me to pay a utility to do what they are going to do anyway.”

Biden and Democrats are counting on the clean electricity payment program as crucial to meeting the president’s strengthened Paris Agreement goal to slice U.S. emissions in half by 2030.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has approved its version of the program, but Democratic leaders might need to accommodate a more lenient version that Manchin and others could support, perhaps by leaving some room for natural gas as a qualifying fuel.

DEMOCRATS SAY THEY HAVE A DEAL ON REVENUE RAISERS: Congressional Democrats and the White House have reached an agreement on a “framework” to pay for their reconciliation spending package, party leaders said this morning, the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports.

But they have no deal on how much they’ll spend on the legislation, which initially came with a $3.5 trillion price tag that some party centrists say is too high.

“The revenue side of this, we have an agreement on a framework,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who appeared alongside Schumer, told reporters Democrats “have made great progress” toward a final deal on the reconciliation package, but it has yet to be written, she said.

Lawmakers, she said, are determining “what is affordable, what is effective, and what gets the best results,” out of an array of “so many good provisions.”

“The House, the Senate, and the White House came to an agreement on how we can go forward in a way to pay for this,” Pelosi said. “This was great progress.”

Pelosi downplayed the price tag and said the party is focused on “what’s in the bill.”

LIBERAL SENATORS PUSH FOR INFRASTRUCTURE VOTE DELAY: Eleven liberal Senate Democrats are urging their House counterparts to postpone passage of bipartisan infrastructure legislation until Congress passes the larger social and climate spending package, Susan also reports.

“The House of Representatives should wait to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders and 10 other liberal Democrats said in a statement yesterday.

The House plans to take up the infrastructure package next week after it passed the Senate with bipartisan support earlier this summer.

But Sanders and other liberal Democrats say the move would undercut a deal to consider the infrastructure bill on a dual track with the larger spending package.

WHITE HOUSE ADVISER EXPECTS CONGRESS TO CLOSE DEAL: Climate adviser Gina McCarthy said she “fully expects” Congress to act in the next couple of weeks on a reconciliation package with robust climate-related investments.

McCarthy, speaking at an event yesterday hosted by Axios, hedged against the package failing, claiming the administration doesn’t need to “rely on that to get to where we need to go.”

“We have the tools we need available to us to make this the decisive decade, and we are going to keep using them,” McCarthy said.

The administration is acting on its own, imposing regulations on methane from oil and gas and other pollutants (see more on the latest action below), along with enforcing stronger fuel efficiency rules on vehicles. But analysts say the clean electricity payment program and clean energy tax credits Democrats are proposing in their reconciliation package are essential to achieving Biden’s Paris Agreement emissions reduction target.

EPA FINALIZES HFC REGULATION: The EPA announced today its final rule regulating emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigerants for appliances, aerosols, and other materials.

The EPA will begin reducing HFCs in the U.S. beginning next year and will phase them out by 85% over 15 years, in accordance with a proposal the agency put forward in May. Congress directed the EPA to address HFCs in December as part of a bipartisan year-end spending package. It represented the biggest step Congress has ever taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Packing a big punch: The EPA estimates that its regulation could result in emissions reductions equal to more than 4.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050 — a figure equal to nearly three years of U.S. power sector emissions at 2019 levels.

Officials outlined enforcement mechanisms that will accompany the regulation, including a government task force led by the EPA and DHS aimed at disrupting illegal importation of the production of HFCs.

“It’s really, frankly, folks, a very big deal, and it’s a win for workers, our climate, and our country,” McCarthy, the White House climate adviser, said of the new rule.

Not like other climate regulations: In a dynamic we’re not likely to see with other Biden administration climate rules, the regulated industry, as well as big business lobbies such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce, are praising the EPA for the HFC regulation.

Business groups supported the HFC phaseout because companies collectively have spent billions of dollars researching a replacement coolant for use in air conditioners and refrigerators.

MOMENTUM FOR FUSION? A pair of recent experiments is feeding hopes that nuclear fusion-generated energy could become a reliable source of clean power at a time when countries are moving swiftly to cut down on fossil fuel emissions, the Washington Examiner’s Jeremy Beaman reports.

Fusion, the process of combining atoms to produce energy, is one of a number of methods researchers are exploring to generate power reliably without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Similar to its brother fission, the atom-splitting process used in operating nuclear plants around the country, fusion manipulates elements that are abundant on Earth, and supporters say it could provide a virtually unlimited power supply if developing technologies are proven effective.

As things stand, that is a big if, according to experts: Scientists overseeing the fusion startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Massachusetts Institute of Technology-designed SPARC project earlier this month used its large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet, which is designed to suspend extremely hot fusion-generated particles, to create a 20-tesla magnetic field. The magnet's field was the largest of its kind ever to be created, according to the project.

The news of SPARC's demonstration in particular is "a step in the right direction," but a number of questions about fusion remain unanswered, said Adam Stein, a senior nuclear analyst for the Breakthrough Institute.

"It's like saying, I have developed a rocket engine that is capable of getting us to orbit. But there are a lot of steps between making that rocket engine that's capable of getting us to orbit and actually getting to work," Stein said. "You need to build the rest of the rocket and you need to train the team and you need to get licensed and all kinds of other things."

The timelines that developers have offered contribute further to caution about fusion, indicating why there remains a lack of public investment in fusion technologies, Stein said.

A document from a recent meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated that the design and testing of a number of existing fusion projects will continue through the decade, with the first reactors expected to be put on the grid at some point during the 2030s. Meanwhile, the NRC's deadline for licensing actual fusion demonstrations is 2027.

"If the regulator doesn't expect to license even a demonstration by 2027, then that signals why Congress hasn't seen it as a priority to put in the reconciliation bill," Stein said.

BIDEN ANNOUNCES ENERGY NOMINEES: Biden unveiled a slew of energy and environment-related nominees last night, headlined by Joseph DeCarolis, to be administrator of the Energy Information Administration, the research arm of the Department of Energy.

DeCarolis, a professor at North Carolina State University, is an experienced energy modeler and previously was an environmental scientist at the EPA.

Other new nominees include Maria Robinson to lead the Energy Department’s Office of Electricity, Mary Lu Jordan to be a commissioner on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, and Christopher Frey to lead the EPA’s Research and Development Office.

AND HE TAPS NEW SCIENCE ADVISERS: The White House revealed the names of 30 scientists and academics who will advise Biden on policy as part of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The PCAST list runs the gamut of expertise and contains several specialists with climate and energy backgrounds, including Inez Fung, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of California and carbon cycle expert who has contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dan Arvizu, an energy materials expert who served as director and chief executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory during the Obama administration, and Marvin Adams, a nuclear engineer who chairs the Mission Committee at Los Alamos National Laboratory and has advisory experience on the Defense Department’s Nuclear Effects Advisory Panel, are also among the ranks.

“Science and technology permeate so many elements of government decision-making,” said PCAST Co-Chair Maria Zuber, who is vice president for research and E. A. Griswold professor of geophysics at MIT. “I am excited to bring this historic and brilliant group’s knowledge, experience, and innovative thinking to bear on the nation’s toughest challenges in science and technology and navigate an equitable and inclusive path forward for the nation.”

The Rundown

New York Times What will it take for electric vehicles to create jobs, not cut them?

New York Times John Kerry’s sales pitch to save the planet

Bloomberg China must speed up emissions cuts, John Kerry says

Bloomberg UK suppliers fail; Greece sounds alarm: energy update

Calendar

WEDNESDAY | SEP. 29

10:30 a.m. 2123 Rayburn. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the Chemical Safety Board.

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Tags: Energy and Environment, Daily on Energy

Original Author: Josh Siegel

Original Location: Daily on Energy: Natural gas failures during Texas deep freeze prompt FERC call for mandates

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