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I-Team: Failed Communication And 2-Page Form Kept Texans In Cold And Dark Longer During Winter Storms

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - In order to prevent a complete grid failure during last month's winter storms, ERCOT said it had no other choice but to order outages.

As millions of Texans lost electricity, the power to hospitals, 911 centers, fire stations, and other critical infrastructure was left on. They were protected from the outages because they were on the "critical" list.

Gas production facilities that fuel power plant should have also been on that list but many were not.

So when power plants needed natural gas to keep running during the record freeze, many natural gas plants were powerless – leaving Texans suffering in the dark and in the cold.

Here's how that happened?

The state's electric utility companies that service the deregulated areas (Texas-New Mexico Power, Oncor Electricity, CenterPoint Energy, AEP North, and AEP Central) said to be put on their "critical" lists, all gas producers needed to do was fill out a simple form.

Before the storms, Oncor said it had 35 gas facilities on its "critical" list. None of those lost power during the winter storms.

During the storms, dozens of other gas facilities frantically called to get their power restored. Oncor said by the end of the week 168 gas facilities had been added to the list.

"I'm not pointing fingers, because I'm part of this, but those people have to tell me what is critical so I can keep it on," Oncor CEO Allen Nye told state lawmakers in his testimony after the storms.

However, Texas gas providers said that's an unfair oversimplification of the issue.

"If it were really that simple I don't think the circumstances would have ever occurred," said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

Staples said what electric utility providers failed to mention to lawmakers was the short form currently up on ERCOT's website was not available before the storms. It was just recently updated.

Staples said the old form that was available before the storm lacked clarity and promotion.

He said many gas facilities were not clear whether they were even eligible to be on the critical list based on the language of the old form which is why, he said, many never filled it out.

"I think this is a real sign of the lack of communication," Staples said.

This lack of communication of whose power needs to be kept on during rotating outages is nothing new.

After the 2011 Texas winter storm, a federal report noted Texas gas producers "should identify portions of their systems that are essential".

A year later in 2012, Texas established the Energy Assurance Plan.

The plan called on the two states agencies, the Public Utility Commission and the Railroad Commission, to work together to "ensure that no gas facilities critical to power generation suffer rotating outages."

Yet, nearly a decade after these warnings, that's exactly what happened. The state agencies failed to communicate and Texans suffered the consequences.

Staples said the state needs to have a mapping system so that everyone is clear on which gas facilities and other critical infrastructure need to have their power kept on.

On Monday, March 29, the Texas Senate passed SB 3 which includes substantive reforms that lawmakers said will ensure that Texas' grid is stable for decades to come.

One of those reforms requires the mapping of the power supply chain.

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