The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) on 7 November released a 167-page final report on Winter Storm Elliott, the Christmas 2022 storm that contributed to power outages for millions of electricity customers in the Eastern half of the country.
In the report, FERC and NERC urge lawmakers to fill the regulatory blind spot that was highlighted by the inquiry into power outages during Elliott, in order to maintain a reliable supply of natural gas during extreme cold weather. The report from the joint inquiry by FERC and NERC said that Elliott was the fifth winter event in 11 years where outages threatened the electric grid. Elliott caused sub-freezing temperatures and extreme weather warnings covering almost two-thirds of the United States, resulting in unforeseen energy generation supply losses.
"The energy sector needs to implement these recommendations as quickly as possible. As the report lays out, we narrowly dodged a crisis last year. Had the weather not warmed up on Christmas Day, it is highly likely that natural gas service would have been disrupted to New York City,” said Jim Robb, NERC president and chief executive officer.
At its peak, Elliott sent some 90.5 GW of generation offline, and utilities in the USA’s southeast were also forced to cut off supplies to customers, the shortfall amounting to over 5400 MW, the inquiry found. The report recommended completing cold weather reliability standard revisions that were initiated after Winter Storm Uri in 2021, which resulted in the largest controlled blackout in US history.
FERC and NERC also called upon US Congress and state lawmakers to act on establishing reliability rules for natural gas infrastructure, covering cold weather preparedness, regional co-ordination, and critical infrastructure. "Someone must have authority to establish and enforce gas reliability standards," said FERC chairman Willie Phillips, underscoring the need to safeguard fuel supply to natural gas-fired power plants during extreme cold weather.
The regulators also recommended better enforcement of standards, technical review of outages to identify precautions, improved communication between gas distributors and grid operators, and carrying out studies to determine the need for changes to the gas infrastructure.
The report calls for robust monitoring of how the industry is implementing cold weather Reliability Standards. Also, NERC should obtain an independent technical review of the causes of cold-related mechanical and electrical generation outages to identify preventive measures.
Finally, the report recommends the North American Energy Standards Board convene a meeting of gas and electric grid operators and gas distribution companies to identify any needed communications improvements and suggests an independent research group analyse whether additional gas infrastructure is needed to support grid reliability.
FERC and NERC will host a webinar for industry at the end of November this year to discuss the recommendations in more depth.