WEATHER

Utah prepared for extreme weather conditions, Texas was not

Feb 18, 2021, 3:36 PM
Utah extreme weather conditions...
AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 15: A man shovels snow from under a car stuck on a hill on February 15, 2021 in East Austin, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather to Texas, causing traffic delays and power outages, and storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. is experiencing extreme weather conditions — but at least Utah can handle it. However, some states like Texas were underprepared for the winter weather. 

Texas unprepared for extreme weather conditions

Power outages across Texas have left millions of people in the bitter cold this week. According to Poweroutage.us, over 3.2 million customers remained without power as of Tuesday night. 

Texas is on its own power grid

The country is divided into three grids: one covers the Eastern U.S., another the Western states and then there is the Texas grid, which covers nearly the entire state. The Texas grid is called ERCOT and is run by an agency of the same name: the Electric Reliability Council of Texas

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid reliability in accordance with national standards. However, the ERCOT grid remains beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

The result is “an electrical island in the United States,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT, in an interview with USA Today. “That independence has been jealously guarded, I think both by policymakers and the industry.”

ERCOT manages about 90% of the state’s power for 26 million customers. 

Power grid failure 

The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance.

But planning for this winter, officials didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning.

Utah prepared for extreme weather conditions

Like Texas, Utah has experienced its own service disruptions in the past. In September, thousands lost power across northern Utah when a high-wind event damaged infrastructure across multiple counties.

But Rocky Mountain Power spokesman David Eskelsen told KSL TV Utah’s energy grid is better prepared than Texas’ for winter weather events.

Utah is part of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, which serves 14 western states, two Canadian provinces and even a bit of Mexico.

“We [in Utah] have interconnections with more utilities,” Eskelsen said. “And those interconnections were constructed years ago specifically for reliability purposes.”

Western states keep more energy in reserve — about 12%, Eskelsen said, for contingencies — and are able to buy and sell power among themselves.

“We’re also more used to winter weather and preparing for winter weather,” he added.

All these things together make Utah unlikely to have the same problems plaguing Texas right now in the event of extremely cold weather, he said.

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Utah prepared for extreme weather conditions, Texas was not