FERC Demands Gas Reliability Legislation following “Unprecedented” Gas Outages in Winter Storm Elliott

WASHINGTON – Today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Reliability Corporation (NERC) released a much-awaited report assessing the failures of gas generators throughout the eastern U.S. during Winter Storm Elliott, concluding that Congress and state legislatures need to establish reliability rules for natural gas infrastructure to prevent future disasters. 

“This damning assessment from FERC and NERC should be a wake-up call that gas and fossil fuel fail to meet our energy needs when they’re needed most,” said Christy Walsh, senior attorney with the Sustainable FERC Project at the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council.) “To be clear, the federal agency that regulates gas and sets standards for electric reliability is saying that gas is not reliable enough to be counted on when we need it. We need to invest in and expand the clean energy capacity of the grid, instead of relying on the myth of fossil fuel’s infallibility. Failing to do so will put people’s safety in jeopardy as extreme weather worsens.” 

The report determined that nearly half of all plant failures during the storm took place at gas-fired generation facilities. Overall, 90.5 MW of power were knocked offline in the fifth and most severe winter storm outage in the last 11 years.  

A previous report on failures during Elliott from PJM, the grid operator for much of the East and mid-Atlantic, found that gas issues caused 70 percent of outages in its territory, contributed to blackouts across the Southeast, and threatened much wider problems within the eastern grid. 

The report recommended that NERC, the nation’s grid monitor, identify the generators that are at highest risk during cold weather, verify that they can continue to run during extreme cold weather, and do a technical review of why generators fail during cold weather and determine if further reliability standards are needed. 

Other highlights from today’s report include: 

  • Gas pipeline pressures for ConEd, the gas distributor for Manhattan, declined precipitously during the morning of December 24. Had ConEd's city gate pressures continued to decline, it was in danger of losing pressure below the level needed to operate the system. Loss of natural gas service would have left customers in a life-threatening position and required months to fully repair.  
  • The 90,500 MW of unplanned outages during Winter Storm Elliott represented 13 percent of the U.S. portion of the anticipated resources in the Eastern Interconnection at the time of the storm. 
  • 55 percent of the generating unit outages, derates, and failures to start were caused by freezing issues and fuel issues. 
  • Of those generating unit outages, derates, and failures to start that were attributed to having “Freezing Issues” nearly 80% occurred at ambient temperatures that were above their documented minimum operating temperatures. 

“It’s long past time for grid operators and federal officials to move past the rhetoric from plant owners and fossil fuel companies, and take actions based on a plant’s real-world performance,” said Walsh. “We need a more diverse grid with more transmission and easier interconnection to meet our reliability needs, and we need stronger standards to hold gas companies accountable for providing the service they claim to provide.” 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.  

Related Press Releases