Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2011 Vol. 58 No. 12

A Texas Energy Exercise

functional exercise

The Public Utility Commission and the Railroad Commission hosted a functional exercise this fall that explored worst-case scenarios should a winter storm blanket the entire state for an extended period. This, as many Texans know, is not necessarily a remote possibility. In February 2011, Texans from Amarillo to Brownsville experienced the effects of consecutive days of below freezing temperatures, power outages and a heavy strain on utilities.

"We can't control the weather, but we can do as much training as possible now to prepare ourselves for future events," Railroad Commissioner Barry T. Smitherman said as he addressed participants before the exercise began.

In addition to the effects from colder weather, other environmental factors, such as this year’s intense heat and exceptional drought, along with their effects on power generation, were included in the list of topics discussed by industry leaders. One of the key focuses of the exercise were the interdependencies between the oil and gas and electric utility industries.

Though earlier weather predictions forecasted a warmer than normal winter for this year and early next year, Texans in the Panhandle have already witnessed two winter storm events since October. Elsewhere across the state Texans have experienced temperatures that have dipped to freezing or below. Just this month, ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), released several reports and presentations noting its assessment of potential risks to power generation should the state experience severe weather events like this past February.

The statewide winter storm exercise was one of several events state and local agencies have participated in this year to better understand their respective roles in response to such an event and ensure an even greater coordinated response in the future.

The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) designed the exercise. As it unfolded, participants were made aware of a series of energy challenges and were given the opportunity to practice running through the sequence of events their agency would follow should a severe winter storm affect the state.

The exercise gave the participants a sense of real-time interaction and communication exchange with their counterparts at other state agencies and organizations, and allowed for a review of industry priorities and communication processes between state and local governments and private industries that could be improved and streamlined.

In addition to representatives from the Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission, exercise participants included representatives from the natural gas and electric power industries, and federal, state and local government agencies. The exercise was part of a federal grant the U.S. Department of Energy awarded to the Railroad Commission of Texas, Public Utility Commission of Texas and Comptroller’s Office in 2009 to strengthen emergency mitigation and prevention efforts across the U.S., and explore reliability issues related to the state’s electric and gas industries.

To find out more about energy emergencies and activities in ERCOT, go to www.ercot.com and click on the Facebook and Twitter logos and “follow” their updates. 

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