Deadly Winter Storm Exposes ‘Flimsiness of the Gas System’

A car accident is cleared at an intersection without power to stop lights in Charlotte, North Carolina
A car accident is cleared at an intersection without power to stop lights in Charlotte, North Carolina on Dec. 24, 2022. LOGAN CYRUS / AFP via Getty Images
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A massive, bitterly cold winter storm killed dozens and exposed serious vulnerabilities in the American methane gas system and electrical grid.

At least 91 people died from various causes related to the ”bomb cyclone” of Arctic air across much of the contiguous 48 states. While renewable energy generation helped meet the high demand, methane gas and fossil fuel electricity generation failed or nearly failed in multiple regions.

“These cold fronts expose the fragility of our energy systems,” UT-Austin professor Michael Webber told Bloomberg. “Though the variability of wind and solar are well known and discussed a lot, these freezes also show the flimsiness of the gas system.”

Texas grid operators, citing “natural gas delivery limitations” were forced to request authorization from the U.S. DOE to burn more polluting fuels to meet grid demand. Low gas pressure left Atmos energy customers in Central and North Texas (as well as DeSoto County, Mississippi) without heat two days before Christmas as temperatures plummeted. In North Carolina, more than 15,000 experienced blackouts on New Year’s Eve when multiple Duke Energy generating units failed despite the utility’s assurances it was prepared for the cold weather.

“Duke sort of uses reliability like a cudgel to sort of fight renewables as an option. And this really is ironic, that, you know, their system failed with their own projections, they have complete control of it, and it was likely gas generators that failed,” Chris Carmody of the Carolinas Clean Energy Business Association told WRAL.

In Wisconsin, We Energy customers bailed out the energy company by lowering their thermostats to 60°F on Christmas Eve after “a significant equipment failure” on the Guardian methane gas distribution pipeline set off a significant gas shortage. Burst pipes also forced yet another boil water notice in Jackson, Miss.

For a deeper dive:

Grid strain: NPR, Bloomberg, Vox, E&E News; ERCOT: Houston Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, San Antonio News-Express; Atmos: NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, The Texas Tribune, KXAN, WFAA, FOX7, Plainview Herald, The Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, CBS-Austin; DeSoto Co.: WREG; Duke: WRAL, WITN, The Charlotte Observer, WRAL, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, WWAY, Axios, WITN, Randolph News Now, Winston-Salem Journal, WSOC, WYFF, WBTV, CBS17; We Energy: WMTV, WDJT, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WFRV, WSAW, WISN, FOX6; Jackson: NPR

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