Nearly 5 million electricity customers across the United States lost power over the weekend as extreme weather, including frigid temperatures and ice storms, drove up demand and shut down electricity generation. The widespread outages underscore the vulnerability of the power grid to extreme weather events made more frequent, powerful, and unpredictable by climate change. “I cannot recall an extreme weather event that impacted such a large swath of the nation in this manner — the situation is critical,” Neil Chatterjee, a member of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told Bloomberg.
The outages are most dire in Texas, where nearly 4 million customers were still without power as of Tuesday morning. The state’s grid operator said 34 gigawatts, as much as 40% of its generation capacity was forced offline, sending electricity prices skyrocketing to the legal limit of $9,000 per megawatt-hour and forcing the implementation of rolling blackouts. The lost generation capacity was driven in large part by the 27 gigawatts of coal-, gas-, and nuclear-generated electricity forced offline by the cold and ice. Wind generation exceeded the Texas grid operator’s daily forecast through the weekend.
Gas and Refining
The storms wreaked havoc on U.S. methane gas markets, with Oklahoma physical delivery gas prices averaging $350/mmBtu and hitting $600/mmBtu at one point. (The fuel usually trades at $3/mmBtu and the previous all-time record was $160/mmBtu, according to the Financial Post.) More than 3 million barrels of daily oil-processing capacity also shut down Monday as the largest refineries in North America were forced to halt operations because of the cold. (Bloomberg $, Bloomberg $, New York Times $, AP; Generating sources’ performance during storm: Bloomberg $, TechCruch; Oklahoma gas prices: Financial Post; Refineries: Bloomberg $; Climate change links: Washington Post $, Washington Post $, Weather Channel, Texas Climate News; Climate Signals background: Winter storm risk increase)