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With Winter Storm Coming, Pipeline Company Threatens Gas Supply To Texas Power Plants
Goddamn it, some stories don't need sequels.
A nasty winter storm is expected to hit most of Texas today and tomorrow, and it has Texans understandably concerned. The good news is that it's not forecast to be nearly as bad as last year's massive storm that caused blackouts for millions of Texans and killed 246 people. Still, it's likely to bring temperatures in the low 20s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and a "very messy winter mix that could include rain, sleet, or freezing rain, maybe even some snow," according to meteorologist Tim Cady.
Also, there's that little problem we mention in the headline up there, as the Texas Tribune reports: Subsidiaries of a great big pipeline company are threatening to cut off the flow of natural gas to Texas's biggest power generating company because of a financial dispute that goes all the way back to last year's freeze and electric power clusterfuck:
Vistra Corp. subsidiary Luminant on Wednesday asked the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, to prevent Energy Transfer LP from cutting off fuel to five Vistra power plants, which produce enough electricity to power 400,000 Texas homes, businesses and critical infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.
The companies under Energy Transfer, the pipeline company, have told Vistra that gas will stop flowing to five Vistra power plants on Monday unless Vistra pays Energy Transfer $21.6 million, according to the filing.
This is also your regular reminder that the "Railroad Commission of Texas" hasn't regulated railroads in decades, but still has the name, possibly as a fun little prank to confuse outsiders.
Also too, as the Houston Chronicle points out, the $21.6 million that Energy Transfer is demanding from Vistra isn't for actual natural gas purchases, but instead is a "penalty imposed by the pipeline firm for buying too much gas and over-supplying their pipelines."
Vistra called the threat to cut power a "form of commercial extortion" and said in its letter to the "railroad" commission that the "threat to terminate service in the middle of winter is illegal and grossly irresponsible and should be prohibited" by the energy regulators.
The filing also said that during last year's devastating freeze, Vistra had spent roughly $1.5 billion for natural gas as prices spiked in response to the sudden cold snap. That was "twice its planned natural gas cost to fuel its entire Texas fleet for a full year," and included payments of $600 million to Energy Transfer, which Vistra said "is more than 96% of all amounts invoiced by [Energy Transfer]."
Well sure, but that means Vistra hasn't paid a whopping four percent of what it owes, so in the perfect logic of the Market, Texas energy consumers need to stop eating so much avocado toast and cut back on all those streaming services if they want to have electricity through this weekend.
The Texas Tribune helpfully notes that Energy Transfer did fairly OK during last year's crisis: "While many companies lost money during the storm, Energy Transfer made $2.4 billion ." Oh, yes, and Tribune reporter James Barragán tweeted a reminder yesterday that Energy Transfer itself is owned by billionaire Kelcy Warren, who "donated $1 million to Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s campaign last year," but don't you worry at all, because "Abbott has promised that the lights will stay on this winter."
The Chronicle explains that if the gas supply from Energy Transfer were completely cut off,
two of Luminant['s] 14 gas-fired power plants, which rely exclusively on Energy Transfer pipelines, would need to shut down, the company said in its complaint. Three other plants would likely need to reduce generation to make up for the loss of fuel.
Gosh, that sounds bad, but remember, the unregulated free market is the absolute best way of ensuring prosperity to all.
Houston Public Media reports that Texas's power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), sent a reassuring message Tuesday that the grid is in fine shape prior to the coming cold snap, and that "321 out of 324 electric generation units and transmission facilities fully passed inspection for new winterization regulations." That's encouraging, although we'd also note that "passed inspection for winterization" is different from "are completely ready for the demand, even if two major power plants go offline and three others reduce capacity." Good thing the freeze isn't expected to be as severe as last year's!
However, if the impasse between Vistra and Energy Transfer actually does result in a substantial number of Texas households losing power, we have little doubt that Texas Republicans will find a way to blame the problems on renewable energy again.
Bundle up, Texas!
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