Texas’ “failsafe” generators failed, risking weeks-long catastrophe

A worker repairs a power line in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.

Enlarge / A worker repairs a power line in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (credit: Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Texas’ days-long power outages during last February’s deep freeze almost stretched into weeks or even months thanks to a string of failures at “black start” generators.

More than half of the state’s 28 black start generators, which are crucial for bringing a collapsed grid back to life, experienced outages themselves, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. Of the 13 primary generators, nine encountered trouble, as did six of 15 secondary generators acting as backups in case the primary backups failed. Some had trouble getting enough fuel to run, while others were damaged by the cold weather.

“Having had experience for almost two decades with utilities, it’s genuinely inconceivable to me—even in today’s massively deregulated environment—I cannot imagine how any regulatory oversight got itself into this position,” said Evan Wilner, who served as Delaware’s first public advocate representing utility customers.

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