Regulators call for natural gas supply protections after 2022 winter power outages

(Reuters) - U.S. energy regulators on Tuesday urged lawmakers to fill a regulatory blind spot to maintain reliable supply of natural gas during extreme cold weather that was highlighted by an inquiry into power outages during Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022.

A report on the joint inquiry by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corp (NERC) said that Elliott was the fifth winter event in 11 years where outages threatened the electric grid.

"We narrowly dodged a crisis last year. Had the weather not warmed up on Christmas Day, it is highly likely that natural gas service would have been disrupted to New York City," said NERC President and CEO Jim Robb.

Elliott delivered sub-freezing temperatures and extreme weather warnings to almost two-thirds of the United States, resulting in unforeseen energy generation supply losses.

At its peak, Elliott sent some 90,500 megawatts (MW) of electric generation offline, and utilities in the U.S. southeast were also forced to cut off the supply of over 5,400 MW to customers, the inquiry found.

The report recommended completing cold weather reliability standard revisions that were initiated after Winter Storm Uri in 2021, which resulted in the largest controlled blackout in U.S. history.

FERC and NERC also called upon U.S. Congress and state lawmakers to act on establishing reliability rules for natural gas infrastructure, covering cold weather preparedness, regional coordination, and critical infrastructure.

"Someone must have authority to establish and enforce gas reliability standards," said FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, underscoring the need to safeguard fuel supply to natural gas-fired power plants during extreme cold weather.

The regulators also recommended better enforcement of standards, technical review of outages to identify precautions, improved communication between gas distributors and grid operators, and studying the need for more gas infrastructure.

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