ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Record cold plus poor planning by utilities led to the widespread outages that left 50,000 New Mexicans without natural gas and heat for a week in February 2011, federal regulators meeting in Albuquerque said Thursday.
During the meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission experts noted there had been other freezes in the Southwest citing six between 1983 and 2010,
Yet while the freeze that began on Feb. 2, 2011, was the longest sustained cold spell in 25 years, gas and utility companies had failed to learn from past experiences, FERC found.
In other parts of the Southwest 4.4 million people dealt with rolling blackouts or no electricity at all.
FERC experts said lack of planning and poor equipment maintenance also contributed to the problem.
Earl Shockley with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation said they found missing or inadequate wind breaks, inadequate or lack of insulation and failure to maintain heating elements or heat lamps in insulating cabinets.
"A number of plants had inadequate plans--one of my first peeves--and safeguards in place to address severe weather," said Earl Shockley, senior director of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. "There was a lack of adequate knowledge of plant-temperature-design limits and the equipment most effected by freezing."
It all started with the rolling blackouts in Texas where electricity is needed to keep natural gas flowing. But wellheads also froze, and that reduced gas flow to New Mexico and Texas by 20 percent.
In addition, icy roads prevented crews from getting to production sites. As the pressure dropped in the pipelines, New Mexico Gas Company shut off the lines to cities and towns to keep the whole system from crashing.
The feds have handed down recommendations to power and gas companies, and they say those companies are working hard by reviewing winter conditions from previous years and employing insulation inspections, heat-tracing inspections, operator training for emergency preparedness and having tabletop exercises.
The report also recommends New Mexico, Arizona and Texas have additional gas storage capacity during the winter months.
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