Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Texas to probe rolling blackouts, natural gas outages during recent blizzard

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas officials have ordered an investigation into rolling blackouts that struck the state's electric grid during a severe blizzard that struck in early February.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas asked the state's independent energy-market monitor, Daniel Jones, to conduct a probe to see if power generators, pipeline companies or others broke market rules. Among the questions are whether some firms faked power-plant problems to push prices higher, or were slow to restart plants that were off line.

The investigation could take weeks or months.

Texas set an all-time winter power demand record one day during the storm, placing historic pressure on power providers.

Electricity-grid officials said Jones' team will look at price patterns and power-plant outages remembering that, in California's energy crisis of 2000-2001, unscrupulous power generators feigned equipment problems to drive up the price of electricity. A significant number of plants in Texas failed last week, and wholesale electricity prices briefly spiked.

The state Senate committee that oversees the state utility commission will conduct hearings on the blackouts, said its chairman, Sen. Troy Fraser, a Republican whose district includes central Texas.

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