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Causes of the Outages and Supply Disruptions
The precipitating cause of the rolling blackouts experienced in Texas and
Arizona during the February 2011 cold weather event was the large number of
electric generator outages. The principal cause of the gas service curtailments
experienced in several southwestern states was the production declines in the
supply of natural gas, which led to volume and pressure reductions in the
pipelines. The task force has analyzed in detail the causes of these outages and
declines, and found that the majority of them were directly or indirectly related to
the weather, particularly so with respect to production declines in the gas supply.
This section of the report describes in detail those causes, both weather and non-
While the storm itself was an uncontrollable event of force majeure, the
question arises as to whether the facilities affected should have been better
prepared to withstand the severe weather. Was the cold spell so unprecedented
that the entities responsible for those facilities could not reasonably be expected to
have taken preventative actions? Or did entities fail to take into account lessons
that could have been learned from past cold weather events in the Southwest?
These questions are addressed in the next section of this report, entitled “Prior
Cold Weather Events.”
The rolling blackouts that utilities implemented during the cold weather
event, which centered in Texas (ERCOT, EPE) and Arizona (SRP), were almost
entirely the result of trips, derates, and failures to start of the generating units in
those regions. The localized blackouts experienced by PNM in New Mexico,
however, were caused by transmission trips. Units in Oklahoma and Kansas also
experienced generator outages, but these did not result in blackouts.
The task force has analyzed these various generator outages to determine
their underlying causes. By far, the most common cause of the outages was the
cold weather, most commonly when sensing lines froze and caused automatic or
manual unit trips. There were also several outages that were due to operator error
or non-weather-related equipment failures. In a lesser number of cases, an
interruption in the supply of natural gas prevented gas-fired units from providing