Harvey's rain caused coal-to-gas switching: NRG Energy

Houston (Platts)--27 Sep 2017 522 pm EDT/2122 GMT

Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath dumped so much water on Texas that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' second-largest generation owner had to switch two units at a big power plant from coal to natural gas, a step that had not been taken since 2009.

That is one point made in a report by NRG Energy filed in advance of a Thursday meeting of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which has at the top of its agenda Project No. 45772, "Issues Related to the Disaster Resulting from Hurricane Harvey."

NRG's report, filed Tuesday, shows the following rainfall totals at its plant sites:

  • San Jacinto, 162 MW of natural gas-fired capacity: 47 inches
  • W.A. Parish, 2,504 MW of coal, 1,145 MW of natural gas: 38 inches
  • Cedar Bayou, 1,744 MW of natural gas: 36.5 inches
  • Greens Bayou, 715 MW of natural gas: 28 inches
  • T.H. Wharton, 1,025 MW of natural gas: 25 inches.

Two NRG plant sites were evacuated temporarily during the storm -- one due to wind and the other for flooding -- and flooding prevented shift changes, resulting in some power plant staff working extended shifts and staying onsite while their families were displaced by flooding, the NRG report stated.

"The historic rainfall and flooding presented unique challenges for our power plant operations and personnel," NRG said. "The external coal pile at W.A. Parish became so saturated with rainwater that coal was unable to be delivered into the silos from the conveyer system. In response to that situation, we transferred W.A. Parish Unit 5 and Unit 6 to natural gas rather than coal as the fuel source. These units haven't used natural gas for operational purposes since 2009."

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Hurricane Harvey made landfall late on August 25 and continued to affect weather along Texas' Gulf Coast through August 30. During those six days, coal-fired generation made up 26.3% of the ERCOT generation supply, compared with 27.1% for the same period of 2016, according to data from Platts Analytics' Bentek Energy.

ERCOT's load was also down by about 13% over the period, compared with the same six days of 2016.

This will be the first meeting since Governor Greg Abbott on September 20 appointed DeAnn Walker to chair the PUC, with a term set to expire September 1, 2021.

Walker has served as Abbott's senior policy adviser on regulated industries, and previously served as Centerpoint Energy's director of regulatory affairs and associate general counsel.

Another major topic on Thursday's agenda is the proposal for Oncor Electric Delivery and Sharyland Distribution & Transmission to swap assets valued at about $400 million. Sharyland would get 258 miles of 345-KV transmission lines from Oncor, while Oncor would receive Sharyland's distribution network and retail delivery customers.

The transaction involves rate changes, energy efficiency cost recovery factors, and metering plans and fees, and the parties have asked that the PUCT reach a final decision by February 1.

Oncor and Sempra Energy are expected to apply in October for PUCT approval for Sempra's proposed purchase of Energy Future Holdings and its 80% interest in Oncor. Sempra's proposed acquisition has been valued at $9.45 billion. By Texas law, the PUCT must rule on such a request within six months of such an application, unless parties agree to a delay.

--Mark Watson, markham.watson@spglobal.com

--Edited by Lisa Miller, lisa.miller@spglobal.com

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