Texas City power outages: grid operator takes some blame, shelter in place lifted *update*

A combination of refinery electrical equipment problems and power grid issues appear to be behind outages that hit several Texas City oil refineries and chemical plants overnight and Tuesday morning.

Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for Texas New Mexico Power– the company that owns the power lines in the Texas City area — said there were four outage events starting at 9:30 p.m. Monday in which several 138-kilovolt lines went offline.

Garber said it appears the sections that failed were on the customer-owned distribution lines, not on the lines TNMP owns and operates.  That means it was most likely equipment owned and operated by the refineries that was at fault.

With redundant wiring, TNMP was able to quickly isolate the problem areas and avoid a cascading problem that would have knocked out power to others in the area.

Another set out outages at about 4:30 Tuesday morning were due to problems at a TNMP transformer, however.

“The cause of the fault appears to be a buildup of residue on equipment that normally would be washed away by rains,” Garber said in an e-mail. “April has been extremely dry, which led to this buildup. High humidity late last night and early this morning, coupled with the buildup of residue, appears to have triggered the fault.”

TNMP has begun spraying its Texas City-area equipment to remove possible salt accumulation this week as a precautionary measure, Garber said.

A shelter-in-place for Texas City residents was lifted at about noon Tuesday, meaning the risk of being exposed to uncontrolled emissions from the plants had diminished.

The plants involved in the power outages don’t seem to be on board with TNMP’s explanation of the cause of the outages, however.

“We are unaware of the cause of the widespread power outages in Texas City, but have no reason to believe they originated on our site,” said Beth Dombrowa, a spokeswoman for Dow Chemicals, which saw its plant go offline at about 10:15 p.m. Monday .

Valero spokeman Bill Day said he doesn’t believe the problem was with Valero’s equipment either. A spokesman for Marathon also indicated the company doesn’t believe its equipment was to blame for the numerous, short outages.

19 Comments

  1. ntangle

    Tom: Thanks for this article. The salt thing makes a little more sense now. It mentions the company that owns the commercial power lines but the problem was more likely with customer-owned power lines instead. So, does the company that owns the commercial lines also own any generation, or does it buy all its power from ERCOT-connected providers?

    #1
  2. Just great! Just what we need, another excuse to raise gas prices. In must industries, if you lose power, you lose money, but in the oil industry you will make more profit.

    #2
  3. Justin

    ^Obvious rambler is obvious. I’m not sure that making up for lost production and lost capital is wholly profitable.

    #3
  4. noteasilyfooled

    Seems to me that the transmission lines are all that they have in common. Sounds like an excuse to blame to oil and chemical industry for power transmission problems to me. Do you really think they all are so neglectful in their maintenance to allow themselves to lose all that money from production loss? give me a break..the powermongers strike again!

    #4
  5. MrOldMan

    So they don’t plan for cold weather, salt… what next? Do they plan and prepare for ANY contingencies, or do they just wait until something blows up and spews chemicals everywhere? This is irresponsible behavior. Maintenance is a cost and is part of doing business. These companies try to cut corners, and then we all pay for it. THIS is why we need more regulation, not less. Self-regulation simply doesn’t work. It never has worked, and it never will.

    #5
  6. Reality_Sets_In

    Funny Tom, that’s not what they are saying at 11:00AM news. Yes, salt is the contributing factor of the SECOND outtage…but the first was caused by one of the four refineries having a malfunction BP .

    #6
  7. Fervor

    Seems odd that four separate sites with customer-owned / -maintained equipment would fail simultaneously or within hours of one another…Unless of course their lines are somehow shared.

    Will be interesting to hear root cause…that is if they decide to release their findings.

    #7
  8. Lakelady

    Someone explain to me how an event in one refinery can trigger the same event in another refinery. Arent they on separate power streams? Is anyone talking about foul play?

    #8
  9. rich

    The lines down here in galveston have been humming all week….. so much moisture in the air, it really needs to rain!

    #9
  10. kztoy

    @Fervor
    I believe that each of these companies will be reporting their final emissions estimates to the TCEQ within 2 weeks. They will eventually have to provide RCA reports as well. Try looking for some of this data here (4/26 @ 12:58pm, there’s nothing there yet though):
    http://www11.tceq.texas.gov/oce/eer/index.cfm

    #10
  11. SarahATP

    I’m certain that enough “residue” floating around in the air that it would facilitate the need to be “rinsed off” by occasional rain, must be just wonderful for everyone breathing the filth for miles around the chemical waste factory. Sounds like electricity shutting down such a plant may be the best thing for it.

    #11
  12. DaisyMae

    Sounds like an TNMP classic excuse. Try having a meter reader not doing their job all the way back to June 2010 and they come back to you the customer in Nov.-Dec. 2010 with a $946.00 dollar electric bill that they so graciously let you pay out in four months along with your regular monthly bill. P.U.C. is a joke! I need to be thankful still, neighbors bill was $1400.00 not counting lawyer costs for them. The lady who shall remain nameless and I honestly do not consider to be a lady actually had the nerve to tell me they TNMP are the PUC!! They changed our usage graphs online also. We have the before and after to prove it all.

    #12
  13. Andy

    Obviously the idiot element is out in force today.
    “THIS is why we need more regulation, not less”<<<<<oh man what a smart statement.
    "Just what we need, another excuse to raise gas prices." <<<<<brilliant observation here.

    #13
  14. DaisyMae

    Sorry did not point out that neighbor and ourselves have two different energy providers. But TNMP reads our meters. We were all sent to TNMP by our providers for a reason of high bills and TNMP sent us back to our providers. Sorry did not clarify that. A little birdie let it be known that they were trying to recoup what they guessed they had lost by meter reader not doing his job.

    #14
  15. Zilch

    I’m not going for it.

    #15
  16. farmer448

    Oh say can you see
    The spinmeisters BS

    I will wait for an investigation (if texas has the stones) as to what were the real problem in the power failure.

    Anything else is speculation at best (so all you spinmeisters cut the BS)

    #16
  17. SShaw490

    People, get a grip. Stuff happens.

    BTW, lots of power plants get their water supply from various rivers, and the rivers are getting really low. If they can’t get enough water to run, they’re going to shut down. The drought could have a bigger effect than just accumulated salt on overhead lines – but it’s supposed to rain early next week, so maybe everything will be OK.

    #17
  18. Reality_Sets_In

    Funny Andy, more regulation would have prevented this.

    #18
  19. Fergrock

    1. DaiseyMae, First of all educate yourself on power in texas. TNMP does not bill you for power. And if you saw that your bill was extremely low for six months maybe you should call and find out why instead of trying to cheat the system.

    2. lakelady, yes it can. But you probably knew that already because you work in the industry.

    TNMP has stations that feed refineries that have the same stations just across their fences. Plant high voltage people are idiots and have no business doing what they try to do.

    #19