By Jack Fink

MIDLOTHIAN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Vistra Energy Corp. CEO Curt Morgan said his company isn’t waiting for new state weatherization requirements to kick-in.

“We’re putting in the money to make sure these plants work.”

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During a tour Friday of the Midlothian Power Plant, operated by Luminant, a Vistra subsidiary, officials said they’re spending $50 million this year and another $30 million next year at their Texas facilities to better prepare for the weather.

Instead of being able to withstand ten-degree temperatures, the plants will be able to withstand temperatures as low as five degrees below zero for seven days straight.

“This is going in and being surgical about areas where we need to be better,” Morgan said.

Experts have said many of the power plants across the state went down during February’s winter storm because the facilities weren’t adequately prepared for severe wintry weather.

That caused widespread power outages across the state that claimed the lives of 210 people.

Morgan said they’re making the investments even after the Midlothian plant performed well during the storm.

Texas leaders have said they’re trying to do all they can to prevent a repeat of what happened in February.

Morgan said they also made improvements after a severe winter storm in North Texas back in 2011.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas says by December 1 power generators and wire companies must address equipment failures from February’s storm and comply with federal weatherization standards that came out after the storm ten years ago.

A PUC spokesman said a more comprehensive standard will be phased in soon after.

Luminant operates 19 plants and 59 units in the electricity market in ERCOT, which operates most of the power grid in Texas.

The company sells the electricity it produces on the wholesale market.

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While Luminant’s share of the ERCOT market is typically 18 percent, the company provided 25-30 percent of the electricity on the grid during the February storm.

Morgan said the company lost $2 billion during that month.

Morgan said the electricity market in Texas depends on the natural gas sector.

During February’s winter storm, this facility was prepared to operate at 100 percent capacity.

But because they couldn’t get natural gas needed to fuel the power plant, the company said it only operated at one point at just 30 percent capacity.

Morgan said, “There is no way to separate these two industries.”

Part of the problem is natural gas wellheads lost power because they weren’t weatherized.

New state laws passed require the Railroad Commission, which regulates the natural gas industry in Texas, to require critical natural gas facilities be prepared for winter.

Last month, Commission CEO Wei Wang angered State Senators during a hearing after he told them one of their proposed rules would allow natural gas producers to opt out of being considered critical infrastructure by filling out a form and paying a $150 fee.

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston told Wang, “I think you’re proposed rule-making sucks.”

Earlier this month, senators fired off a letter to the Railroad Commission saying, “Under no circumstances should a component of the natural gas supply chain that is directly tied to electric power generation be allowed out of the critical designation requirements, and subsequent weatherization.”

Morgan said, “I was proud of them for doing that. It’s exactly what they should have said.”

A Railroad Commission spokesman says the agency welcomes the senators’ feedback, that it’s provided operators with a list of best practices, and that final rules will be in place by December 1.
Morgan said, “We can’t have people die. We can’t have people without power. The economy can’t come to a grinding halt. It’s too big.”

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