During the severe winter storm the week of Valentine’s Day, most of Texas floundered under power outages and natural gas shortages. Meanwhile, utility services in Rio Rancho and most of New Mexico continued as normal.
Spokesmen for electric utility PNM and natural gas service provider New Mexico Gas Company attributed that success to good planning, winterized facilities and, in the case of natural gas, diversified sources.
“It all goes to resource planning,” said PNM Vice President of Generation Tom Fallgren.
He said the outages in Texas weren’t problems with renewable energy. A small fraction of the wind farms were out of function.
Also, although Texas has its own power grid to avoid federal regulation, Fallgren said other states bordering Texas, such as Oklahoma, had rolling power outages, too. The independent grid didn’t cause the problems, he said, but appeared to lead to a slower recovery than for its neighbors on the interstate Eastern Grid.
New Mexico is on the Western Grid.
Also, Fallgren said depending on getting power from the interstate market during a shortage would be unwise because another electricity system might buy it first. So, PNM makes sure it can generate enough power on its own.
“We are seeing some climate-change impact,” he said, meaning more extreme temperatures over larger geographical areas.
Storms commonly cause localized power outages due to damage at specific points, he said, as did happen in New Mexico this month. That’s not what occurred in Texas.
“It was a system-wide event where it was just a shortage of generation,” he said of the Lone Star State’s problem.

Texas power forecasters projected a lower need than arose and didn’t anticipate so many power plants going down, Fallgren continued.
He said New Mexico has typically done a better job of forecasting power need than Texas, or California, which had rolling outages during a 2020 heatwave.
“It is an art, I think, in New Mexico,” Fallgren said.
He believes the vertically integrated power model in New Mexico is one thing that allows for better forecasting. In the Land of Enchantment, the same entity handles all part of providing electricity — generation, transmission and distribution.
Fallgren said that arrangement also places all responsibility for serving customer on one entity.
“The buck stops here,” he said.
In Texas, power generator companies don’t provide electricity directly to customers. Instead, customers can choose from among independent power distributors, who get power from the generation companies.
“There’s no obligation that a generation provider has to be available,” Fallgren said.
He said PNM learned from problems during a 2011 winter storm. Since then, the company has winterized its facilities and coordinated with New Mexico Gas Co. to make sure its equipment had enough fuel.
To protect its facilities from extreme cold, PNM installed insulation, used electric or propane heaters, placed special electric coils around pipes to warm them and followed extensive procedures to prepare and monitor the system.
Although the recent cold weather system affected Texas more, New Mexico power facilities were better prepared, Fallgren said.

Natural gas
New Mexico Gas Co. spokesman Tim Korte said his employer also learned a lot from the 2011 storm, when a number of customers were left without natural gas because wellheads froze and drillers selling gas to the company couldn’t get their product out of the ground.
“First of all, we have a more diverse supply of gas 10 years later,” Korte said.
New Mexico Gas Co. gets most of its natural gas from the San Juan and Permian basins in New Mexico. It also began sourcing gas from the Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado.
Colorado natural gas producers, used to their state’s harsh winter weather, tend to be better prepared for and thus less affected by winter storms, Korte said.
Also, after 2011, the natural gas drilling industry took steps to keep wellheads from freezing again.
He said many Texas natural gas systems aren’t winterized. New Mexico’s systems are.
“We place a high value on reliability,” Korte said.
New Mexico Gas Co. has spent more than $120 million to reinforce its system since 2011, he said.
For example, in 2016, the company added a pipeline loop from a compression station near Rio Rancho to the Route 66 Casino area. He said that station can now pull more gas from the interstate system.
Loops also provide more reliability because there are two lines instead of one, Korte said.
Those projects didn’t happen in response to the 2011 problems, he said, but they help prevent such issues.
Forecasting is important for the gas company, too. Its gas supply team works with Marquette University in Milwaukee to predict how much gas it will need to supply, considering National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data and other factors.
“It lets us know when a big storm is coming several weeks in advance so we have time to prepare,” Korte said.
He also said New Mexico Gas has a large storage facility it can fill as a reserve supply.
The gas control team monitors the distribution system around the state from their computers at the company’s office in Albuquerque. Korte said members can make adjustments, such as moving more gas from the interstate transmission system, and receiving warnings if a problem arises.
Some problems they fix from their computers, and other times, they dispatch technicians. During the recent storm, technicians camped out at compression stations to fix any problems that arose.

And now …
Because of high demand for and restricted supply of natural gas during the Valentine’s week storm, Korte said New Mexico Gas Company was forced to buy at higher-than-usual prices. The company prioritizes keeping customers supplied and warm, he said.
It’s too early to say what impact that will have on bills or when it will show up.
“We will do everything we can to minimize the impact,” Korte said.
He said the company will work with the Public Regulation Commission and be transparent with customers.

Natural gas safety
If you smell the rotten-egg odor of natural gas, get everyone out of the house and then call 911 from a cell phone. After calling 911, call New Mexico Gas Co. at 1-888-664-2726.
Don’t call from inside the house, and don’t flip any switches, even to turn off appliances or lights.