© 2023 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. regulators say loss of 13% of generating capacity led to December blackouts

A Duke Energy substation.
Duke Energy

 This story appeared first in WFAE's weekly climate newsletter, which is out Thursdays. Sign up at WFAE.org/newsletters.

Federal regulators say about 13% of electrical generating capacity on the East Coast failed during last December's Winter Storm Elliott, triggering blackouts such as those that hit Duke Energy customers in North Carolina on Christmas Eve.

That's among the findings in a new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp., which monitors the grid. Regulators called the situation "unprecedented" and said utility companies were not prepared.

Extreme cold weather froze plant equipment and pipelines and slowed production of natural gas, according to the report. A loss of gas-fired capacity accounted for two-thirds of plant outages, followed by coal plants at 23%. Some shutdowns happened when pipelines reduced their flows, the report says.

The report by FERC and NERC staff said the loss of 90,500 megawatts of generating capacity across the eastern half of the U.S. made it the worst of five similar cold-weather-related events since 2011. An estimated 6.3 million customers lost power during the storm across the eastern U.S., according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks outages.

"This sobering report underscores the need to take urgent action on the interdependence between the bulk electric and natural gas systems, including the need for sufficient and reliable gas and electric infrastructure to sustain energy reliability," NERC CEO Jim Robb said in a press release.

The report calls for new federal and state legislation or regulations to improve reliability and for grid operators to improve communication.

See the press release and presentation at FERC.gov.

Sign up for our weekly climate newsletter

Select Your Email Format

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.