Natural Gas’ Reliability in Residential Heating During February Freeze

Mon, April 05, 2021

Key Takeaways:

  • 99.95% of Texans did not lose their residential gas services during the February winter storm
  • Residential gas remained reliable despite a 155% increase in demand during that period
  • State leaders are working to prevent bans on individual resources like natural gas to ensure residents are safe and secure in future emergencies

While much attention in the weeks since Texas’ February freeze focused on the role natural gas played in meeting unprecedented demand in the power generation sector, Texas’ residential natural gas use also saw a huge spike as families used gas fireplaces and other appliances to stay safe and warm. As blackouts spread across the state, the Texas Railroad Commission issued an order to prioritize “human needs,” keeping stoves running and houses warm through the storm. And in the wake of the deep freeze, natural gas’ contribution to the wellbeing of residents has been noted by Texas politicians who want to ensure the resource is available and ready to address any future crisis.

Although only about one-third of homes in Texas use natural gas for home heating, these residences were saved from the single source dependency that left millions stranded in cold and dark homes during the rolling blackouts. Direct consumption of natural gas has saved Texans $9.3 billion on their energy bills over the last decade and in the case of record-breaking cold this year, saved a number of lives.

On February 12, Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) issued a mandate to prioritize “human needs,” diverting resources from shuttered power plants directly to homes, hospitals, schools, community centers, and churches. Many residents described how their natural gas fireplace was what prevented their families from freezing in their homes Others kept warm by temporarily using their gas oven as a heat source.

During testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, RRC Chair Christi Craddick highlighted the reliability of natural gas during these trying times. According to Craddick and the RRC, only 2,153 residential gas customers experienced any disruption, meaning that 99.95% of Texans did not lose their residential gas services. That translates to more than 4.6 million households, or 13 million Texans, who were able to weather the storm because of their connection to the gas grid.

Despite natural gas’s lifesaving role during this devastating storm, some critics fail to see the benefit of direct natural gas use and actually support Texas residents going all electric. Some argue that residential natural gas use can contribute to additional blackouts as the resource is directed to homes and away from power plants. But data from February’s storm shows that supply was not the core problem that led to the blackouts. In fact, just 9,232 MW of gas-fired power generation, less than one-fifth of generation capacity, was ever offline because of supply issues, which could be fixed with investments in resilient infrastructure.

Residential consumption of natural gas set a new record during the event, with gas demand up 155%, according to Richard Meyer of the American Gas Association:

And that consumption peaked at 5.7 billion cubic feet, per Meyer, who cited data from S&P Global Platts.

This significant increase from average winter demand has not gone unnoticed by state leaders interested in ensuring the wellbeing of their citizens as they wrestle with the challenges associated with fortifying Texas’ future grid. The Texas House Representatives recently voted to pass House Bill 17, which aims to prevent cities from discriminating against residential natural gas use. The bill ensures Texans won’t have to depend solely on electricity to heat their homes in the future.

February’s winter storm tested Texans in a way few storms before it ever had. State leaders are continuing to analyze the events of those days to ensure the Lone Star State is prepared for the next storm. Any policy that comes out of the tragic events of those days must acknowledge that natural gas helped keep millions of Texans warm and saved lives.