The question on most people’s mind seems to be what system is at fault for any situation that arises in the country. The reality of it for the electrical grid failures is more complex and cannot be blamed on any one type of generation source or legislation. Texas far exceeds the minimal renewable standards of 11 percent, with 22.5 percent of electricity generated by renewables due to the economics of Texas, and not federal requirements.
While federal subsidies do provide more incentives for renewables than traditional fossil fuel plants, ultimately a growing consciousness for cleaner generation and profit margins are what is driving the demand for wind and solar, not Uncle Sam. The independence of ERCOT and our unique generation mixture have proved to be an asset for many years, offering choices and plans that can’t be matched anywhere else in the world. The preparedness of those generation sources is what seemingly should be most called into question.
Both traditional generators and wind turbines did not have protection packages that would provide a greater extent of protection against colder weather. Insulation standards for traditional generators that would have protected them against extreme cold would have also made them less efficient and more susceptible to failure during times of extreme heat as a byproduct. Based on Texas weather patterns and the cost associated with the modifications, one can see why the decision of passing on extreme winter preparation was reached.
Further still, the backlash from Texans would have been tremendous with generators passing on the associated costs of this weatherization to the consumers. Before these events, this preparation would have likely been referred to as unnecessary. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is now working on reviewing the standards and preparations for unprecedented weather events. It’s hard to see a ruling not raising requirements, which could potentially increase the energy bill for most Texans.
Another item that has been called into question is the entire design of Texas’ electrical grid. ERCOT is the only system operator that is not completely connected to the rest of the country. While there is no connection to the Western power Grid, the Eastern power grid is experiencing shortages of their own. The only source of input has been from Mexico with 450 Megawatts of electricity, which is only enough for about 225,000 homes but then had to be pulled back.
The integrity which ERCOT has handled their challenges have been noteworthy. Unlike politicians and media personalities who have been quick to pass the buck, ERCOT was solely focused on getting power back to millions of customers who are without it and prepared to handle the finger pointing later. Bill Magness, the CEO praised the many of their operators who worked tirelessly to ensure the stability of the entire grid, which if it would have failed, could have wiped out power across the state for days or weeks.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates natural gas lines, which were partially at fault for failures, and generators such as Wind Turbines, Nuclear, and Gas are regulated by the Public Utilities of Texas. The Governor is responsible for the appointments to the PUCT.
Further, outrage is being rebounded to the deregulation of Texas, but where is the outrage against this for the other 16 states that are wholly or partially deregulated? There is none due to states like New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (all states with varying levels of deregulation) being well equipped against their common place harsh winters. Deregulation in Texas has provided customers in ERCOT the choice of 11% up to 100% renewable products at affordable and readily available prices something few states can tote. The integration of this market with 3rd party retailers to choose how they purchase their energy has created hundreds of thousands of jobs that employ all levels of skill and energy products that benefit millions of Texas year over year. It’s this deregulation that has given Texans amongst the lowest cost energy bills in the nation.
Ultimately, those who directly bear responsibility for this unfortunate historical event is complicated in nature. After all, how many Texans put their own money upfront for winter tires, snow chains, generators, and weatherized plumbing to be prepared for winter events that so rarely happen? How many snowplows and gravel/salt did cities have purchased and prepared? Would the average Texan have openly accepted increased energy rates to prepare for extreme weather before the recent events? Operating electrical grids and generators is not so different.
This content was created by Jesse Mojarro, Senior Energy Consultant at Eisenbach Consulting, LLC, the parent company of ElectricChoice.com. He can be reached at [email protected] or 866-528-9981.