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Understanding Texas’ energy grid failure

Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change. However, the situation in Texas was made more complex by the fact that it is the only state in the country with its own power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (two …

Q: Broadly speaking, why is the Texas energy grid struggling?

The widespread winter storm produced low temperatures across the region. This is an unusual event, much worse than the worst case that was considered in recent prior planning. The result was loss of power plants, loss of natural gas supply, felled power transmission lines, damaged gas pipelines, damage to water systems, and so on, across the board. There was a loss of more than 50 percent of generation capacity at the same moment as electric power demand surged above the predicted peak forecast.

Power systems are designed to share across the transmission grid in order to provide nearly instantaneous support to one part when another location is in trouble. When the problem is large enough or everywhere is in trouble, the same instantaneous response can propagate the damage and produce a total system failure. The standard policy is to institute controlled “rolling blackouts” that disconnect some load to prevent complete system collapse. This was the response in Texas, and it accomplished this important objective of preventing an even worse catastrophe. In addition, the rules produced much higher prices and provided a powerful incentive to reduce remaining demand and get the generating plants back online. All this was necessary under the circumstances.

Q: How would you answer critics of the exorbitant energy bills that some customers are now receiving?

The pain is severe, for both those facing the higher bills and even more for those who lost their power. The high bills go to two different groups. First, those energy intermediaries that sold hedging contracts received an agreed upon price that has probably been higher than market conditions until the crisis, and they are like any insurance provider who is responsible for making good on the promise of the contract price. Second, the minority of customers who chose not to hedge and enjoyed lower prices until the crisis, and who also chose to continue consuming electricity even when others were being curtailed, now face the higher bills. The curtailed customers who were selected for the rolling blackouts were by definition not consuming power and would not see higher bills for the curtailed period, although some probably would have preferred to pay and not be curtailed.

Q: Why is Texas the only state with its own power grid?

There is a long history here of the state wanting full control over its own destiny. The rules are complex, but Texas has weak transmission ties to the rest of the North American grid and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas regulators but (largely) not to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Even the limited ties were not much help in the current crisis because other areas were also in rolling blackout conditions on a smaller scale and they did not have excess power to willingly share with Texas.

Q: What measure might have made Texas’ energy grid less vulnerable, and how can Texas avoid another crisis like this in the future?

As in the past, there will be a full post-mortem analysis. However, it is hard to conceive of a planning mechanism that would have provided full protection against an event that was much worse than the worst case envisioned. And as some important figures in the region have already said, the costs of such protection paid every year might be seen as too high a cost to pay to avoid such a rare outcome. 

Q: What role, if any, does the use of renewable energy play in this crisis? And what role can it play in solving it?

Renewable energy was part of the Texas energy supply. Some of it still worked, and some wind turbines were frozen or solar panels were covered in snow and unable to help. But the discussion about renewable energy is a distraction given the scale and scope of the current problem. The discussion for the future with increased renewable energy should await the post-mortem. The design of the system with increasing renewables was an active focus of policy discussion before this event, and this discussion will be continuing.

Q: What lessons can we learn from this event?

There will be many further analyses to provide guidance for the future. It will be important to avoid jumping to conclusions and learning the wrong lessons.

Why the Texas Power Market Failed

This was exacerbated by the rolling blackouts that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, better known as ERCOT, started imposing to avoid losing the entire grid. The first users to lose power are industrial users. In that category we include natural gas compression units around the state. Without the natural gas delivery infrastructure, some generators no longer had fuel.

Q: In February, millions of homes in Texas were left without power for several days. What happened?

On the night of February 14, when the cold dipped into the very southernmost parts of Texas and people switched on their heat, the grid began to deteriorate. Power generators tried to fire up their plants, but many couldn’t get them going.

In Texas everybody knows that every power plant will be needed for the August peak, which is somewhere around 75 gigawatts. Through the rest of the year, only about 45 gigawatts of load is required, on average. That means 30 gigawatts of load sits on the bench not earning any money, so many plants just shut down.

After a similar storm in 2011, generators were encouraged to winterize, but they don’t receive payment to offset the costs, so many didn’t do it. Things that are routine in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Buffalo, New York, weren’t done, which meant in Texas the same equipment couldn’t be brought online when it was needed.

This was exacerbated by the rolling blackouts that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, better known as ERCOT, started imposing to avoid losing the entire grid. The first users to lose power are industrial users. In that category we include natural gas compression units around the state. Without the natural gas delivery infrastructure, some generators no longer had fuel.

The energy grid is a system, and very few people think in terms of second-order and third-order conditions. But this cascade of failures was going to happen at some point; it just needed a stressor to kick the legs out from under it.

Q: You’ve described the grid as antiquated and the generation capacity as needing upgrading, but you point to the Texas power market itself as the true cause of the crisis?

Yes. Fundamentally, the difference between the Texas market and other energy markets across the U.S. is that it’s an electricity-only market. There is no capacity market paying generators to ensure there will be enough power to meet peak demand. The generators only make money when they’re delivering electrons into the grid.

An electricity-only market is the same as the New York Yankees only paying the players who take the field. If the guys on the bench aren’t paid unless they play, they’ll eventually be bidding to play for less and less just to be able to feed themselves.

“Over the last 10 years, the revenues collected by the generators were less than the cost of providing the electricity. That is not going to produce a reliable system.”

That’s what we have in the Texas energy market. Over the last 10 years, the revenues collected by the generators were less than the cost of providing the electricity. That is not going to produce a reliable system.

With this model, the generators don’t add investment because they can’t get paid for it. In fact, if they added generation units, all they would be doing is ensuring that the price would stay low. There’s been no incentive to add generation, even though demand in the state has continued to grow through inbound population and inbound industry.

Given an electricity-only market with an average wholesale price less than the average total cost to produce the power, a lack of reinvestment, and the fact that nobody winterized their plants because they expect temperate winters in Texas, this disaster was inevitable.

In 2011, a polar vortex got into North Texas and caused numerous blackouts. ERCOT’s blackout of the Dallas Medical Center tragically led to the death of a number of patients, though the blackout people remember is Arlington Stadium before the Super Bowl.

Before that, in 1989, Houston had several days of single-digit temperatures, which broke the grid and other infrastructure. These are not one-in-a-hundred-years storms. These are more like one-in-ten-years storms. The recommendations made post-2011 grid failure to winterize the plants had no teeth because ERCOT has no enforcement ability.

Q: What does ERCOT do?

ERCOT directs the flow of electrons around the grid the way an air traffic controller manages aircraft. It also serves as the clearinghouse, market maker, and principal buying agent for electricity on behalf of consumers.

You can watch the ERCOT market online. Generators can bid into the day-ahead market or provide electricity real time. Prices change at different nodes across the grid depending on where there’s demand, congestion, or a unit that’s out.

Prices range from negative per megawatt-hour—negative because it’s non-economic for some of these plants to ramp down and negative because of production tax credits that are still being used by wind generation—up to ,000 per megawatt-hour at the cap. During the crisis week of February 14, some of the ancillary prices jumped to ,000 a megawatt-hour. Imagine the per kilowatt-hour bill on your house. That would be quite extraordinary. [Editor’s note: the average household in Texas uses 1,176 kWh a month.]

The value of electricity is not in the cost of producing it. The value is in what it allows us to do. Texans were introduced to the concept of opportunity cost when dozens of people died and 0 billion in losses was wrought across the state— billion from ERCOT charges and an estimated billion in property and casualty losses.

Q: How did this market structure come to be?

The Texas energy market is a vertically disintegrated utility system. The old model had everything from power generation to the wires to the meter all integrated into one company that was regulated such that the utility earned a return on capital.

In the United States, the utilities have pretty well been regulated and governed for the public interest since the 1930s by the Federal Power Act and the Federal Power Administration, which became the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—FERC. Texas, in the ’30s, opted to keep its grid separate and outside of the federal authority, so FERC still doesn’t have oversight in Texas.

During the Roosevelt administration, Texas’s independence was welcomed. Texas was essentially its own industrial powerhouse. Leading into World War II, Texas started building natural gas pipelines to the northeast. In that framework, with plentiful oil, natural gas, and coal, the Texas grid expanded dramatically. Things rocked along. And while there wasn’t federal oversight, within the state the power sector was still regulated vertically.

In the mid-’70s, under the Ford and Carter administrations, there was a push for deregulation of industries. In the ’80s, electric utilities were deregulated in Australia; folks took notice in Houston. Enron, which had commoditized natural gas trading, began to look at electricity. They became a leading proponent of deregulating electric markets.

The first to try it was California. Assembly Bill 1890 began the process of disintegrating the vertical utilities—separating the generation, the transmission, and the local distribution companies, even setting up resellers of electricity so that the customer could choose among different resellers. The changes were implemented in 1996, then careened to an incredible and well-known failure in 2000 and 2001.

Enron had also been talking to then Governor George W. Bush in the late ’90s. By the time Texas implemented its electricity-only market, Governor Bush was President Bush, and Rick Perry was Texas’s governor.

Q: Why not use a capacity market?

The siren song from Enron was that Texas had overbuilt its generation capacity. In a vertically integrated, vertically regulated utility, the only way to make more money was to build a bigger plant, so there was an impetus to build ever-larger physical plants to obtain larger and larger rate bases.

In the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, hearings before public service commissions were all about the rate base. Utilities would try to argue for every possible reason to expand the rate base. Public utility commissioners would try to limit the expansions. But they wound up building the system to a very high standard of reliability.

As one of the principles of intro to microeconomics will tell you, you begin to hit a point of diminishing returns. Getting that last 1% of reliability costs almost as much as the first 98%. Sharp MBAs at Enron and other places had figured this out. They went to Governor Bush and said, “We can cut costs here. We will save people money.” And the craven politicians fell for it.

Q: Did consumers get better rates?

Actually, no. They didn’t. L. M. Sixel, a journalist at the Houston Chronicle, has done a series over several years looking at ERCOT. She showed that ERCOT was not providing the consumers of Texas with cheap electricity as advertised. Other markets, especially in states that are vertically regulated, had cheaper bills. The Wall Street Journal recently reiterated the point, noting consumers have paid billion more since 2004 than they would have without the deregulation.

Part of that is market design. Part is how the market has been managed. The incentives are misaligned. Let me take you to the point where governance and game theory play in. As generation companies watch the Texas market, minute by minute, they can force it into a tight squeeze, every once in a while, by withdrawing generation and watching the price spike. If they have eight generation plants and pull back two, then the other six would benefit from a higher price. They could also do this and set off trades on the financial markets.

Under FERC rules, this sort of behavior is illegal. But under Texas rules, there are no conflicts of interest. The series in the Chronicle highlighted several instances where the Texas market has been gamed. In particular, in 2014, one of the generators took basically 0 million off the top of the market.

Q: You described Texas’s energy market as vertically disintegrated. Is it truly deregulated?

No. It’s just regulated differently. If I eliminated the speed limit on I-91 through New Haven, I could say, “I have totally deregulated I-91.” But that doesn’t mean cars aren’t still constrained by entrances, exits, and the condition of the road. Drivers may be allowed to drive at 120 miles an hour, but good luck trying it during a polar vortex blizzard.

[Former Yale SOM dean] Paul MacAvoy detailed this in his book The Unsustainable Cost of Partial Deregulation. If you deregulate one portion of the market, you create bottlenecks and strictures at other points. In his analysis of partial deregulation of electric utilities and transmission lines he details the dislocations that occur. For example, electricity in Connecticut might sell for three and a half cents per kilowatt-hour wholesale, whereas right across the border in Massachusetts it’s nine and a half cents. Or natural gas enters the pipeline at the Waha Hub in West Texas near the Permian Basinat .50 per MCF [thousand cubic feet] and exits in southern California at .50. These types of dislocations run counter to public interest.

“Milton Friedman said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The guys at Enron offered Governor George W. Bush a free lunch. And Texans are now paying for it.”

In an exchange I’ve had with [Yale economist] William Nordhaus about this crisis in Texas, he described it as a case of the market fundamentalism running into reality. It’s worth keeping in mind: Milton Friedman, the free market proponent, also said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The guys at Enron offered Governor George W. Bush a free lunch. And Texans are now paying for it.

Q: So how do you fix it?

The short answer is, spend some money, and it’s going to be money that either the consumer or the taxpayer is going to have to come up with. We need to provide a financial incentive or the financial wherewithal for generators to harden the grid and make it resilient, not just for winter events but for the normal, run-of-the-mill hurricanes and heat waves.

The legislature is going to have to pass some laws. The idea of further government intervention is of course causing heads to spin in Austin, if not absolutely explode. It’s a little early to see how it’s going to shake out, but even the governor said that we’re going to make sure that these plants are paid to winterize.

Free market true believers have taken over the Texas legislature and the executive mansion now for three administrations over 20-plus years. In my view, the mantra of free markets has become a cop-out to avoid doing critical analysis. Their thinking is something along the lines of, “I don’t have to do the work to figure this out; the free market will do it for me.” It’s feckless to dodge understanding the market and the systems these legislators and executives are responsible for.

Q: What would you do with ERCOT?

My recommendation would be to separate ERCOT’s two functions. Moving the electrons around the grid optimally, of course, needs to be done. But combining that with the market-making function that controls the financial incentives causes a conflict.

As it stands, ERCOT effectively has no oversight and no accountability. The Public Utility Commission, which theoretically oversees ERCOT, is essentially the same; the governor can ask for resignations of commissioners, but there’s no other way to enforce good behavior.

Q: Could Texas copy a market structure being used elsewhere?

Each state and region has a unique model with its own benefits and costs. I fully expect the legislature to consider the expedient approach, which would be to install a capacity market with some carrots and sticks attached. But that’s not going to solve the problem of the lack of investment in the Texas grid.

Lots of folks have said being part of the western interconnect or the eastern interconnect would have saved Texas. There wasn’t enough power available to make up for the 30 gigawatts we were missing during the crisis. And quite frankly, who would want to have a weak link? Texas’s market and infrastructure are not up to snuff. We would potentially take everybody down.

There could be a push to vertically reintegrate and reregulate the Texas grid, really as a matter of national security. During hearings, in front of the legislature, it was disclosed that the grid was four minutes away from complete shutdown. To reenergize an electric grid from complete shutdown is called a black start. It’s likely Texas would need weeks or months to restore power from a black start.

That indicates the incredible weakness of the Texas grid. After the massive blackout in the Northeast in 2003, it was partially restored in a matter of hours and fully functional in 48 hours. With the 2011 blackout in the Southwest and Southern California, power was back in about 12 hours. Those grids came back from a black start. Texas’s grid is so disjointed. It’s a horrible strategic vulnerability that nobody’s addressed.

Q: That sounds like a reason for people in other parts of the country to care about what’s going on in Texas.

Absolutely. Texas is one of the main economic engines of this nation. Whether you like the politics or not, if we lose the grid in Texas for weeks, it would be a huge, strategic vulnerability for the entire nation. Millions of people without power, without water. It would be like New Orleans post-Katrina. Everything would break down. If the nation has to turn its eyes inward for a disaster here in Texas, that would leave us vulnerable to all sorts of bad actors. This is a real, serious issue.

This is not a red or blue issue. Electrons don’t know if they’re red or blue. This is smart versus stupid. This is a matter of public interest and it’s a matter of commercial interest. Nobody is going to want to move to Texas if you can’t keep the lights on.

Tesla is building a huge plant in Texas. It’s a black eye when Elon Musk tweets about the lack of reliable electricity. Samsung is currently considering building a huge chip plant in Texas. This is unlikely to go into the plus column.

Fixing the power sector in Texas is complicated. The system is interrelated and multidimensional. There are first-order, second-order, and third-order effects. Everything changes over time. It hurts people’s brains to think through these things. But getting it right is a matter of public interest. As Kingman Brewster, the former president of Yale, said, “There has to be something below the bottom line.”

Q: You mentioned that time is a factor shaping this complex system. Has climate change factored into planning for the grid?

Not yet. The legislature and the executive in Texas are climate deniers. They have the free-market mantras and they have the climate-denying mantras.

Q: How likely is a fix in the next few years?

If nothing’s done with the Texas grid, we will have another disaster, perhaps as soon as August. It’s clear that the leaders of the Texas legislature and the governor and lieutenant governor don’t have a grasp of the situation. It’s also quite clear that the federal authorities don’t have a grasp of it either. Because Texas is separate and not regulated by FERC, they really haven’t paid attention to it. But I’m an optimist; 2022 is an election year. Maybe a candidate or two steps up and starts thinking about the welfare of the state.

EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond ...

The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow ...

DALLAS -- The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather's seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist.

This isn't just happening in Texas, of course. Utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires.

But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.

WHAT HAPPENED IN TEXAS?

Plunging temperatures caused Texans to turn up their heaters, including many inefficient electric ones. Demand spiked to levels normally seen only on the hottest summer days, when millions of air conditioners run at full tilt.

The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance during months when demand typically is less intense and there's not as much energy coming from wind and solar sources.

But planning for this winter didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning. By Wednesday, 46,000 megawatts of power were offline statewide — 28,000 from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants and 18,000 from wind and solar, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

“Every one of our sources of power supply underperformed," Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, tweeted. “Every one of them is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events in different ways. None of them were adequately weatherized or prepared for a full realm of weather and conditions."

The staggering imbalance between Texas' energy supply and demand also caused prices to skyrocket from roughly per megawatt hour to ,000 per megawatt hour in the state's freewheeling wholesale power market.

That raised questions whether some power generators who buy in the wholesale market may have had a profit motive to avoid buying more natural gas and simply shut down instead.

“We can’t speculate on people’s motivations in that way,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT. He added he had been told by generators that they were doing everything possible to provide power.

WHY WASN'T THE STATE PREPARED?

Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather — it’s done routinely in colder, northern states. The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow, but they are strictly voluntary and also require expensive investments in equipment and other necessary measures.

An ERCOT official, Dan Woodfin, said plant upgrades after 2011 limited shutdowns during a similar cold snap in 2018, but this week’s weather was “more extreme.”

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable.

“That’s nonsense,” he said. “Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.”

In California, regulators last week ordered the state’s three major utilities to increase their power supply and potentially make plant improvements to avoid another supply shortage like the one that cropped up in California six months ago and resulted in rolling blackouts affecting about 500,000 people for a few hours at a time.

“One big difference is that leadership in California recognizes that climate change is happening, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas,” said Severin Borenstein, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley who has been studying power supply issues for more than 20 years.

WHY THE NEED FOR ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Grid operators say rolling blackouts are a last resort when power demand overwhelms supply and threatens to create a wider collapse of the whole power system.

Usually, utilities black out certain blocks or zones before cutting off power to another area, then another. Often areas with hospitals, fire stations, water-treatment plants and other key facilities are spared.

By rolling the blackouts, no neighborhoods are supposed to go an unfairly long period of time without power, but that was not always the case this week in Texas. Some areas never lost power, while others were blacked out for 12 hours or longer as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

WHEN DO THEY OCCUR?

Rolling blackouts are usually triggered when reserves fall below a certain level. In Texas, as in California last August, grid operators tell utilities to reduce load on the entire system, and it is up to the utilities to decide how to do that.

In Texas this week, grid operators and utilities knew about the dire weather forecast for at least a week. Last weekend they issued appeals for power conservation, and ERCOT tweeted that residents should “unplug the fancy new appliances you bought during the pandemic and only used once."

The lighthearted attempts at humor were lost on residents, few if any of whom were told in advance when their homes would lose power. Once the outages started, some utilities were unable to provide information about how long they might last.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Start with the obvious steps: When power companies or grid operators warn about trouble coming, turn down your thermostat and avoid using major appliances. Of course, those steps are sometimes easier said than done, especially during record-breaking temperatures.

Like in other places, Texans might be more willing to adjust their thermostats a few more notches if regulators imposed a system that required households to pay higher prices during periods of peak demand and lower rates at other times.

“People turn up their furnaces now because there isn't a financial incentive for them not to do it," Borenstein said.

Experts also say more fundamental — and costly — changes must be made. Generators must insulate pipelines and other equipment. Investments in electricity storage and distribution would help. Tougher building codes would make homes in places like Texas better insulated against the cold.

Texas, which has a grid largely disconnected from others to avoid federal regulation, may have to rethink the go-it-alone strategy. There could be pressure for the state to require power generators to keep more plants in reserve for times of peak demand, a step it has so far resisted.

“The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

———

Koenig reported from Dallas, Liedtke reported from San Ramon, California. The AP's Paul Weber contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.

People also ask
  • Why did so many people lose power in Texas?

    The simple reason that millions lost power: A gap between supply and demand A major winter storm that hit Texas over the long weekend caused two important things to happen: Sources of electricity, like natural-gas plants, went offline, and demand for the energy they produce went up as people across the state turned on heaters to stay warm.

    Almost half a million Texans are still without power Thursday as arctic weather continues to pummel the state. The blackout, which affected a few million residents at its peak, is among the largest in US history.

    "We know millions of people are suffering," Bill Magness, the president of Texas' electric-grid manager, ERCOT, said in a statement Wednesday. "We have no other priority than getting them electricity."

    ERCOT said it made "significant progress" Wednesday night, but outages are expected to continue through the week. About 490,000 customers are without power as of Thursday morning, according to an outage tracking site.

    Misinformation spread online on Tuesday as some conservative groups and lawmakers falsely blamed the blackouts on frozen wind turbines that quit generating power. In reality, thermal energy sources that went offline, such as natural-gas plants, contributed more to the problem.

    But the drop in the energy supply is just part of the reason so many people in Texas lost power this week. Here's what you need to know.

    winter storm snow texas
    A man walking in a neighborhood without electricity in Pflugerville, Texas.
    Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters

    The simple reason that millions lost power: A gap between supply and demand

    A major winter storm that hit Texas over the long weekend caused two important things to happen: Sources of electricity, like natural-gas plants, went offline, and demand for the energy they produce went up as people across the state turned on heaters to stay warm.

    That caused a massive shortfall in energy.

    The organization that manages most of Texas' grid, known as ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, responded by cutting power to millions of homes in chunks, to limit the time any one household was dark. These so-called rolling blackouts are similar to what happened in California last year, also during extreme weather.

    On Thursday morning, 40 gigawatts of electricity were offline in ERCOT's territory, down from 46 gigawatts Wednesday. This is one of the largest shortfalls in energy supply in modern US history, Patrick Milligan, a manager and power expert at the consulting firm ICF, told Insider.

    Most of the supply that went offline was coal and natural gas, not wind

    About 60% of the energy sources offline in Texas on Wednesday and Thursday were thermal — that is, power plants that run on coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy — while the rest was from solar and wind farms, ERCOT said.

    Cold weather is the obvious culprit: All different kinds of power plants in Texas, not just wind turbines, have trouble operating in arctic weather as their instruments freeze. In fact, earlier this week, wind farms were overperforming forecasts, said Rebecca Miller, a research manager at Wood Mackenzie who tracks output across the state.

    It can be more difficult to pump natural gas out of the ground or transport it to power plants in freezing conditions. What's more, utilities have prioritized sending natural gas to homes for heating instead of to power plants, Miller said.

    A wind farm in TExas
    Wind turbines in Loraine, Texas.
    Nick Oxford/Reuters

    There are less obvious drivers behind the Texas blackouts

    The US is made up of three major electric grids, and one of them overlaps almost entirely with Texas.

    In other words, Texas essentially has its own grid.

    That can exacerbate a situation like this by making it harder for Texas to draw power from other regions that aren't under the same weather-related stress, said Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Georgia Tech who studies large infrastructure.

    "The entire grid of Texas is subjected to this emergency condition at once," Grubert said. "That's a lot of pressure to be putting on a grid that doesn't have access to other areas that aren't under those conditions."

    But other issues were at play, such as a lack of preparedness — on the sides of both supply and demand.

    Homeowners weren't told to do much to conserve energy, Miller said. Meanwhile, power plants weren't properly weatherized.

    Take wind turbines: They have no problem operating in much colder states than Texas. Minnesota and Iowa, for example, have large wind farms, but they don't suffer blackouts when temperatures plunge to single digits.

    "Wind can operate perfectly in cold weather," Milligan said.

    Like natural-gas and coal-fired power plants, wind turbines can be weatherized to withstand tough winter conditions. But weatherization costs money, and turbines in Texas generally aren't equipped for cold weather.

    "Why would you have a snowplow in Austin? That kind of same thinking applies to the power plants," Grubert said.

    It didn't have to get this bad

    This isn't the first time Texas has been hit by an arctic burst. In 2011, around the Super Bowl, cold weather swept through the state, plunging millions of people into darkness.

    That's left many people wondering: Why didn't energy producers and regulators do more to prepare for this cold spell?

    That summer, a federal report recommended things like weatherization to prevent supply from going offline in the future, the Houston Chronicle reported.

    But a lot of that advice wasn't followed, Milligan said, partly because it wasn't enforceable and there was no mechanism in place to pay for it. Weatherization is expensive, he said.

    Plus, Texas' energy market is deregulated, and suppliers there try to produce energy as cheaply as possible, Milligan added.

    "The generators are not really incentivized to undertake these kinds of [weatherization] investments," Milligan said.

    It would have been hard to completely prevent these blackouts, experts told Insider; this kind of weather really is unusual for Texas. But they said the effects would not have been so devastating if companies had done more to prepare.

    texas weather
    A car driving on snow- and sleet-covered roads in Spring, Texas.
    David J. Phillip/AP

    More blackouts are coming if we don't do more to prepare

    The irony of blaming wind turbines for the power outages in Texas is that extreme weather events are made worse by climate change, which is fueled by burning coal and natural gas. In theory, wind and solar farms offset emissions spewed into the atmosphere, lessening the impact of climate change.

    "Can you expect more extremes? Yes," Grubert said. "In terms of what that means for the grid, that's a question that we as a society will have to grapple with."

    It's important not only to prevent outages outright but to ensure that we have ways to keep people safe when the grid goes down, she said.

    "Even if the energy system had stayed up, there would have been a lot of people in trouble during this event," she said, such as those who may not have access to heat.

    The importance of managing demand, such as through measures that make buildings more energy-efficient, also can't be overstated, she said.

    Winter storm texas
    Power lines in Fort Worth.
    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    When power will be restored and what happens next

    The outages are likely to continue through the week as a second winter storm brings freezing rain and sleet to the state.

    "We are anticipating another cold front this evening which could increase the demand," Dan Woodfin, the senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said in a statement on Wednesday morning. "The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online."

    Gov. Greg Abbott has called the blackout event "unacceptable" and said he would add the reform of ERCOT as an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session.

    "The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Abbott said.

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also launched a task force to investigate the outages in Texas and elsewhere in the US.

    Texas Blackouts: Why Millions Lost Power in Storm, What
  • What caused the Texas power grid to fail?

    Understanding Texas’ energy grid failure February 23, 2021 Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change.

    Q: Broadly speaking, why is the Texas energy grid struggling?

    The widespread winter storm produced low temperatures across the region. This is an unusual event, much worse than the worst case that was considered in recent prior planning. The result was loss of power plants, loss of natural gas supply, felled power transmission lines, damaged gas pipelines, damage to water systems, and so on, across the board. There was a loss of more than 50 percent of generation capacity at the same moment as electric power demand surged above the predicted peak forecast.

    Power systems are designed to share across the transmission grid in order to provide nearly instantaneous support to one part when another location is in trouble. When the problem is large enough or everywhere is in trouble, the same instantaneous response can propagate the damage and produce a total system failure. The standard policy is to institute controlled “rolling blackouts” that disconnect some load to prevent complete system collapse. This was the response in Texas, and it accomplished this important objective of preventing an even worse catastrophe. In addition, the rules produced much higher prices and provided a powerful incentive to reduce remaining demand and get the generating plants back online. All this was necessary under the circumstances.

    Q: How would you answer critics of the exorbitant energy bills that some customers are now receiving?

    The pain is severe, for both those facing the higher bills and even more for those who lost their power. The high bills go to two different groups. First, those energy intermediaries that sold hedging contracts received an agreed upon price that has probably been higher than market conditions until the crisis, and they are like any insurance provider who is responsible for making good on the promise of the contract price. Second, the minority of customers who chose not to hedge and enjoyed lower prices until the crisis, and who also chose to continue consuming electricity even when others were being curtailed, now face the higher bills. The curtailed customers who were selected for the rolling blackouts were by definition not consuming power and would not see higher bills for the curtailed period, although some probably would have preferred to pay and not be curtailed.

    Q: Why is Texas the only state with its own power grid?

    There is a long history here of the state wanting full control over its own destiny. The rules are complex, but Texas has weak transmission ties to the rest of the North American grid and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas regulators but (largely) not to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Even the limited ties were not much help in the current crisis because other areas were also in rolling blackout conditions on a smaller scale and they did not have excess power to willingly share with Texas.

    Q: What measure might have made Texas’ energy grid less vulnerable, and how can Texas avoid another crisis like this in the future?

    As in the past, there will be a full post-mortem analysis. However, it is hard to conceive of a planning mechanism that would have provided full protection against an event that was much worse than the worst case envisioned. And as some important figures in the region have already said, the costs of such protection paid every year might be seen as too high a cost to pay to avoid such a rare outcome. 

    Q: What role, if any, does the use of renewable energy play in this crisis? And what role can it play in solving it?

    Renewable energy was part of the Texas energy supply. Some of it still worked, and some wind turbines were frozen or solar panels were covered in snow and unable to help. But the discussion about renewable energy is a distraction given the scale and scope of the current problem. The discussion for the future with increased renewable energy should await the post-mortem. The design of the system with increasing renewables was an active focus of policy discussion before this event, and this discussion will be continuing.

    Q: What lessons can we learn from this event?

    There will be many further analyses to provide guidance for the future. It will be important to avoid jumping to conclusions and learning the wrong lessons.

    Understanding Texas’ energy grid failure
  • What is behind Texas’ electricity crisis?

    HKS faculty member and energy markets expert Bill Hogan explains Texas’ electricity crisis. Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change.

    Q: Broadly speaking, why is the Texas energy grid struggling?

    The widespread winter storm produced low temperatures across the region. This is an unusual event, much worse than the worst case that was considered in recent prior planning. The result was loss of power plants, loss of natural gas supply, felled power transmission lines, damaged gas pipelines, damage to water systems, and so on, across the board. There was a loss of more than 50 percent of generation capacity at the same moment as electric power demand surged above the predicted peak forecast.

    Power systems are designed to share across the transmission grid in order to provide nearly instantaneous support to one part when another location is in trouble. When the problem is large enough or everywhere is in trouble, the same instantaneous response can propagate the damage and produce a total system failure. The standard policy is to institute controlled “rolling blackouts” that disconnect some load to prevent complete system collapse. This was the response in Texas, and it accomplished this important objective of preventing an even worse catastrophe. In addition, the rules produced much higher prices and provided a powerful incentive to reduce remaining demand and get the generating plants back online. All this was necessary under the circumstances.

    Q: How would you answer critics of the exorbitant energy bills that some customers are now receiving?

    The pain is severe, for both those facing the higher bills and even more for those who lost their power. The high bills go to two different groups. First, those energy intermediaries that sold hedging contracts received an agreed upon price that has probably been higher than market conditions until the crisis, and they are like any insurance provider who is responsible for making good on the promise of the contract price. Second, the minority of customers who chose not to hedge and enjoyed lower prices until the crisis, and who also chose to continue consuming electricity even when others were being curtailed, now face the higher bills. The curtailed customers who were selected for the rolling blackouts were by definition not consuming power and would not see higher bills for the curtailed period, although some probably would have preferred to pay and not be curtailed.

    Q: Why is Texas the only state with its own power grid?

    There is a long history here of the state wanting full control over its own destiny. The rules are complex, but Texas has weak transmission ties to the rest of the North American grid and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas regulators but (largely) not to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Even the limited ties were not much help in the current crisis because other areas were also in rolling blackout conditions on a smaller scale and they did not have excess power to willingly share with Texas.

    Q: What measure might have made Texas’ energy grid less vulnerable, and how can Texas avoid another crisis like this in the future?

    As in the past, there will be a full post-mortem analysis. However, it is hard to conceive of a planning mechanism that would have provided full protection against an event that was much worse than the worst case envisioned. And as some important figures in the region have already said, the costs of such protection paid every year might be seen as too high a cost to pay to avoid such a rare outcome. 

    Q: What role, if any, does the use of renewable energy play in this crisis? And what role can it play in solving it?

    Renewable energy was part of the Texas energy supply. Some of it still worked, and some wind turbines were frozen or solar panels were covered in snow and unable to help. But the discussion about renewable energy is a distraction given the scale and scope of the current problem. The discussion for the future with increased renewable energy should await the post-mortem. The design of the system with increasing renewables was an active focus of policy discussion before this event, and this discussion will be continuing.

    Q: What lessons can we learn from this event?

    There will be many further analyses to provide guidance for the future. It will be important to avoid jumping to conclusions and learning the wrong lessons.

    Understanding Texas’ energy grid failure
  • How much power was wasted in the Texas power outage?

    By the time the sun rose over Texas around 7 a.m., energy demand on the state’s primary electric grid had surged to about 71 gigawatts. Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold. It was a different story farther north.

    On Sunday night, as a burst of Arctic air swept southward across the Great Plains, power plants in Texas started flicking offline.

    Wind generation fell 32% between 9 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday local time, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Coal dropped 13%. And natural gas generation, the cornerstone of the Texas grid, plummeted 25% over that six-hour period.

    By the time the sun rose over Texas around 7 a.m., energy demand on the state’s primary electric grid had surged to about 71 gigawatts. Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold.

    It was a different story farther north. Temperatures were even colder in parts of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a 14-state electricity system stretching from North Texas to the Canadian border. But generation from coal and gas plants there held steady and even increased. Wind output, meanwhile, followed a normal pattern of declining throughout the day before picking up again later Monday. It was a similar situation in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), a 15-state system going from Louisiana to the Canadian province of Manitoba.

    Neither MISO nor SPP was able to completely avoid the grips of the cold. Both were forced to sever electricity to customers in a bid to stabilize their grids. Yet those outages were limited in duration and scope compared with what unfolded in Texas.

    The differences point to some of the key failures that have forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s primary grid operator, to enforce sustained blackouts since Monday. It also highlights the challenge facing the Biden administration and climate activists as they seek to decarbonize America’s collection of electric grids.

    ERCOT’s challenges are several. For one, it is more reliant on gas for electricity generation than its neighbors, which still boast sizable coal fleets.

    That matters for two reasons. Gas also serves heating needs, meaning demand for the fuel surges during a cold snap. Coal faces no such competition. It also leaves the state vulnerable to disruptions in gas supplies. Many gas wells also produce water and distillates, which can freeze during cold spells.

    “One of the big lessons here is gas is treated as a firm resource, but it is not because it relies on just-in-time delivery,” said Alex Gilbert, a fellow who studies energy systems at the Colorado School of Mines’ Payne Institute for Public Policy. “For me, looking at SPP and MISO south, there are other planning reasons involved, but they have a more diversified mix and that is definitely helping them.”

    That’s not an endorsement of coal. Most coal plants in the United States are older and utilities are investing less in them now, two factors that increase the probability of forced outages during extreme weather events. Instead, Gilbert argued the United States needs to take a holistic approach to energy planning that includes other factors, such as energy efficiency and development of clean technologies to complement wind and solar.

    Another item on that list is planning for extreme weather events, an area where ERCOT has fallen short.

    In its most recent winter reliability assessment, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. predicted winter demand in ERCOT would peak around 67 GW in an extreme weather event. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that ERCOT demand reached a forecast peak of 75 GW on Tuesday morning.

    At the same time, the number of plant outages for ERCOT’s grid is far greater than expected. The grid operator forecast nearly 14 GW of plant outages during an extreme winter weather event. Last night, ERCOT officials said some 43 GW has been forced offline. That sum includes plants that were already offline for scheduled maintenance.

    The sheer number of plant outages points to the largest difference between ERCOT and its counterparts. The Texas system was simply not prepared for the cold, despite having experienced freezing temperatures in 2011 that saw gas wellheads lock up and coal plants seize up.

    Many power plants in the southern United States are not enclosed inside a building, with boilers and turbines exposed to the elements. This is by design. Leaving key power plant infrastructure outside prevents excessive heat build-up during warmer periods. But it can leave power plants vulnerable to cold weather, as a 2019 NERC report examining a 2018 cold snap in the southeastern U.S. makes clear.

    Power planners in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, by contrast, generally enclose their plants because they “expect to have to perform in cold weather conditions,” said Susan Tierney, a former Department of Energy official who now works as a consultant. “That is not the case in Texas, so the unprecedented cold weather over so much of the state made it hard for the equipment to perform.”

    Power plant design is important within the context of the political debate about why the ERCOT grid has failed. Republicans have seized on wind turbines icing up as a warning that renewables are endangering the grid.

    Democrats have responded by noting that gas and coal account for the majority of plant outages in Texas today. But both wind turbines and fossil fuels regularly perform at cold temperatures in northern climates, where they are designed to withstand winter’s fury.

    “Wind and solar were not significant contributors to what happened in Texas. They have planning around these particular events; they know in events like this wind and solar production will be low,” Gilbert said. “That said, looking forward, wind and solar are going to have challenges with winter demand. And that is something we have to come to grips with as we try to decarbonize the electricity system.”

    Indeed, Texas’ woes highlight some of the challenges facing American climate hawks. Renewable generation fades during the winter months in much of the U.S. as demand for energy surges. Summer, by contrast, is a relatively easier challenge because solar generation generally matches heat-induced demand spikes.

    Solving that conundrum is exacerbated by the fact the country is seeking to make two energy transitions simultaneously, said Emily Grubert, a professor who studies energy systems at the Georgia Institute of Technology. One is a shift from dirtier power plants to cleaner ones. The other is a move to electrify buildings and cars that previously relied on oil and gas.

    Expanding energy planning to include areas like building efficiency standards will be critical to help reduce demand and relieve the stress on the gird, Grubert said. Even so, she added, “it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

    Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

    Why the Deep Freeze Caused Texas to Lose Power
Why did the Texas power grids fail?

This in turn led to a wholesale collapse of the power grid. Texas was not the only state in urgent need of power supply. In fact, the storms created a national demand for natural gas. As two-thirds of ERCOT’s power comes from natural gas, most of that supply became unavailable.

Recently, Texas faced its coldest weather in more than 70 years and concurrently experienced state-wide utilities failure. When temperatures in Texas dropped lower than temperatures in Alaska, more than 4.5 million homes and businesses lost their power and at least 70 people lost their lives.

To discuss these events, the Hopkins Energy Policy and Climate (EPC) program invited Jeremy Lin and Alex Gilbert to speak at the “Tackling the Texas Energy Crisis” event on March 2.

Lin is a director at Transmission Analytics Consulting company, which provides services for renewable energy developers. Gilbert is a project manager at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, where his work supports climate mitigation. Both are lecturers in Advanced Academic Programs. 

In order to explain the Texas power crisis, one thing has to be made clear first. Texas has its own independent power grid — Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — which covers 90% of the state. Its three responsibilities are to operate the power grid reliably, to run a competitive electricity market and to conduct system and grid planning.

The panelists described how the severity of the winter storms took ERCOT by surprise, resulting in its failure to fulfill any of the three responsibilities. This in turn led to a wholesale collapse of the power grid.

Texas was not the only state in urgent need of power supply. In fact, the storms created a national demand for natural gas. As two-thirds of ERCOT’s power comes from natural gas, most of that supply became unavailable.

“[When] the natural gas system doesn’t deliver, it poses a reliability threat to the whole system,” Gilbert said.

According to the panelists, the unreliable operation of the power grid tipped the balance between energy demand and supply.

Unlike the rest of U.S. power grids, ERCOT is an energy-only market. This means that there is no backup method in the economy to compensate for energy problems. Lin explained that when there was a scarcity of power supply, a system-wide cap had to be implemented according to market economic theory.

“To reward those resources in this kind of scarcity situation, energy-only markets such as ERCOT came up with a kind of scarcity pricing plan, which essentially raises the ceiling for the energy price,” Lin said.

This action led to the price of a megawatt skyrocketing from to ,000. The inability of power plants and other energy resources to maintain a competitive market resulted in a billion economic burden, which Texas will carry for the next few decades.

The most crucial factor for the wholesale breakdown of ERCOT, according to Gilbert, is the failure of system and grid planning.

In November, ERCOT’s seasonal energy demand level assessment estimated 67 gigawatts for the most extreme winter weather. Yet only two days after the storms hit, Texas already reached a 74-77 gigawatts demand. This was 10-15% higher than the theoretical maximum of energy supply, marking a record high even including past summers.

Due to the already severe nationwide natural gas demand, Texas was unable to find a substitute energy source that would satisfy all energy needs. In order to avoid having to cut the power grid out in a “black start” scenario, forced outages were put in place. But the outage rate was so high that many homes lost power and essential supply for more than three days.

Gilbert explained how many people suffered and even died due to poorly insulated houses. Although the lack of energy did not directly cause deaths, he said, it undoubtedly exposed people to life-threatening situations brought by the winter storms.

The panelists also addressed the allegations that the crisis was due to the failure of renewable energy sources, particularly wind energy. They said it was a well-known fact that wind turbines become less functional in extreme cold, so companies usually do not plan to rely solely on wind energy during cold weather emergencies. Gilbert explained that companies should draw energy from a variety of sources, including renewable energy sources, to buttress their supply.

“Energy diversity is the foundation of supply reliability,” Gilbert said.

The panelists described some difficulties for ERCOT to initiate any major changes in preparation for a similar event in the future. As ERCOT is a completely independent system, it is unlikely it will change its structure and build interconnections with other grids. Additionally, they explained, there is little market incentive for power plants to undergo extremely costly winterization.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Chris Burk, a graduate of the Hopkins EPC program, offered an analogy to illustrate the source of the crisis.

“Without interconnections to other networks and without winterized plants, the Texas grid was like a trapeze artist operating without a net,” Burk said. “The foundation of the problem was a highly complex and fragile electrical system that was overly reliant on a fragile gas system.”

The panelists pointed out that it is now time to encourage changes. They suggested the implementation of state policies to prevent another energy crisis.

However, Kelli Fereday, a graduate student within the EPC program and a Texan who lived through the crisis, expressed her disbelief in an immediate state-level change of energy policy in an email to The News-Letter.

“I do not believe there will be any substantive changes until a new governor is elected and until 2023 when the legislature meets again, unless this is kept in the limelight and he calls a special session, which he will not do,” Fereday wrote. 

Why Did Texas’s Energy Grid Fail So Spectacularly?

17-02-2021 · Millions of Texans have lost power as a result of a brutal winter storm. Don’t blame wind turbines; the cause is bad energy-grid policy and freakish weather.

17-02-2021

Photo: Chengyue Lao/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Texans know how to plan for 110-degree weather, but 10-degree weather? Not so much. That’s been painfully evident over the past six days as the Lone Star State suffers its worst winter weather in decades. The entire state has been plunged into record-low temperatures, creating icy roads, followed by heavy snow — even on the beaches of Galveston, on the warm Gulf Coast — and cities in Texas don’t have the infrastructure to manage it. Southern and central Texas, where winter weather is rarest, are especially ill equipped.

With everyone inside and cranking up the heat, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit organization that manages the state’s electric grid, was forced to enact rolling blackouts, some of which are still in effect, to provide relief to the grid. (About 60 percent of Texans heat their homes with electricity.) Between those and multiple grid failures, as many as 4 million people lost power across the state. It’s not likely to warm up until the weekend.

How the heck did it get so cold in Texas, y’all?

Arctic air is usually trapped around the North Pole by a counterclockwise jet stream known as the polar vortex. But a rapid warming over the pole in early January disrupted the vortex and dislodged some of the Earth’s coldest air, leading first to huge snowfalls in the Northeast and now sending air from Siberia over the top of the Earth and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Is this because of climate change?

Given that this all originated with rapid warming over the Arctic, and given that the poles are warming much faster than the rest of the planet, it’s easy to assume that the freaky winter we’re in the middle of is all because of global warming. But scientists warn that it’s hard to draw a straight line from climate change to any single weather event. There has, however, been some research tying the release of polar air to climate change.

What happened to the juice?

One of the many systems in Texas that’s built for heat but not cold is energy delivery. Natural gas, which supplies Texans with more than 60 percent of their electricity during the winter, shut down when pipes and wellheads froze. Wind turbines, which produce about 10 percent of the state’s winter power, iced up and stopped. Solar panels have been producing less, too.

#BREAKING: @ERCOT_ISO says 46,000MW of electrical generating capacity is off-line today.Yesterday the number was 45,000MW.Monday it was 34,000MW.28,000MW is gas, coal, nuclear. 18,000MW is wind, solar.

185 power plants have tripped off line.

— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) February 17, 2021

ERCOT’s forecast for this winter projected a capacity of 83,000 megawatts and a peak demand of 57,699 megawatts. All the individual failures have taken more than half of that capacity — 46,000 megawatts on Wednesday — offline. At the same time, Texans are all indoors right now and cranking up the heat, leading to a winter record demand of 69,150 megawatts. That might be manageable in the summer, when energy providers are prepared for everyone running their air conditioning, but it’s a heavier lift in the winter. Record demand coupled with the supply shock caused the whole system to buckle.

But the lights are already coming back on, right?

In some places. As of Wednesday morning, 2.8 million Texans were without power, so the situation is better than it was but still pretty bad. It’s also still really cold, and new problems are arising. In the past two days, the power-supply situation has actually gotten worse: 34,000 megawatts were offline Monday, and that figure rose to 46,000 today. Texas Gas Service has warned the areas it covers — Austin, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley — that outages could drag on for another day, adding that residents should try to limit their power usage. Austin Energy announced Wednesday morning that “two emergency events” will cause new outages that could drag through the rest of the week. CenterPoint Energy, which serves south and east Texas, also told residents to expect new outages.

Then why are we hearing so much about those wind turbines instead of frozen gas pipelines?

After the storm, Republicans almost immediately latched on to photos of frozen wind turbines as an example of the allegedly failed green-energy policies of the left. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page lambasted “liberals” for deep-red Texas deprioritizing coal in favor of wind energy, even as the paper’s own reporting debunked it with a story titled “Don’t Blame Wind for Texas Electricity Woes.” The shutdown of wind turbines has accounted for less than 13 percent of the energy that’s gone offline since last week.

The problem lies elsewhere. Texas operates almost entirely on its own electric grid, one of three in the mainland United States. (The rest of the country is more or less split along the Rocky Mountains into the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection.) That’s because in 1935, Texas — then and now fond of secessionist impulses — took steps to avoid federal regulation that covers interstate electricity transmission. While this is a point of pride among Texans whose sole political purpose is to own the libs on Twitter, it makes it much harder for them to pin their energy problems on anyone but themselves. But they’re still trying. On Monday, Texas governor Greg Abbott passed the buck to the private sector, saying, “The people who have fallen short with regard to the power are the private power-generation companies.”

Who’s really to blame for this?

The regulations that govern the two electric grids that power the rest of the country reward power plants that build additional capacity for periods of excess demand. Texas does not, and the state hit dangerously low levels of reserve electricity in 2018 and 2019. The state’s legislators are calling for investigations, but those would probably lead to scrutiny of policies they openly support. And, admittedly, reforms to winterize the state’s power systems could be costly and potentially wasteful given that this was what could be reasonably described as a freak weather occurrence.

However, submitting to regulation under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as the rest of the country does, could ensure that Texas has contingency plans and enough reserve power to get its residents through the next surprise event. And while Republicans mindlessly oppose energy sources that don’t destroy the ecosystem, it’s actually good to have multiple generation methods available — including even coal — so that if one fails for whatever reason, others are available.

Although it’s natural to want to blame someone for the problem — the shortcomings in the system are very real — a lot of this really does come down to the simple fact of a once-in-a-generation event that’s hard to prepare for. Sometimes the Lord just wants to test the management of your power supply, y’all.

Is that Texas-only electric grid any good?

Having its own network may provide Texans with one less headache with regard to the Feds — and, in normal times, tend to keep electric bills down — but the state’s go-it-alone approach to energy infrastructure certainly has its drawbacks. Interstate energy trading could have helped make up some of the power shortfall this week. Ironic, really, in the No. 1 energy-producing American state.

But touting the benefits of an independent grid is a moot point when you don’t regularly invest in and maintain the grid in question. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, believes that the free-market approach Texas takes leads to lower returns for energy providers and thus fewer resources for keeping their plants up to date. Perhaps the most damning analogy — for a Texan anyway — came from Hirs in the Houston Chronicle: “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union. It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

Could the same thing happen in New York City?

It’s less likely but not out of the question. There are parallels between Texas and New York’s energy systems. The New York Independent System Operator, like ERCOT, manages the flow of power, and both states use diverse power sources but draw the majority of it from natural gas. (For the rest, New York fills in with hydroelectric and nuclear power where Texas uses wind.)

But there are also key differences. New York, being on the Eastern Interconnection, can receive power from other parts of the country in the event of an emergency — or be the victim of crises elsewhere. In 2003, a power line shorted out by a tree in Ohio led to the cascading disaster that blacked out 50 million people on the East Coast. Before that, reliability standards were voluntary. Afterward, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — which does not oversee the Texas-only grid — made those standards a requirement.

The most important variable is still the weather. New York experiences extreme weather in both the winter and the summer, thus its grid is built to deal with both heat and cold. There are, however, some events that are far enough outside the norm, such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, that will always be able to cause disruption. With climate change accelerating the frequency of extreme weather events, it’s only a matter of time before NYC is hit with one that challenges its system.

Why Did Texas’s Energy Grid Fail So Spectacularly?

Why the Deep Freeze Caused Texas to Lose Power ...

Why the Deep Freeze Caused Texas to Lose Power. Issues with natural gas supplies and the grid’s isolation both factored in to the massive outages

On Sunday night, as a burst of Arctic air swept southward across the Great Plains, power plants in Texas started flicking offline.

Wind generation fell 32% between 9 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday local time, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Coal dropped 13%. And natural gas generation, the cornerstone of the Texas grid, plummeted 25% over that six-hour period.

By the time the sun rose over Texas around 7 a.m., energy demand on the state’s primary electric grid had surged to about 71 gigawatts. Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold.

It was a different story farther north. Temperatures were even colder in parts of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a 14-state electricity system stretching from North Texas to the Canadian border. But generation from coal and gas plants there held steady and even increased. Wind output, meanwhile, followed a normal pattern of declining throughout the day before picking up again later Monday. It was a similar situation in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), a 15-state system going from Louisiana to the Canadian province of Manitoba.

Neither MISO nor SPP was able to completely avoid the grips of the cold. Both were forced to sever electricity to customers in a bid to stabilize their grids. Yet those outages were limited in duration and scope compared with what unfolded in Texas.

The differences point to some of the key failures that have forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s primary grid operator, to enforce sustained blackouts since Monday. It also highlights the challenge facing the Biden administration and climate activists as they seek to decarbonize America’s collection of electric grids.

ERCOT’s challenges are several. For one, it is more reliant on gas for electricity generation than its neighbors, which still boast sizable coal fleets.

That matters for two reasons. Gas also serves heating needs, meaning demand for the fuel surges during a cold snap. Coal faces no such competition. It also leaves the state vulnerable to disruptions in gas supplies. Many gas wells also produce water and distillates, which can freeze during cold spells.

“One of the big lessons here is gas is treated as a firm resource, but it is not because it relies on just-in-time delivery,” said Alex Gilbert, a fellow who studies energy systems at the Colorado School of Mines’ Payne Institute for Public Policy. “For me, looking at SPP and MISO south, there are other planning reasons involved, but they have a more diversified mix and that is definitely helping them.”

That’s not an endorsement of coal. Most coal plants in the United States are older and utilities are investing less in them now, two factors that increase the probability of forced outages during extreme weather events. Instead, Gilbert argued the United States needs to take a holistic approach to energy planning that includes other factors, such as energy efficiency and development of clean technologies to complement wind and solar.

Another item on that list is planning for extreme weather events, an area where ERCOT has fallen short.

In its most recent winter reliability assessment, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. predicted winter demand in ERCOT would peak around 67 GW in an extreme weather event. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that ERCOT demand reached a forecast peak of 75 GW on Tuesday morning.

At the same time, the number of plant outages for ERCOT’s grid is far greater than expected. The grid operator forecast nearly 14 GW of plant outages during an extreme winter weather event. Last night, ERCOT officials said some 43 GW has been forced offline. That sum includes plants that were already offline for scheduled maintenance.

The sheer number of plant outages points to the largest difference between ERCOT and its counterparts. The Texas system was simply not prepared for the cold, despite having experienced freezing temperatures in 2011 that saw gas wellheads lock up and coal plants seize up.

Many power plants in the southern United States are not enclosed inside a building, with boilers and turbines exposed to the elements. This is by design. Leaving key power plant infrastructure outside prevents excessive heat build-up during warmer periods. But it can leave power plants vulnerable to cold weather, as a 2019 NERC report examining a 2018 cold snap in the southeastern U.S. makes clear.

Power planners in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, by contrast, generally enclose their plants because they “expect to have to perform in cold weather conditions,” said Susan Tierney, a former Department of Energy official who now works as a consultant. “That is not the case in Texas, so the unprecedented cold weather over so much of the state made it hard for the equipment to perform.”

Power plant design is important within the context of the political debate about why the ERCOT grid has failed. Republicans have seized on wind turbines icing up as a warning that renewables are endangering the grid.

Democrats have responded by noting that gas and coal account for the majority of plant outages in Texas today. But both wind turbines and fossil fuels regularly perform at cold temperatures in northern climates, where they are designed to withstand winter’s fury.

“Wind and solar were not significant contributors to what happened in Texas. They have planning around these particular events; they know in events like this wind and solar production will be low,” Gilbert said. “That said, looking forward, wind and solar are going to have challenges with winter demand. And that is something we have to come to grips with as we try to decarbonize the electricity system.”

Indeed, Texas’ woes highlight some of the challenges facing American climate hawks. Renewable generation fades during the winter months in much of the U.S. as demand for energy surges. Summer, by contrast, is a relatively easier challenge because solar generation generally matches heat-induced demand spikes.

Solving that conundrum is exacerbated by the fact the country is seeking to make two energy transitions simultaneously, said Emily Grubert, a professor who studies energy systems at the Georgia Institute of Technology. One is a shift from dirtier power plants to cleaner ones. The other is a move to electrify buildings and cars that previously relied on oil and gas.

Expanding energy planning to include areas like building efficiency standards will be critical to help reduce demand and relieve the stress on the gird, Grubert said. Even so, she added, “it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

What Really Caused The Texas Power Shortage? : NPR

18-02-2021 · ABBOTT: Wind and our solar got shut down. And they were, collectively, more than 10% of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.

18-02-2021

Why has Texas had such devastating power shortages during the current winter storm? Some people, including prominent Republicans, are blaming wind power — but every power source has struggled to cope.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On this winter morning, millions of people in Texas remain without power, without clean water or both. It's an occasion for millions to struggle to keep friends and families safe. And for some political leaders, it is also an opportunity to spread misinformation. What really led to the Texas power crisis? Whether you get the truth or the trolling, depends on which channel you watch. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Earlier this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appeared on a Dallas TV station. And he didn't blame any one power source for this crisis. He noted natural gas was affected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: It's just frozen right now. It's frozen in the pipeline.

DOMONOSKE: But then Abbott went on Fox News. And he said, actually, renewable energy was to blame

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABBOTT: Wind and our solar got shut down. And they were, collectively, more than 10% of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.

DOMONOSKE: He said this showed how the green New Deal would be deadly. But the fact is that Abbott was right the first time. This storm, it pummeled the entire power generation system.

BILL MAGNESS: Really, it was across the board. We saw coal plants, gas plants, wind, solar, just all sorts of our resources trip off and not be able to perform.

DOMONOSKE: Bill Magness is the president and CEO of ERCOT - or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas - which manages the state electric grid. These frigid temperatures had people across Texas plugging in electric heaters all at once.

MAGNESS: Fundamentally, it is a historic storm that drove electric demand higher than we've ever seen by far.

DOMONOSKE: And at the exact same time, the supply of electricity went down. Wind turbines did freeze, so did natural gas wells and pipelines and water pipes at coal and nuclear plants. All of this frozen equipment meant power plants couldn't function. There simply wasn't enough electricity to go around.

JOSHUA RHODES: All types of generation, you know, have had issues.

DOMONOSKE: Joshua Rhodes is a research associate at UT Austin's Webber Energy Group. He's staying with a friend near Austin because his house doesn't have power. And he says this weather was just beyond what the entire system was ever designed to handle. It's like New England grappling with 105 degree temperatures.

RHODES: I mean, having more natural gas power plants wouldn't have helped us because we can't get gas to the ones we have right now.

DOMONOSKE: After a freeze a decade ago, the state recommended that power plants prepare for freak cold weather. But those measures are expensive and were never made mandatory. Texas also doesn't share electricity with nearby states in order to avoid federal regulations. Investigations into this disaster may well find blame to go around. But the data right now shows this was a system-wide failure caused by a storm much worse than the state was ready to handle.

LORI BIRD: I think the key point here is that we need to be prepared for these extreme events - right? - today and in the future, no matter what the generation source is because I think this event shows that all generation sources are vulnerable to these extreme events.

DOMONOSKE: Lori Bird directs the U.S. energy program at the World Resources Institute. She says the blame thrown at wind and solar is politics. And what's really needed is more preparation.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Why is Texas suffering power blackouts during the winter ...

18-02-2021 · Why is Texas on its own power grid? For as long as electricity has existed in Texas, the state, which prides itself on its independence has relied on itself for power.

18-02-2021

Millions of people in Texas have spent days in below-freezing temperatures without power in what officials have called a “total failure” of the state’s electricity infrastructure. How did oil- and gas-rich Texas – the biggest producer of energy in the US – get here?

While there are many factors that led to the power outages in Texas, the state’s power grid has come under intense scrutiny in light of the storm. Here’s what we know so far about Texas’s power grid and the role it played in the state’s winter disaster.

Who controls Texas’s power grid?

The “Lone Star” state likes to go it alone when it comes to delivering power to its residents. Texas is unique among the 48 contiguous US states in that it relies on its own power grid. The other 47 states are all part of the two power grids that service the eastern and western halves of the country.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as Ercot, manages the state’s power grid. Ercot is technically a non-profit corporation, and while it functions independently from the state’s government, the corporation is overseen by a state agency called the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Members of the commission are appointed by the state’s governor.

Texas is the only state in the country, besides Alaska and Hawaii, that is not part of either the Eastern Interconnection or Western Interconnection, the two main power grids in the US. This means that Texas is not regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc), the agency that oversees interstate electric transmission. Instead, Texas is basically “an electrical island in the United States”, as described by Bill Magness, CEO of Ercot. While this means that Texas has more control over electricity in the state, it also means there are fewer power plants the state can rely on for power.

Parts of Texas are not serviced by Ercot. El Paso at the western tip of the state gets power from the Western Interconnection, which is why the city has been saved from the most brutal effects of the power outages.

Why are so many people without power?

Ercot turned off power for millions of customers after several power plants shut down due to the below-freezing temperatures the state is experiencing. Officials at Ercot said the equipment at the plants could not handle the extreme, low temperatures. The choice was either shutting down power for customers or risking a collapse of the grid altogether.

Why is Texas on its own power grid?

For as long as electricity has existed in Texas, the state, which prides itself on its independence has relied on itself for power. Officials in the state have long had a stubborn will to stay out of the hands of federal regulators.

While Magness, Ercot’s CEO, said that the shutdown was due primarily to “reasons that have to do with the weather”, critics have said Texas’s energy market incentivizes cheap prices at the cost of delaying maintenance and improving power plants. In 2011, the state experienced similar blackouts, though for a shorter period of time compared with what has been seen this week.

Following those blackouts, the Ferc gave a series of recommendations to Ercot to prevent future blackouts, including increasing reserve levels and weatherizing facilities to protect them from cold weather.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, told the Washington Post that Ercot “limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances”.

Did renewable energy play a role in the grid’s malfunction?

While Republicans have been blaming frozen wind turbines for the state’s blackouts, officials and experts say that malfunctions in natural gas operations played the largest role in the power crisis.

Ercot said all of its sources of power, including those from renewable sources, were affected by the freezing temperatures. The state largely relies on natural gas for its power supply, though some comes from wind turbines and less from coal and nuclear sources.

Natural gas can handle the state’s high temperatures in the summer, but extreme cold weather makes it difficult for the gas to flow to power plants and heat homes. Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas Austin, told the Texas Tribune that “gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now”.

With the climate crisis likely to trigger more freak weather events like the one Texas is suffering it is noteworthy that there are places that experience frigidly cold weather that rely heavily on wind turbines and manage to have electricity in the winter. In Iowa, a state which sees freezing temperatures more often than Texas, nearly 40% of electricity is generated by wind turbines.

What are officials doing to prevent future blackouts?

With millions still without power as of late Wednesday, officials in Texas remain focused on getting power back to residents and remedying the damage from the storm. Politicians from both major parties have criticized Ercot for its handling of the storm, but officials have steered clear of providing examples of specific fixes. Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, has called for an investigation into Ercot, declaring it an emergency item for the state’s legislative session.

But some Texas leaders have made it clear that they believe Texas should remain independent from the national power grids. Rick Perry, a former governor of the state who also served as Donald Trump’s energy secretary until 2019, said: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

The parts of Texas not on its ERCOT power grid appear to ...

Texas is nearing the end of what Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called "a once-in-every-120-year cold front," but that doesn't entirely explain why more than a million households still had no electricity early Thursday, after three full days of below-freezing temperatures. Plenty of places in the world keep their power on in prolonged arctic weather, and so did parts of Texas.

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The February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Failure ...

11-03-2021 · There were two primary causes of the February 2021 Texas power outages: Failure of Natural Gas Power Generators; An Overall Lack Of Winterization For Electric Generating Facilities; Failure of Natural Gas Power Generators. On February 25th, Texas retail generators, ERCOT and the PUCT testified at legislative hearings to figure out what went wrong. These entities confirmed that it was …

11-03-2021

Between February 13th and February 17th, a winter storm unofficially called Winter Storm Uri pounded the majority of the US. Texas, usually known for its mild winters, experienced a week of snow, ice and below-freezing temperatures that caused power outages for millions of Texans.

Water pipes burst and caused water shortages. As wholesale electricity prices skyrocketed, some customers were hit with bills in the thousands. In total, the damages are estimated to be over 0 billion.

In this post, we are going to look at the many factors that caused this and also discuss what needs to be done to prevent something like this from happening again.

A Quick Overview Of The Texas Electrical Grid

Texas is unique in that it operates its own electrical grid. The other 47 states in the continental US are split between the Eastern and Western Interconnection.

EIA map showing the three major electricity interconnections in the US

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the electric grid to try and keep the grid running reliably. It is overseen by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT), which is in charge of regulating utilities in the state.

While Texas’s electricity market does have some regulations, the state has a more hands-off approach than any other in the United States. Consumers choose their own electricity providers. Those electricity providers procure their electricity supply from energy generators. Many of the regulations the state does have are there to ensure a competitive market to keep electricity prices low for consumers.

What Happened?

ERCOT knew that Texas was going to experience a winter storm, and had prepared to handle it. However, ERCOT underestimated the severity and duration of the storm, which kept temperatures below freezing for days.

When temperatures started dropping, Texans immediately went to their thermostats to turn up the heat and increased the overall load on the power grid.

While this was happening, the storm brought ice. Electricity generators’ equipment wasn’t designed for severe winter weather and started to fail. There was not enough electricity to keep up with the demand.

For any electric grid, this is very bad. A stable grid requires a balance of supply and demand to function properly. If demand overloads the electric grid, the entire grid can fail and it can take weeks to repair.

On the morning of February 15th, ERCOT was reportedly 4 minutes and 37 seconds away from this happening. To avoid this, ERCOT started rolling blackouts, purposefully shutting off power to certain sectors to stop the grid from overloading.

Still, the cold weather caused a significant percentage of Texas’s electricity generation to remain offline. This caused 4.3 million Texans to go without power. For some, it would be days before the lights flickered back on.

What Caused The Blackouts In Texas?

There were two primary causes of the February 2021 Texas power outages:

  • Failure of Natural Gas Power Generators
  • An Overall Lack Of Winterization For Electric Generating Facilities

Failure of Natural Gas Power Generators

On February 25th, Texas retail generators, ERCOT and the PUCT testified at legislative hearings to figure out what went wrong. These entities confirmed that it was mainly the failure of natural gas facilities that led to the power outages.

Natural gas generates more than half of the electricity in Texas. On top of this, many of the peaker plants that are meant to come on when electricity consumption increases are natural gas.

When the ice storm hit, wellheads and pipelines froze, stopping the supply of natural gas to generating facilities. This lead to a 25,000 MW drop in natural gas capacity. This is just under a quarter of the total generating capacity in the state.

An Overall Lack Of Winterization For Power Generators

However, all the blame can’t go on natural gas. While it did make up almost half of the 52,277 MW of generating capacity that went offline, both wind and coal underperformed as well.

Wind lost 18,000 MW of generating capacity as wind turbines froze from all the ice. Coal dropped about 5,000 MW in capacity.

It’s important to note that all these fuel sources can perform in more extreme environments than what Texas saw in February. The difference is that Texas electricity generators didn’t winterize the equipment because the state rarely sees these temperatures.

Why Did Some Texans See Astronomical Electricity Bills?

One of the major headlines in the aftermath of the Texas outages was the crazy high electricity bills. Some residential electricity customers received bills in the thousands, including one man who got a ,000 charge for his consumption.

Recently, Texas placed a moratorium on shut-offs for unpaid electricity bills as state reps try to find ways to ease the burden on Texans. However, many are still wondering how this happened in the first place.

Well, in Texas, residents choose their own electricity provider and plan. There are many types of plans out there, but two broad categories are fixed-rate plans and variable-rate plans.

  • Fixed-Rate Plan – Your electricity supply rate stays the same for the duration of your contract.
  • Variable-Rate Plan – Your electricity supply rate can change based on market conditions and other factors.

The people who saw these crazy high electricity bills likely had a variable-rate plan. Some of the people who paid the most had variable-rate plans that tracked the wholesale price of electricity. This is the price that electricity providers pay for their electricity supply.

These wholesale plans can save you a good amount of money, but in periods of high electricity demand, the wholesale price for electricity can go to per kWh (the average cost of residential electricity in Texas is

.1176 per kWh).

How To Avoid This

Since variable-rate plans can be so risky, ElectricityRates.com suggests Texans stick to a fixed-rate plan. With a fixed-rate plan, your electricity supply rate will stay the same as long as you’re under contract, so you won’t have to worry about spikes in wholesale electricity prices.

How To Stop This From Happening Again

There has been a wide array of suggestions on how to avoid this type of situation from happening in Texas again. Here are some of them:

While it may be rare for Texas to see the weather it did, electricity generators need to be ready for when it does.

After a winter storm in 2011, Texas experienced power outages as well, albeit less severe ones. The PUCT then assessed what was necessary to improve grid reliability. Winter weatherization of equipment was a top priority.

Unfortunately, this eventually became just a recommendation. And since weatherization is more expensive, it didn’t make sense for electricity generators to spend the extra money for weather that might happen once every 10 years or less.

Mandating these improvements would help improve the reliability of power generators during extreme weather events.

Update: On June 9th, 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 3 into law, which requires the weatherization of Texas’s energy infrastructure for the possibility of extreme weather events. However, this bill does not provide any state funding for weatherization, which leaves a few energy experts predicting that energy costs will increase.

Increase Reserve Margin By Mandating A Higher Capacity

Right now, Texas does not mandate a reserve margin—the amount of extra electric capacity over expected electric demand—but instead incentivizes companies to be ready to operate through scarcity pricing.

This is why wholesale electricity prices are allowed to increase during periods of high electricity demand. Scarcity pricing allows power generators to make large profits during periods of high demand to make up for periods of lower electricity demand when the plant is not needed, and therefore, not making money.

The problem is that this model can only incentivize so much reserve margin. It is also why many variable-rate customers saw massive electricity bills. More than that, some like Curtis Morgan, the CEO of Vistra Energy, feel that the volatility of this market structure scares off investment in the Texas power market.

That’s why some people are suggesting changing the model to mandate a higher capacity. This would allow for a greater margin of error when demand increases, helping prevent power outages like the one Texas experienced. Perhaps more importantly, it could stabilize prices for Texas electricity providers, and therefore, electricity consumers.

Texas power outage: Why natural gas went down during the ...

16-02-2021 · It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold. Texas largely relies on natural gas — especially during times of high demand — to power the state. Experts say natural gas infrastructure, from pumping ...

16-02-2021

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Failures across Texas’ natural gas operations and supply chains due to extreme temperatures are the most significant cause of the power crisis that has left millions of Texans without heat and electricity during the winter storm sweeping the U.S.

From frozen natural gas wells to frozen wind turbines, all sources of power generation have faced difficulties during the winter storm. But Texans largely rely on natural gas for power and heat generation, especially during peak usage, experts said.

Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers. Many are not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment or during production.

By some estimates, nearly half of the state’s natural gas production has screeched to a halt due to the extremely low temperatures, while freezing components at natural gas-fired power plants have forced some operators to shut down.

“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin. While he said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis at least one nuclear power plant has partially shut down, most notably the natural gas industry is producing significantly less power than normal.

“Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Webber said.

More than half of ERCOT’s winter generating capacity, largely powered by natural gas, was offline due to the storm, an estimated 45 gigawatts, according to Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT.

The outages during this storm far exceeded what ERCOT had predicted in November for an extreme winter event. The forecast for peak demand was 67 gigawatts; peak usage during the storm was more than 69 gigawatts Sunday.

It’s estimated that about 80% of the grid’s capacity, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.

Woodfin said Tuesday that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, are offline and that 30 gigawatts of thermal sources, which include gas, coal and nuclear energy, are offline.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Woodfin said during a Tuesday call with reporters.

Production of natural gas in the state has plunged, making it difficult for power plants to get the fuel necessary to run the plants. Natural gas power plants usually don’t have very much fuel storage on site, experts said. Instead, the plants rely on the constant flow of natural gas from pipelines that run across the state from areas like the Permian Basin in West Texas to major demand centers like Houston and Dallas.

In early February, Texas operators were producing about 24 billion cubic feet per day, according to an estimate by S&P Global Platts. But on Monday, Texas production plummeted to a fraction of that: Operators in the state produced somewhere between 12 billion and 17 billion cubic feet per day.

The systems that get gas from the earth aren’t properly built for cold weather. Operators in West Texas’ Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the world, are particularly struggling to bring natural gas to the surface, analysts said, as cold weather and snow close wells or cause power outages that prevent pumping the fossil fuels from the ground.

“Gathering lines freeze, and the wells get so cold that they can’t produce,” said Parker Fawcett, a natural gas analyst for S&P Global Platts. “And pumps use electricity, so they’re not even able to lift that gas and liquid, because there’s no power to produce.”

Texas does not have as much storage capacity as other states, experts said, because the resource-laden state can easily pull it from the ground when it’s needed — usually.

Of the storage that the state does have, the resources are somewhat difficult to get to. Luke Jackson, another natural gas analyst for S&P Global Platts, said that physically withdrawing stored natural gas is slower than the immediate, ready supply of lines from production and is insufficient to make up for the dramatic declines in production.

Some power plants were already offline before the crisis began, adding to the problems, experts said. ERCOT anticipated 4 gigawatts of maintenance outages during the winter. Power plants in Texas usually do maintenance and updates to their plants during the typically mild winter months in preparation for the extreme electricity and power demand during the summer. That, too, is straining the grid’s supply.

Another winter problem: heating homes and hospitals by burning natural gas.

“In the summer, you don’t have as much direct burning of natural gas,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, pointing out that during peak usage in the summer months, the demand is all for electricity.

The last time the state experienced a major freeze like this was a decade ago, in 2011. At that time, too, natural gas generation experienced difficulties — had ERCOT not reduced load through the rolling blackouts implemented during that storm, it would have resulted in widespread blackouts throughout the entire region, a federal report on the storm warned.

It is possible to “winterize” natural gas power plants, natural gas production and wind turbines, experts said, which prevents such major interruptions in other states with more regular extreme winter weather. But even after upgrades were made after the 2011 winter storm, many Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent these sorts of disruptions happening to the equipment, experts said.

ERCOT directors also said that the storm this week took a turn in the early morning hours of Monday, when extremely low temperatures forced many more generators offline than ERCOT had anticipated.

“It appeared that the winterization we were doing was working, but this weather was more extreme than [past storms],” Woodfin said. “The loss of generation during the morning of Monday, after midnight, was really the part that made this a more extreme event than we had planned.”

Upgrading equipment to withstand extremely low temperatures and other changes, such as providing incentives for customers to conserve power or upgrade to smart appliances, could help avoid disasters like this one, said Le Xie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M University and assistant director of energy digitization at A&M’s Energy Institute.

“We used to not worry too much about such extreme cold weather in places like Texas, but we probably need to get ready for more in the future,” Xie said. With climate change, he said, “We’re going to have more extreme weather conditions throughout the country.”

Jolie McCullough contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

The history of ERCOT: How Texas became the only state with ...

24-02-2021 · The history of ERCOT: How Texas became the only state with its own power grid Texas. by: Faysal Aalen, Russell Falcon. Posted: Feb 24, 2021 / 03:06 PM CST / …

24-02-2021


AUSTIN (KXAN) — This month’s devastating winter storm and the mass power outages it brought have shoved the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages most of the state’s power flow, under a big national spotlight.

The long-lasting outages resulted in millions of Texans being in the cold and dark for days. Now, ERCOT may face long-lasting changes as a result of the mismanagement of the state’s power grid.

In the late 1800s, utility companies throughout Texas were formed to generate electricity for ice plants. Those companies then began to sell their excess electricity to businesses and homes around their facility.

But in 1935, Congress passed the Federal Power Act. That legislation gave the federal government the authority to regulate the transfer of electricity between the states.

That’s when the utility companies in Texas all came to an agreement that they would not send any power out of the state. Those independent utility companies later formed alliances during World War Two when there was a need for more power along the Gulf Coast.

This led to the creation of the Texas Interconnected System in 1941 — which allowed for any excess generation to be transferred to the Gulf Coast region.

In 1965, came the worst power outage in U.S. history. While it didn’t impact Texas, it did prompt a national policy change: new federal regulations were introduced to ensure the reliability of the nation’s power grid.

Those new regulations led the Texas Interconnected System to form the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, otherwise known as ERCOT in 1970.

Five years later, the Texas state legislature created the Public Utility Commission, which would now have oversight of all the electric utilities in Texas.

ERCOT’s role in Texas later grew under then-Governor George W. Bush. State lawmakers at the time were considering moving both electricity and telecommunications into a competitive market. The goal was to ultimately provide lower prices to customers throughout the state.

ERCOT was appointed to facilitate the power flows and exchanges between emerging utilities and became the country’s first independent system operator, otherwise known as an ISO in 1996.

Now, in the wake of the internationally recognized energy failures, ERCOT’s leadership and structure faces in-house and also independent, regulated changes. On Wednesday, it was revealed that five board directors who don’t live in Texas — a large point of contention — had resigned, leaving no members of the board who aren’t residents of the Lone Star State.

In their resignation letter, the collective wrote, in part: “We want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of Texans during this past week. Our hearts go out to all Texans who have had to go without electricity, heat, and water during frigid temperatures and continue to face the tragic consequences of this emergency… We want what is best for ERCOT and Texas.”

On Thursday, state lawmakers will question ERCOT leadership at a series of hearings as a prelude to a larger investigation to figure out what happened and how.

Texas Blackouts: Why Millions Lost Power in Storm, What ...

18-02-2021 · The irony of blaming wind turbines for the power outages in Texas is that extreme weather events are made worse by climate change, which is fueled by burning coal and natural gas. In …

18-02-2021

Almost half a million Texans are still without power Thursday as arctic weather continues to pummel the state. The blackout, which affected a few million residents at its peak, is among the largest in US history.

"We know millions of people are suffering," Bill Magness, the president of Texas' electric-grid manager, ERCOT, said in a statement Wednesday. "We have no other priority than getting them electricity."

ERCOT said it made "significant progress" Wednesday night, but outages are expected to continue through the week. About 490,000 customers are without power as of Thursday morning, according to an outage tracking site.

Misinformation spread online on Tuesday as some conservative groups and lawmakers falsely blamed the blackouts on frozen wind turbines that quit generating power. In reality, thermal energy sources that went offline, such as natural-gas plants, contributed more to the problem.

But the drop in the energy supply is just part of the reason so many people in Texas lost power this week. Here's what you need to know.

winter storm snow texas
A man walking in a neighborhood without electricity in Pflugerville, Texas.
Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman/USA Today Network via Reuters

The simple reason that millions lost power: A gap between supply and demand

A major winter storm that hit Texas over the long weekend caused two important things to happen: Sources of electricity, like natural-gas plants, went offline, and demand for the energy they produce went up as people across the state turned on heaters to stay warm.

That caused a massive shortfall in energy.

The organization that manages most of Texas' grid, known as ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, responded by cutting power to millions of homes in chunks, to limit the time any one household was dark. These so-called rolling blackouts are similar to what happened in California last year, also during extreme weather.

On Thursday morning, 40 gigawatts of electricity were offline in ERCOT's territory, down from 46 gigawatts Wednesday. This is one of the largest shortfalls in energy supply in modern US history, Patrick Milligan, a manager and power expert at the consulting firm ICF, told Insider.

Most of the supply that went offline was coal and natural gas, not wind

About 60% of the energy sources offline in Texas on Wednesday and Thursday were thermal — that is, power plants that run on coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy — while the rest was from solar and wind farms, ERCOT said.

Cold weather is the obvious culprit: All different kinds of power plants in Texas, not just wind turbines, have trouble operating in arctic weather as their instruments freeze. In fact, earlier this week, wind farms were overperforming forecasts, said Rebecca Miller, a research manager at Wood Mackenzie who tracks output across the state.

It can be more difficult to pump natural gas out of the ground or transport it to power plants in freezing conditions. What's more, utilities have prioritized sending natural gas to homes for heating instead of to power plants, Miller said.

A wind farm in TExas
Wind turbines in Loraine, Texas.
Nick Oxford/Reuters

There are less obvious drivers behind the Texas blackouts

The US is made up of three major electric grids, and one of them overlaps almost entirely with Texas.

In other words, Texas essentially has its own grid.

That can exacerbate a situation like this by making it harder for Texas to draw power from other regions that aren't under the same weather-related stress, said Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at Georgia Tech who studies large infrastructure.

"The entire grid of Texas is subjected to this emergency condition at once," Grubert said. "That's a lot of pressure to be putting on a grid that doesn't have access to other areas that aren't under those conditions."

But other issues were at play, such as a lack of preparedness — on the sides of both supply and demand.

Homeowners weren't told to do much to conserve energy, Miller said. Meanwhile, power plants weren't properly weatherized.

Take wind turbines: They have no problem operating in much colder states than Texas. Minnesota and Iowa, for example, have large wind farms, but they don't suffer blackouts when temperatures plunge to single digits.

"Wind can operate perfectly in cold weather," Milligan said.

Like natural-gas and coal-fired power plants, wind turbines can be weatherized to withstand tough winter conditions. But weatherization costs money, and turbines in Texas generally aren't equipped for cold weather.

"Why would you have a snowplow in Austin? That kind of same thinking applies to the power plants," Grubert said.

It didn't have to get this bad

This isn't the first time Texas has been hit by an arctic burst. In 2011, around the Super Bowl, cold weather swept through the state, plunging millions of people into darkness.

That's left many people wondering: Why didn't energy producers and regulators do more to prepare for this cold spell?

That summer, a federal report recommended things like weatherization to prevent supply from going offline in the future, the Houston Chronicle reported.

But a lot of that advice wasn't followed, Milligan said, partly because it wasn't enforceable and there was no mechanism in place to pay for it. Weatherization is expensive, he said.

Plus, Texas' energy market is deregulated, and suppliers there try to produce energy as cheaply as possible, Milligan added.

"The generators are not really incentivized to undertake these kinds of [weatherization] investments," Milligan said.

It would have been hard to completely prevent these blackouts, experts told Insider; this kind of weather really is unusual for Texas. But they said the effects would not have been so devastating if companies had done more to prepare.

texas weather
A car driving on snow- and sleet-covered roads in Spring, Texas.
David J. Phillip/AP

More blackouts are coming if we don't do more to prepare

The irony of blaming wind turbines for the power outages in Texas is that extreme weather events are made worse by climate change, which is fueled by burning coal and natural gas. In theory, wind and solar farms offset emissions spewed into the atmosphere, lessening the impact of climate change.

"Can you expect more extremes? Yes," Grubert said. "In terms of what that means for the grid, that's a question that we as a society will have to grapple with."

It's important not only to prevent outages outright but to ensure that we have ways to keep people safe when the grid goes down, she said.

"Even if the energy system had stayed up, there would have been a lot of people in trouble during this event," she said, such as those who may not have access to heat.

The importance of managing demand, such as through measures that make buildings more energy-efficient, also can't be overstated, she said.

Winter storm texas
Power lines in Fort Worth.
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

When power will be restored and what happens next

The outages are likely to continue through the week as a second winter storm brings freezing rain and sleet to the state.

"We are anticipating another cold front this evening which could increase the demand," Dan Woodfin, the senior director of system operations at ERCOT, said in a statement on Wednesday morning. "The ability to restore more power is contingent on more generation coming back online."

Gov. Greg Abbott has called the blackout event "unacceptable" and said he would add the reform of ERCOT as an emergency item for the 2021 legislative session.

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Abbott said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also launched a task force to investigate the outages in Texas and elsewhere in the US.

EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond

20-04-2021 · WHY WASN’T THE STATE PREPARED? Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather — it’s done routinely in colder, northern states. The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators ...

20-04-2021

DALLAS (AP) — The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather’s seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist.

This isn’t just happening in Texas, of course. Utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires.

But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.

WHAT HAPPENED IN TEXAS?

Plunging temperatures caused Texans to turn up their heaters, including many inefficient electric ones. Demand spiked to levels normally seen only on the hottest summer days, when millions of air conditioners run at full tilt.

The state has a generating capacity of about 67,000 megawatts in the winter compared with a peak capacity of about 86,000 megawatts in the summer. The gap between the winter and summer supply reflects power plants going offline for maintenance during months when demand typically is less intense and there’s not as much energy coming from wind and solar sources.

But planning for this winter didn’t imagine temperatures cold enough to freeze natural gas supply lines and stop wind turbines from spinning. By Wednesday, 46,000 megawatts of power were offline statewide — 28,000 from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants and 18,000 from wind and solar, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

“Every one of our sources of power supply underperformed,” Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, tweeted. “Every one of them is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events in different ways. None of them were adequately weatherized or prepared for a full realm of weather and conditions.”

The staggering imbalance between Texas’ energy supply and demand also caused prices to skyrocket from roughly per megawatt hour to ,000 per megawatt hour in the state’s freewheeling wholesale power market.

That raised questions whether some power generators who buy in the wholesale market may have had a profit motive to avoid buying more natural gas and simply shut down instead.

“We can’t speculate on people’s motivations in that way,” said Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT. He added he had been told by generators that they were doing everything possible to provide power.

WHY WASN’T THE STATE PREPARED?

Gas-fired plants and wind turbines can be protected against winter weather — it’s done routinely in colder, northern states. The issue arose in Texas after a 2011 freeze that also led to power-plant shutdowns and blackouts. A national electric-industry group developed winterization guidelines for operators to follow, but they are strictly voluntary and also require expensive investments in equipment and other necessary measures.

An ERCOT official, Dan Woodfin, said plant upgrades after 2011 limited shutdowns during a similar cold snap in 2018, but this week’s weather was “more extreme.”

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, rejected ERCOT’s claim that this week’s freeze was unforeseeable.

“That’s nonsense,” he said. “Every eight to 10 years we have really bad winters. This is not a surprise.”

In California, regulators last week ordered the state’s three major utilities to increase their power supply and potentially make plant improvements to avoid another supply shortage like the one that cropped up in California six months ago and resulted in rolling blackouts affecting about 500,000 people for a few hours at a time.

“One big difference is that leadership in California recognizes that climate change is happening, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas,” said Severin Borenstein, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley who has been studying power supply issues for more than 20 years.

WHY THE NEED FOR ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Grid operators say rolling blackouts are a last resort when power demand overwhelms supply and threatens to create a wider collapse of the whole power system.

Usually, utilities black out certain blocks or zones before cutting off power to another area, then another. Often areas with hospitals, fire stations, water-treatment plants and other key facilities are spared.

By rolling the blackouts, no neighborhoods are supposed to go an unfairly long period of time without power, but that was not always the case this week in Texas. Some areas never lost power, while others were blacked out for 12 hours or longer as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

WHEN DO THEY OCCUR?

Rolling blackouts are usually triggered when reserves fall below a certain level. In Texas, as in California last August, grid operators tell utilities to reduce load on the entire system, and it is up to the utilities to decide how to do that.

In Texas this week, grid operators and utilities knew about the dire weather forecast for at least a week. Last weekend they issued appeals for power conservation, and ERCOT tweeted that residents should “unplug the fancy new appliances you bought during the pandemic and only used once.”

The lighthearted attempts at humor were lost on residents, few if any of whom were told in advance when their homes would lose power. Once the outages started, some utilities were unable to provide information about how long they might last.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REDUCE ROLLING BLACKOUTS?

Start with the obvious steps: When power companies or grid operators warn about trouble coming, turn down your thermostat and avoid using major appliances. Of course, those steps are sometimes easier said than done, especially during record-breaking temperatures.

Like in other places, Texans might be more willing to adjust their thermostats a few more notches if regulators imposed a system that required households to pay higher prices during periods of peak demand and lower rates at other times.

“People turn up their furnaces now because there isn’t a financial incentive for them not to do it,” Borenstein said.

Experts also say more fundamental — and costly — changes must be made. Generators must insulate pipelines and other equipment. Investments in electricity storage and distribution would help. Tougher building codes would make homes in places like Texas better insulated against the cold.

Texas, which has a grid largely disconnected from others to avoid federal regulation, may have to rethink the go-it-alone strategy. There could be pressure for the state to require power generators to keep more plants in reserve for times of peak demand, a step it has so far resisted.

“The system as we built it is not performing to the standards we would like to see,” said Joshua Rhodes, an energy researcher at the University of Texas in Austin. “We need to do a better job. If that involves paying more for energy to have more reliability, that’s a conversation we’re going to have to have.”

___

Koenig reported from Dallas, Liedtke reported from San Ramon, California. The AP’s Paul Weber contributed to this story from Austin, Texas.

Millions of Texans left shivering in arctic cold without power

Millions of Texans left shivering in arctic cold without power. "I was afraid of not making it through the night," said one Texan who lost power for most of Monday as temperatures dropped to ...

As a record winter storm slammed across the country Monday, millions of people in Texas found themselves shivering in the dark.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid for 26 million customers, called for rolling outages to conserve power as arctic weather froze wind turbines, pushed several power plants offline and drove up demand from home heating systems.

Outages affecting more than 2 million people were initially expected to be brief, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, but many Texans reported losing power for hours.

NC_txpowerdemand0216_1920x1080.jpg

"The blackout just kept on going, and as the night progressed, the temperatures just started getting lower," said Esteban Ramirez, 19, a college student from Del Rio, west of San Antonio, on the Mexican border. He huddled with his mother and his grandparents on a sofa to stay warm after they lost power at 2:30 a.m.

At one point, he said, the temperature outside was 6 degrees.

"It was scary," he said. Power was out except for a couple of brief spurts for most of the day. His pipes froze, cutting off running water to the house, and the dim light made it difficult for his grandfather to get his medication, he said.

"It was my first time experiencing something like this," he said. "I was afraid of not making it through the night."

Eithan Colindres wears a winter coat inside after his family's apartment in the Greenspoint area of Houston lost power following an overnight snowfall on Monday.Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via AP

As lights and heaters went out across the state, some Texans hurried to wrap pipes to prevent them from bursting. Others checked on vulnerable friends and relatives to ensure their safety as temperatures dropped to levels rarely seen in that part of the country.

In the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, Aline McKenzie, 59, a science writer at UT-Southwestern Medical Center, took extra straw to keep her six chickens warm in their coop while she, her wife and their three cats stayed in front of a fireplace.

She brought a camp stove into her house to cook, she said. "My survivalist instincts are paying off," she said.

In Austin, Adria Johnson ate tortilla chips and semi-defrosted ravioli from her freezer after she lost power — and all ability to heat food — at 2 a.m.

By late afternoon, as she curled under three blankets in her apartment with her chihuahua, Bluebell, the power still hadn't come back on.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news

"It is terribly cold," she said, adding that icy roads made it dangerous to take shelter with friends. "I thought I could tough it out, but it's really, really cold."

Johnson was watching news reports that warned that her power wasn't likely to return until Tuesday and getting angry that the state's energy providers weren't more prepared.

"After this is over, I expect a reckoning about why we weren't able to anticipate this would happen," she said. "Every summer, we deal with multiple days of 100-plus temps in a row. Who would have guessed we couldn't handle a couple days of freezing temperatures?"

What went wrong with the Texas power grid?

15-02-2021 · Millions of Texans were without heat and electricity Monday as snow, ice and frigid temperatures caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s power …

15-02-2021

Millions of Texans were without heat and electricity Monday as snow, ice and frigid temperatures caused a catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid.

The Texas power grid, powered largely by wind and natural gas, is relatively well equipped to handle the state’s hot and humid summers when demand for power soars. But unlike blistering summers, the severe winter weather delivered a crippling blow to power production, cutting supplies as the falling temperatures increased demand.

Natural gas shortages and frozen wind turbines were already curtailing power output when the Arctic blast began knocking generators offline early Monday morning.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which is responsible for scheduling power and ensuring the reliability of the electrical network, declared a statewide power generation shortfall emergency and asked electricity delivery companies to reduce load through controlled outages.

More than 4 million customers were without power in Texas, including 1.4  million in the Houston area, the worst power crisis in the state in a decade. The forced outages are expected to last at least through part of Tuesday, the state grid manager said.

CenterPoint Energy, the regulated utility that delivers electricity to Houston-area homes and provides natural gas service, started rolling blackouts in the Houston region at the order of state power regulators. It said customers experiencing outages should be prepared to be without power at least through Monday.

“How long is it going to be? I don’t know the answer,” said Kenny Mercado, executive vice president at the Houston utility. “The generators are doing everything they can to get back on. But their work takes time and I don’t know how long it will take. But for us to move forward, we have got to get generation back onto the grid. That is our primary need.”

In the midst of a record-breaking winter storm, Houstonians woke up to a blanket of snow in February 2021, even on the city's busiest roads. Video: Houston Chronicle Photo Staff

Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s senior director of system operations, said the rolling blackouts are taking more power offline for longer periods than ever before. An estimated 34,000 megawatts of power generation — more than a third of the system’s total generating capacity — had been knocked offline by the extreme winter weather amid soaring demand as residents crank up heating systems.

The U.S. Energy Department, in response to an ERCOT request, issued an order late Monday authorizing power plants throughout the state to run at maximum output levels, even if it results in exceeding pollution limits.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

“The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

“For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity,” said Hirs. “If you don’t make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It’s like not taking care of your car. If you don’t change the oil and tires, you can’t expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work.”

Woodfin said ERCOT and generators followed best practices for winterization, but the severity of the weather was unprecedented — “well beyond the design parameters of an extreme Texas winter.”

The hit to power generation came as frigid weather froze wind turbines and forced outages among natural gas and other power plants. Most of the power knocked offline came from thermal sources, Woodfin said, particularly natural gas.

Natural gas supplies for electric generation are already strained in the winter, the peak season for gas used for heating, adding pressure to supplies used to generate electricity.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and natural gas in the state, said Monday afternoon that some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, were experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions, causing concern for employee safety and affecting production.

As part of its statewide response, the commissioners issued an emergency order on Friday evening to manage shortages of natural gas, requiring gas to first be delivered to residences, hospitals, schools, churches and other locations that meet human needs, then to power plants and then to industrial users.

The RRC also issued a notice asking oil and gas operators to monitor and maintain operations as safety permits.

ERCOT and utility officials called on Texans to do as much as they can to conserve energy.

“Every single watt of savings is one watt that we don’t have to go take out at somebody’s house,” Mercado said. “For those who still have power, whether it is commercial, a school, residential, if they can bring their demand for electricity down, that would help us. That is what we need for the rest of today. I want to emphasize this.”

With demand high and supplies short, wholesale electricity prices have spiked, and because of the nature of electric power contracts, those increases may be felt by consumers well after the region has thawed. Wholesale electricity sold are near the ,000-per-megawatt hour maximum in power markets across the state Monday as the system struggled to meet demand, according to ERCOT.

The system hit a new record early Monday morning of more than 69,000 megawatt hours, well above the previous winter record of about 66,000 megawatt hours set in 2018.

ERCOT entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. Monday. As the regulator calls for reductions in demand, each supplier is responsible for reducing its share of the gap by its share of the market. In the case of CenterPoint, that’s about 25 percent, ERCOT’s Woodfin said.

Oncor, which serves the Dallas area and beyond, is responsible for 36 percent.

Rotating outages could be initiated until this weather emergency ends, with Monday and Tuesday mornings at the highest risk periods for rlling blackouts, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Blackouts could last between 15 minutes and an hour and could happen more than once.

“These are not rolling blackouts. We are dealing with system-wide power outages across the state,” Turner tweeted at 8:11 a.m.

Downed power lines caused by icing could keep some customers in the cold and dark for an extended time.

Hirs said Houston residents can expect more power outages in the future.

“The year 2011 was a miserable cold snap and there were blackouts,” said Hirs. “It happened before and will continue to happen until Texas restructures its electricity market.”


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How Texas’ Power Generation Failed During the Storm, in ...

19-02-2021 · Texas’ Power Generation Took a Hit During the Storm. Natural Gas Was Hit Hardest. Power generation in Texas by fuel source. 40,000 megawatt hours. Natural gas power, the state’s top source of ...

19-02-2021

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

Power generation in Texas by fuel source

Natural gas power, the state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit during the storm.

Major winter

storm starts

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

The state’s top source of electricity, took the biggest hit.

Coal, nuclear and wind power were also disrupted.

What you need to know today about the power outages around ...

16-02-2021 · About 4.1 million across Texas are without power this morning, according to the outage tracking website PowerOutage.US. CenterPoint's website and outage tracker are …

16-02-2021
A fountain along Aldine-Westfield at Bellchase Drive following an overnight snowfall Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Spring. Temperatures plunged into the teens Monday with light snow and freezing rain.

A fountain along Aldine-Westfield at Bellchase Drive following an overnight snowfall Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Spring. Temperatures plunged into the teens Monday with light snow and freezing rain.

Brett Coomer/Staff photographer

Millions of Texans lost heat and electricity Monday as temperatures plunged into the teens with light snow and freezing rain, causing a catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid. Here's what we're facing today:

Nearly 1.4 million customers in the Houston area, or 57 percent of CenterPoint's customers, were without power this morning, the utility said. About 4.1 million across Texas are without power this morning, according to the outage tracking website PowerOutage.US.  CenterPoint's website and outage tracker are up and running after being overwhelmed Monday.

RELATED: What went wrong with the Texas power grid?

Outages to last today:

The state's grid manager said Monday that outages were expected to last through at least part of today as generators knocked out by the winter weather work to get back online.

The worst may be over:

The temperature Tuesday morning is a frigid 16 degrees in Houston, according to the National Weather Service,  but the worst seems over.  Although freezing rain is expected to hit before 5 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said new ice accumulation will be less than a tenth of an inch.

Temperatures are expected to rise into the 30s today and 40s tomorrow, which should help power plants to get back online. History shows that the ERCOT system is most vulnerable when temperatures fall below 20 degrees, according to an analysis by the energy research and pricing firm S&P Global Platts.

Supplies remain tight

Electricity on power markets was trading near the state's ,000 per megawatt hour cap this morning, according to ERCOT. Generators were providing about 47,000 megawatt hours of power, with reserves of about 1,500 megawatts, according to ERCOT's websit.  The generation, plus reserves, is about 30 percent below the peak demand before the system crashed, a sign that many power generators are still offline.

The U.S. Energy Department Monday night issued an order Monday night that allows generators to operate at maximum capacity, even if they might exceed pollution limits.

More information to come:

We are following developments as they happen. Check back to HoustonChronicle.com during the day.

Why Texas' energy grid is unable to handle the winter storms

For the Fagan Family Farms, a small independent organic produce farm in Kyle, Texas, lost produce from the cold snap was bad enough, but the power outage was …

More than 4 million Texans have lost power after a weekend storm crippled the state’s energy infrastructure.

The storm, which Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide disaster Friday, has led to at least 25 deaths, most of them in Texas, a state whose energy infrastructure was not built for weather of this magnitude. At least two are dead in a household that tried to warm up by running their car in their garage, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The crisis has made the state's energy grid the focus of fresh scrutiny, primarily due to its independence from the rest of the U.S. Critics say that allowed its infrastructure to shirk federal regulations that require cold-weather capabilities.

“This has been an extraordinary event for Texas,” said Bill Magness, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees about 90 percent of Texas’ energy production and has ordered rolling outages across the state.

“This one went from top to bottom and all the way across, with very cold temperatures, freezing rain, snow like we haven’t seen in decades,” he said in a phone interview. “We knew coming in, it would place extraordinary demands on the electric system.”

NC_txpowerdemand0216_1920x1080.jpg

CenterPoint Energy, which serves the Houston area, announced Tuesday that its directed outages, currently affecting 1.27 million people, “could last several more days.” Austin Energy, the community-owned electric utility for the state's capital, said Tuesday evening that ERCOT had ordered more outages, and that "it could be days before all customers have power."

Texas has been battered with single-digit temperatures, snow and sleet since Thursday, with more expected. The Dallas area saw temperatures below zero Tuesday, the coldest recorded temperature since 1949, with additional precipitation expected Wednesday.

Historically, Texas’ days of high energy demands are always in the summer, Magness said. “We were seeing demand forecasts that were close to a summer peak,” he said. The state’s two largest sources of energy, natural gas and nonhydroelectric renewables, such as wind turbines and solar power, were all severely hampered by the winter storm.

Conservative critics blamed the power outages on a failure of green energy, but that doesn't explain the problem. Wind and solar generate about only 21 percent of the state's electrical power. Instead, natural gas, which powers half the state's electrical generation — by far the largest source — was in use by home furnaces, and some power plants couldn't get enough.

“In the winter, it’s harder to get natural gas supplies, because they’re much more in demand for home heating and uses like that,” he said. Severe wind and snow have interfered with some natural gas equipment and frozen wind turbines, and the overcast weather has drastically slowed solar panel production, he said.

The problems are exacerbated because Texas, the largest energy producer and consumer in the United States, is the only state to use its own power grid. That frees it from federal regulations, including ones that could have required it to be better prepared for a freak cold snap, said Peter Fox-Penner, the founder of Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy.

“Texas’ deregulatory philosophy has caused them to put much less stringent rules on generators and system operators to be prepared for cold weather than other systems, where extreme cold is more common,” he said in an interview.

“They believed that this kind of ‘perfect storm’ was so unlikely that they didn’t need to require the system to prepare for it,” Fox-Penner said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which despite its name regulates the oil and natural gas industry in the state but not any railroads, said that the weather had stopped fossil fuel production in some parts of the state.

"Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, have reported experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production," the Commission announced Monday.

The one-two punch of the storm and sudden power outages have caused wide-reaching damage across the state.

For the Fagan Family Farms, a small independent organic produce farm in Kyle, Texas, lost produce from the cold snap was bad enough, but the power outage was devastating. They had about ,000 worth of lettuce growing in the electrically heated growhouse, owner Shawn Fagan said — about a fifth of his annual business — and that's now all lost.

"I had the next generation growing in the growhouse,” he said by phone. “Not only do I not have anything in the field, I don't have anything to put in the field now.”

How the Texas power grid failed and what could stop it ...

17-02-2021 · While the state scrambles to restore power, questions are arising about why Texas was so ill-equipped, and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again.

17-02-2021
Karla Perez and Esperanza Gonzalez warm up by a barbecue grill during power outage caused by the winter storm on February 16, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather, power outages and traffic accidents to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation.

Millions in Texas are still in the dark following the deadly winter storm that caused the state's worst blackouts in decades, leaving households without power as temperatures dropped to record lows.

While the state scrambles to restore power, questions are arising about why Texas was so ill-equipped, and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again. 

A confluence of factors led to the historic blackouts, and officials are already calling for investigations into the chain of events.

Looking forward, experts say there are a number of steps the state can take to combat future issues, including weatherizing equipment and increasing reserve margins.

"We need to better realize how vulnerable our energy systems are — both electricity and the vulnerability of electricity and natural gas systems together," said Daniel Cohan, associate professor at Rice University. "This is going to take some regrouping and there's not going to be a single step. We're going to need a portfolio of steps."

The storm dumped snow and ice across the Midwest and South, taking power production offline just as consumers turned up their thermostats amid the frigid temperatures.

No power source was immune — coal, natural gas, crude, wind and solar production all dipped. Pipeline freezes impeded the flow of natural gas and crude oil. The outages were concentrated in Texas as the grid was forced to shed load, unable to keep pace with the spike in demand. At one point, more than four million people were without power.

"It was a black swan event from the demand side and supply side, and the freeze-off created this supply issue," said Michael Bradley, managing director at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. He noted that equipment freezing is not a headline event.

However, over the weekend all 254 Texas counties were placed under weather advisory warnings, which is rare. Typically if a cold front hits one area, production moves elsewhere. That wasn't possible this time around, and icy roads meant equipment couldn't be serviced.

Vehicles move on a snow-capped road in Houston, Texas, Feb. 15, 2021.

Of course, power equipment operates in places that are much colder than Texas, so one step that can be taken would be to winterize equipment. The state is used to extreme heat and drought, but its infrastructure simply is not equipped to operate in extreme cold. 

"They have the infrastructure in place that meets the needs 99.9% of the time," said Rebecca Babin, senior equity trader at CIBC Private Wealth. "On these tail events, they're really ill equipped. They're not incentivized to invest in the infrastructure to make those improvements."

Texas has a stand-alone power grid that's deregulated.

The majority of the state's power is controlled by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is known as ERCOT. It's a competitive pricing market, meaning it trades on supply and demand. Companies are trying to bring the cheapest form of energy to the market, which can come at the expense of building out more reliable infrastructure systems.

"Texas has chosen to operate its power grid as an island," noted Rice University's Cohan, which means the state can't import power from other states when it's most needed. He added that the impacts are also felt in the fall and spring, when Texas has an abundance of power that it can't export.

The severity of the storm was underestimated, including by ERCOT.

Ahead of the inclement weather ERCOT estimated how much power it would need under various scenarios, but the reality exceeded even its extreme forecast. "The magnitude of the forecast error was massive," said consulting firm ICF International. 

ERCOT does have a reserve margin — the amount of excess supply needed to meet peak power demand — but since the market is unregulated companies don't want to shoulder the cost. Raising the reserve margin would mean that crises of this magnitude could potentially be avoided down the line. While it would be difficult to force an increase in the reserve margin, incentives could spur adoption.

Matt Breidert, portfolio manager at Ecofin, called the Texas grid a "Wild West" market designed based on short-run prices. Were Texas connected to the broader grid, "it might have a more stable resource portfolio to handle this event."

With utilities scrambling to keep the lights on, power prices are surging across Texas as contractual obligations force companies to buy at any price.

CIBC's Babin noted that Texas' unregulated market is exacerbating the price swings as energy producers are forced to buy megawatts in the open market. 

Some of the heightened cost could end up on Texas consumers' utility bills. Companies such as Griddy — which gives consumers access to wholesale electricity prices — have outlined ways for its users to switch power providers in an effort to shield them from volatile price swings.

"The power price is usually about , , per megawatt hour, and because of extreme events, the price of power hit the ,000 cap. That's very extreme," said Ron Silvestri, senior analyst at Neuberger Berman.

Natural gas prices jumped 3% on Wednesday, after surging more than 7% on Tuesday. For the month, prices are up 26%. While the impact on oil prices has been more muted, West Texas Intermediate crude futures traded around a 13-month high on Wednesday.

Customers wait in line to enter Frontier Fiesta on February 17, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Some have pointed fingers at renewables as causing the blackouts, but in reality the vast majority of the outages stemmed from issues with natural gas production.

That said, solar and wind also went offline as frozen blades made wind turbines inoperable. 

But in the wake of the disaster the role of renewables within Texas' energy mix will likely be reevaluated.

Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.'s Bradley said that he believes there will be a slowdown on the adoption of renewables in favor of more natural gas buildout. While renewables weren't the root cause here, they're an intermittent power source, which means they can't ramp up operations at will. Natural gas and coal, on the other hand, can.

Energy storage is the key to making renewables a more dependable power alternative, and Neuberger Berman's Silvestri said that the Texas blackouts could also lead to faster buildout of storage options.

They have the infrastructure in place that meets the needs 99.9% of the time. On these tail events, they're really ill equipped. They're not incentivized to invest in the infrastructure to make those improvements.

"Grid-level storage adds resiliency when power generation capabilities are mitigated," said analysts at research firm Baird. "Furthermore, both solar and storage provide grid operators with additional functionality such as peak power shedding and/or shifting."

Demand response programs are another way for companies to monitor the grid especially as greater adoption of renewable energy impacts the available supply. Making the grid smarter can help utility companies have an accurate view of the current supply and demand picture, while demand response systems can act as a controlled way to curb usage.

"The central idea is that power consumption can be temporarily curtailed in times of peak demand, but instead of doing it disruptively as is the case with load-shedding, it is done in a controlled manner," noted analysts from Raymond James.

As millions remain without power and with more inclement weather on the way, regulators are calling for investigations into what happened.

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. "Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable."

Texas isn't the only state to be plagued by power outages in recent memory.

Over the summer California was plagued by blackouts, and while the causes are much different this time around, the instances demonstrate the fragility of the grid. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, and with more being demanded of the grid — including electric vehicles — the infrastructure is strained.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct that some power grid outside of Texas also are deregulated.

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No, frozen wind turbines aren’t to blame for Texas’ power ...

17-02-2021 · No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages. Lost wind power was expected to be a fraction of winter generation. All sources — from natural gas, to nuclear, to ...

17-02-2021

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Frozen wind turbines in Texas caused some conservative state politicians to declare Tuesday that the state was relying too much on renewable energy. But in reality, the wind power was expected to make up only a fraction of what the state had planned for during the winter.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas projected that 80% of the grid's winter capacity, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power.

An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said Tuesday afternoon that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation, mostly wind generation, were offline. Nearly double that, 30 gigawatts, had been lost from thermal sources, which includes gas, coal and nuclear energy.

By Wednesday, those numbers had changed as more operators struggled to operate in the cold: 45 gigawatts total were offline, with 28 gigawats from thermal sources and 18 gigawatts from renewable sources, ERCOT officials said.

“Texas is a gas state,” said Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

While Webber said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis, the natural gas industry is most notably producing significantly less power than normal.

“Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Webber said.

Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, echoed that sentiment Tuesday.

“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” he said during a Tuesday call with reporters.

Still, some have focused their blame on wind power.

“This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source,” U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn’t there when you need it.”

He went on to note the shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Bay City because of the cold and finally got to what energy experts say is the biggest culprit, writing, “Low Supply of Natural Gas: ERCOT planned on 67GW from natural gas/coal, but could only get 43GW of it online. We didn’t run out of natural gas, but we ran out of the ability to get natural gas. Pipelines in Texas don’t use cold insulation —so things were freezing.”

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, known for his right-wing Facebook posts that have, in the past, spread misinformation and amplified conspiracy theories, also posted an unvarnished view of wind energy on Facebook: “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas."

In another post, Miller was even more forthright, but also misleading. “Insult added to injury: Those ugly wind turbines out there are among the main reasons we are experiencing electricity blackouts,” he wrote. “Isn’t that ironic? ... So much for the unsightly and unproductive, energy-robbing Obama Monuments. At least they show us where idiots live.”

While wind power skeptics claimed the week’s freeze means wind power can’t be relied upon, wind turbines — like natural gas plants — can be “winterized,” or modified to operate during very low temperatures. Experts say that many of Texas’ power generators have not made those investments necessary to prevent disruptions to equipment since the state does not regularly experience extreme winter storms.

It’s estimated that of the grid’s total winter capacity, about 80% of it, or 67 gigawatts, could be generated by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power. Only 7% of ERCOT’s forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, was expected to come from various wind power sources across the state.

Production of natural gas in the state has plunged due to the freezing conditions, making it difficult for power plants to get the fuel necessary to run the plants. Natural gas power plants usually don’t have very much fuel storage on site, experts said. Instead, the plants rely on the constant flow of natural gas from pipelines that run across the state from areas like the oil and natural gas-producing Permian Basin in West Texas to major demand centers like Houston and Dallas.

Gov. Greg Abbott specified that fossil fuel sources were contributing to the problems with the grid when describing the situation Monday afternoon.

“The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen. This includes the natural gas & coal generators,” he wrote in a tweet.

Heather Zichal, CEO of the industry group the American Clean Power Association, said opponents of renewable energy were trying to distract from the failures elsewhere in the system and slow the “transition to a clean energy future.”

“It is disgraceful to see the longtime antagonists of clean power — who attack it whether it is raining, snowing or the sun is shining — engaging in a politically opportunistic charade, misleading Americans to promote an agenda that has nothing to do with restoring power to Texas communities,” she said.

Matthew Watkins contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Facebook and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

colors-newyork.com

When did Texas lose power? February 2011 Why is Texas power bill so high? One megawatt-hour is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity used by 330 homes for one hour. In sum, the sky-high electric bills in Texas are partly due to a deregulated electricity system that allowed volatile wholesale costs to be passed […]

February 2011

Why is Texas power bill so high?

One megawatt-hour is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity used by 330 homes for one hour. In sum, the sky-high electric bills in Texas are partly due to a deregulated electricity system that allowed volatile wholesale costs to be passed directly to some consumers.

Who controls Texas grid?

Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Where does Texas get its electricity?

Generation, Demand and Capacity. Early power plants produced electricity primarily from coal, steam or hydroelectric energy. Today, Texas still generates electricity from some of these traditional sources but increasingly relies on natural gas as well as renewable resources, primarily wind.

Why did Texas wind turbines freeze?

It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system. While Webber said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis, the natural gas industry is most notably producing significantly less power than normal.

Why did natural gas fail in Texas?

Of all energy sources, gas generation fell most sharply, in large part because of a reduction of gas supplies after freeze-offs, which began a few days earlier and got worse as temperatures continued to plummet.

Where does most of Texas power come from?

Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of energy in Texas’ power grid. In 2015, wind power generation supplied 11% of Texas’ energy grid. Last year it supplied 23% of the system’s power, surpassing coal as the second-largest source of energy. But natural gas still leads the way in the state.

Who is the largest power generation company in Texas?

Vistra Energy

Who owns the wind turbines in Texas?

RWE

How much of Texas Power is from wind?

20%

Which state has most wind turbines?

Texas

What percentage of Texas electricity comes from solar?

Wind power accounted for 23 percent of the total share, while nuclear and solar produced 11 and 2 percent respectively. All of these sources appear to have been affected.

Did the wind turbines freeze in Texas?

Critics of green energy in the United States have blamed the failure of wind turbines for the power shortages in Texas during the recent freezing conditions there. “The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died,” said Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.

Who appoints ercot?

governor of Texas

How long do wind turbines take to pay for themselves?

Depending on the size and capacity, some turbines are able to pay for themselves within a period of 10-15 years. The average wind turbine can offer a net benefit to its owner in as little as 5 months from the time of installation.

What state has most wind turbines?

How close was Texas to a blackout?

4 Minutes And 37 Seconds

Why did ercot fail?

The inability of power plants and other energy resources to maintain a competitive market resulted in a billion economic burden, which Texas will carry for the next few decades. The most crucial factor for the wholesale breakdown of ERCOT, according to Gilbert, is the failure of system and grid planning.

Why a predictable cold snap crippled the Texas power grid ...

21-02-2021 · Why a predictable cold snap crippled the Texas power grid. By Tim McLaughlin, Stephanie Kelly. 10 Min Read (This February 20 story refiles to fix reference to celsius temperature in fourth graph ...

21-02-2021

By Tim McLaughlin, Stephanie Kelly

(This February 20 story refiles to fix reference to celsius temperature in fourth graph from bottom)

FILE PHOTO: An electrical substation is seen after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, U.S. February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura/File Photo

(Reuters) - As Texans cranked up their heaters early Monday to combat plunging temperatures, a record surge of electricity demand set off a disastrous chain reaction in the state’s power grid.

Wind turbines in the state’s northern Panhandle locked up. Natural gas plants shut down when frozen pipes and components shut off fuel flow. A South Texas nuclear reactor went dark after a five-foot section of uninsulated pipe seized up. Power outages quickly spread statewide - leaving millions shivering in their homes for days, with deadly consequences.

It could have been far worse: Before dawn on Monday, the state’s grid operator was “seconds and minutes” away from an uncontrolled blackout for its 26 million customers, its CEO has said. Such a collapse occurs when operators lose the ability to manage the crisis through rolling blackouts; in such cases, it can take weeks or months to fully restore power to customers.

Monday was one of the state’s coldest days in more than a century - but the unprecedented power crisis was hardly unpredictable after Texas had experienced a similar, though less severe, disruption during a 2011 cold snap. Still, Texas power producers failed to adequately winter-proof their systems. And the state’s grid operator underestimated its need for reserve power capacity before the crisis, then moved too slowly to tell utilities to institute rolling blackouts to protect against a grid meltdown, energy analysts, traders and economists said.

Early signs of trouble came long before the forced outages. Two days earlier, for example, the grid suddenly lost 539 megawatts (MW) of power, or enough electricity for nearly 108,000 homes, according to operational messages disclosed by the state’s primary grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

The crisis stemmed from a unique confluence of weaknesses in the state’s power system.

Texas is the only state in the continental United States with an independent and isolated grid. That allows the state to avoid federal regulation - but also severely limits its ability to draw emergency power from other grids. ERCOT also operates the only major U.S. grid that does not have a capacity market - a system that provides payments to operators to be on standby to supply power during severe weather events.

After more than 3 million ERCOT customers lost power in a February 2011 freeze, federal regulators recommended that ERCOT prepare for winter with the same urgency as it does the peak summer season. They also said that, while ERCOT’s reserve power capacity looked good on paper, it did not take into account that many generation units could get knocked offline by freezing weather.

“There were prior severe cold weather events in the Southwest in 1983, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2010,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp staff summarized after investigating the state’s 2011 rolling blackouts. “Extensive generator failures overwhelmed ERCOT’s reserves, which eventually dropped below the level of safe operation.”

ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko did not comment in detail about the causes of the power crisis but said the grid’s leadership plans to re-evaluate the assumptions that go into its forecasts.

The freeze was easy to see coming, said Jay Apt, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.

“When I read that this was a black-swan event, I just have to wonder whether the folks who are saying that have been in this business long enough that they forgot everything, or just came into it,” Apt said. “People need to recognize that this sort of weather is pretty common.”

This week’s cold snap left 4.5 million ERCOT customers without power. More than 14.5 million Texans endured a related water-supply crisis as pipes froze and burst. About 65,000 customers remained without power as of Saturday afternoon, even as temperatures started to rise, according to website PowerOutage.US.

State health officials have linked more than two dozen deaths to the power crisis. Some died from hypothermia or possible carbon monoxide poisoning caused by portable generators running in basements and garages without enough ventilation. Officials say they suspect the death count will rise as more bodies are discovered.

THIN POWER RESERVE

In the central Texas city of Austin, the state capital, the minimum February temperature usually falls between 42 and 48 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 9 degrees Celsius). This past week, temperatures fell as low as 6 degrees Fahrenheit (-14 degrees Celsius).

In November, ERCOT assured that the grid was prepared to handle such a dire scenario.

“We studied a range of potential risks under both normal and extreme conditions, and believe there is sufficient generation to adequately serve our customers,” said ERCOT’s manager of resource adequacy, Pete Warnken, in a report that month.

Warnken could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Under normal winter conditions, ERCOT forecast it would have about 16,200 MW of power reserves. But under extreme conditions, it predicted a reserve cushion of only about 1,350 MW. That assumed only 23,500 MW of generation outages. During the peak of this week’s crisis, more than 30,000 MW was forced off the grid.

Other U.S. grid operators maintain a capacity market to supply extra power in extreme conditions - paying operators on an ongoing basis, whether they produce power or not. Capacity market auctions determine, three years in advance, the price that power generators receive in exchange for being on emergency standby.

Instead, ERCOT relies on a wholesale electricity market, where free market pricing provides incentives for generators to provide daily power and to make investments to ensure reliability in peak periods, according to economists. The system relied on the theory that power plants should make high profits when energy demand and prices soar - providing them ample money to make investments in, for example, winterization. The Texas legislature restructured the state’s electric market in 1999.

LOOMING CRISIS

Since 2010, ERCOT’s reserve margin - the buffer between generation capacity versus forecasted demand - has dropped to about 10% from about 20%. This has put pressure on generators during demand spikes, making the grid less flexible, according to North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit regulator.

That thin margin for error set off alarms early Monday morning among energy traders and analysts as they watched a sudden drop in the electrical frequency of the Texas grid. One analyst compared it to watching the pulse of a hospital patient drop to life-threatening levels.

Too much of a drop is catastrophic because it would trigger automatic relay switches to disconnect power sources from the grid, setting off uncontrolled blackouts statewide. Dan Jones, an energy analyst at Monterey LLC, watched from his home office in Delaware as the grid’s frequency dropped quickly toward the point that would trigger the automatic shutdowns.

“If you’re not in control, and you are letting the equipment do it, that’s just chaos,” Jones said.

By Sunday afternoon about 3:15 p.m. (CST), ERCOT’s control room signaled it had run out of options to boost electric generation to match the soaring demand. Operators issued a warning that there was “no market solution” for the projected shortage, according to control room messages published by ERCOT on its website.

Adam Sinn, president of Houston-based energy trading firm Aspire Commodities, said ERCOT waited far too long to start telling utilities to cut customers’ power to guard against a grid meltdown. The problems, he said, were readily apparent several days before Monday.

“ERCOT was letting the system get weaker and weaker and weaker,” Sinn said in an interview. “I was thinking: Holy shit, what is this grid operator doing? He has to cut load.”

Sinn said he started texting his friends on Sunday night, warning them to expect widespread outages.

‘SECONDS AND MINUTES’

Early Monday morning, one of the largest sources of electricity in the state - the unit 1 reactor at the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station - stopped producing power after the small section of pipe froze in temperatures that averaged 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). The grid lost access to 1,350 MW of nuclear power - enough to power about 270,000 homes - after automatic sensors detected the frozen pipe and protectively shut down the reactor, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

About 2:30 a.m. (CST), the South Plains Electric Cooperative in Lubbock said it received a phone call from ERCOT to cut power to its customers. Inside the ERCOT control room, staff members scrambled to call utilities and cooperatives statewide to tell them to do the same, according to operational messages disclosed by the grid operator.

Three days later, ERCOT Chief Executive Bill Magness acknowledged that the grid operator had only narrowly avoided the calamity of uncontrolled blackouts.

“If we hadn’t taken action,” he said on Thursday, “it was seconds and minutes (away), given the amount of generation that was coming off the system at the same time that the demand was still going up.”

colors-newyork.com

Where did Texas lose power? Millions Lose Power In Texas, Northern Mexico As Blackouts And Bitter Cold Continue. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to almost 4 million people and shut down airports and roads. What parts of Texas are […]

Millions Lose Power In Texas, Northern Mexico As Blackouts And Bitter Cold Continue. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to almost 4 million people and shut down airports and roads.

What parts of Texas are without power?

Most outages are in Bell County, which has around 22,000, followed by Dallas County with 17,000. Angelina and Tarrant counties both have about 12,000 outages and there are 10,000 in Nacogdoches County. Oncor said that at 7 p.m. local time on Thursday approximately 145,000 customers were without power.

Why does Texas have its own grid?

An aversion to federal regulation was one of the main reasons that Texas energy companies opted for a power grid that didn’t cross state lines. Texas has resisted regulation in major court cases.

Is ercot regulated?

ERCOT is regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature, an agency that regulates the state’s “electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities.” The Public Utility Commission is a a three-member panel appointed by the governor — as well as by the Legislature.

What is the salary of the ercot CEO?

Executives Listed on Filing

Name Title Total Salary
William Magness BOARD MEMBER; PRESIDENT & CEO 4,909
Cheryl Mele SVP & COO 0,955
Jerry Dreyer SVP, & CIO 9,028
Chad Seely SVP, GENERAL COUNSEL & GOVERNANCE 9,614

How much does Bill Magness make a year?

Magness’ base salary was 3,525.93.

Why was Magness fired?

Austin, Texas — Texas’ power grid manager was fired Wednesday amid growing calls for his ouster following February’s deadly blackouts that left millions of people without electricity and heat for days in subfreezing temperatures.

Where is Bill Magness from?

Magness grew up in Orange, Texas, received his bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He and his wife are the parents of two daughters.

Do ercot members get paid?

While the average employee salary at Electric Reliability Council of Texas is ,883, there is a big variation in pay depending on the role.

Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the ...

16-02-2021 · Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the extreme cold A sudden spike in energy demand and a loss of natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy during a winter storm triggered ...

16-02-2021
The Texas Capitol is surrounded by snow on February 15 in Austin, Texas.
A sudden winter storm has triggered power outages across Texas, including its capital, Austin.
Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Winter Storm Uri chilled large areas of the western, central, and southern US over the weekend, straining the power grid in some places so badly that millions of Americans have had to go without power in temperatures below freezing.

The National Weather Service on Monday reported that 150 million Americans were under various winter storm warnings, with heavy snow and ice still likely to sweep from the southern Plains, to the Ohio Valley, to the Northeast.

Thousands of utility customers in states like Louisiana and Mississippi suffered blackouts as ice knocked out power lines.

Texans, however, may be shivering more than others, with some of the coldest temperatures in 30 years, and some of the biggest power grid problems. More than 4.2 million customers had lost power as of Tuesday morning, when temperatures dipped as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit — lower than Anchorage, Alaska — in cities like Dallas. Flights were canceled out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved a state of emergency declaration for Texas following a request from Gov. Greg Abbott.

For residents of the Lone Star State, the problem stems from both a record spike in electricity demand in a place that rarely gets this cold, as well as an unexpected drop in the supply of energy from natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, and solar sources besieged by cold and ice.

This combination of shortfalls has forced power grid operators to conduct rolling blackouts, where power is shut off to different areas for a limited period of time. Local utilities are asking customers to conserve power and set their thermostats lower. For some customers, these blackouts aren’t rolling, instead stretching on for an unknown duration. On Tuesday afternoon, grid operators told Texas legislators that outages could last for days and that they weren’t sure when the power outages would end.

In Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, health workers scrambled to distribute Covid-19 vaccines as freezers lost power and backup generators failed. The county had to hurriedly administer 8,500 doses of the Covid-19 Moderna vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures between minus 13 degrees and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Throughout the state, the National Guard has been deployed and 135 public warming centers have opened up to give people a respite from the frigid weather, although Covid-19 precautions remain in effect.

Texas’s grid crisis is a stark reminder that extreme weather events like Uri remain a threat to energy infrastructure across the country. There are, however, some unique factors in Texas that have put the state in such a precarious position. And with more frigid weather in store this week, Texans can’t come in from the cold just yet.

Why the extreme cold has the Texas power grid shaking in its boots

Unlike other states, Texas operates its own internal power grid that serves much of the state. Managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the grid provides 90 percent of the state’s electricity and serves 26 million customers.

It draws on a diverse range of power sources in a competitive market. The largest source of electricity in Texas is natural gas, followed by wind and solar, coal, then nuclear. The state is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the US.

The sudden cold snap this weekend put the state’s ample resources to the test, with demand reaching a record high peak for the winter, more than 69,000 megawatts. That’s 3,200 MW higher than the previous record set in 2018.

As demand reached new heights, the supply of electricity fell drastically in the past few days, far below what operators expected. Ordinarily, ERCOT plans for winter to be much warmer and anticipates a lower energy demand. Power providers often schedule downtime and maintenance during the winter months to prepare for the massive annual surge in electricity demand in the hot Texas summer. The state’s ample wind and solar energy resources are also diminished in the winter, so ERCOT doesn’t depend on them to meet much of the demand they anticipate.

However, the cold itself posed a direct challenge to the power sources that the state was counting on. Wind turbines iced up. Coal piles froze.

The biggest shortfall in energy production stemmed from natural gas. Gas pipelines were blocked with ice or their compressors lost power. Much of the gas that was available was prioritized for heating homes and businesses rather than generating electricity. That’s helpful for people who use gas for heating but less so for those who use electric furnaces.

The Texas power grid has not been compromised.

The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen.

This includes the natural gas & coal generators.

They are working to get generation back on line.

ERCOT & PUC are prioritizing residential consumers. https://t.co/wDiDXN17Fu

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) February 15, 2021

Wholesale natural gas prices, meanwhile, shot up as much as 4,000 percent. According to Bloomberg, electricity prices in northern Texas jumped to 0 per megawatt-hour, up from the average this month of per megawatt-hour.

In total, about 34,000 megawatts of power generation in Texas went offline during the winter blast, more than 40 percent of peak winter demand. So even with a diverse range of energy sources, Texas was left scrounging for electrons in the bitter cold.

Many parts of the country suffer outages in extreme weather, but everything is bigger in Texas

The power grid is a complex beast, but it becomes unstable when there is more energy demand than supply, which forces drastic actions like deliberate blackouts.

One question many Texans are asking is whether ERCOT should have seen a scenario like this coming and done more to prepare. ERCOT has historically been more worried about meeting peak summer demand, which can top 125,000 megawatts as hundreds of thousands of air conditioners switch on to cool during the summer heat.

However, Texas has faced cold snaps before, and the current winter storm was forecast days in advance. Some research suggests that as climate change warms the Arctic, periods of extreme winter weather may become more frequent in the United States, and cold snaps that stress the power grid may become more common. But other climate researchers are skeptical of these results and think that periods of extreme cold will become less likely as the planet warms.

ERCOT did do some modeling and planning ahead of this winter, but they used past winters as their benchmarks, which aren’t much help when the cold dips to record-breaking lows. “We studied a range of potential risks under both normal and extreme conditions, and believe there is sufficient generation to adequately serve our customers,” said Peter Warnken, manager of resource adequacy at ERCOT, in a report forecasting winter energy demand and supply in Texas.

The state was only expecting to lose about 8,600 megawatts in power generation over the winter, with a peak demand of roughly 58,000 megawatts. That forecast was far off the mark from the 34,000 megawatts that went offline and the peak of 69,000 megawatts in the recent winter storm.

Part of the problem may also be Texas’s go-it-alone approach to its electricity. “The Texas power grid is really an island,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University who has done modeling research on the state’s power systems. “Whatever happens in Texas stays in Texas.” While there are some interconnections between Texas and neighboring states, those power lines aren’t adequate to draw the power it would need to cope with such a massive shortfall.

Energy trading across states has helped cushion the blow of extreme cold in past winters, but it’s not clear that there would be much power available for Texans to buy from other states right now, as many are also coping with their own soaring energy demands and supply shortfalls.

The Texas blackouts may also be a symptom of a lack of proper upkeep. “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

And Texas isn’t the only part of the country that has struggled to stay warm in chilly winters. In 2019, a winter storm swept across the Midwest and Northeast, with spikes in electricity demand and sudden drops in natural gas production that forced people to ration heat and reduce power use.

On the other end of the spectrum, California suffered rolling blackouts last summer as energy demand surged amid record-breaking heat. California utilities also shut off power to customers to prevent the ignition of wildfires, when high winds picked up amid dry weather.

These events triggered by weather extremes can overwhelm energy systems, even for those that face such spikes and dips on a regular basis. It’s too reductive to blame any individual factor like intermittent renewable energy, fossil fuel generator shutdowns, decrepit infrastructure, or inadequate planning, though such events often become a political Rorschach test.

Rather, it’s a combination of multiple cascading failures that leaves millions of people in the dark. The hope now is that the power outages in Texas will provide important lessons and help avoid similar problems in the future. “I think this is an event that people are going to be looking back at for years,” Cohan said.

awonla.com

How much power was lost in the Texas power outage? Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold. It was a different story farther north. ...

The affluent Fort Bend county was voted the most diverse county in the country multiple times and shares the city of Houston along with neighboring Harris County According to the 2020 U.S. ... The Texas Tribune reported that the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population is the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting group in the state. ... ...[1]

What caused the blackouts in Texas?

Wind Turbines Icing Did Not Cause the Blackout. Let’s dispel some ideological myths about what caused this mess. ... Fossil Fuel Generators Failed to Winterize. ... Federal Oversight of ERCOT Would Not Have Made a Difference. ... Deregulation Did Not Contribute to the Blackout. ... Renewables and Technology Innovation Are on the Way. ... Texas Has Been to This Rodeo Before. ... ...[2]

Why do I have a power outage in my area?

Stay away from the downed power lines,park vehicles in protected areas; Unplug appliances and electronics,limit cell phone use to conserve battery life; Use portable generators outdoors only,well away from open windows and doors; Pack perishable foods into a cooler,keep refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible. ...[3]

In February 2021, the state of Texas suffered a major power crisis, which came about as a result of three severe winter storms sweeping across the United ...[4]

Why did Texas lose electricity?

In February 2021, the state of Texas suffered a major power crisis, which came about as a result of three severe winter storms sweeping across the United States on February 10–11, 13–17, and 15–20. The storms caused a massive electricity generation failure in the state of Texas, leading to shortages of water, food, and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, some for several days. At least 210 people were killed directly or indirectly, with some ... ...[5]

What caused the Texas outage?

What did the Legislature do to fix the power grid after the February crisis? ... When do changes go into effect? The state likely won’t require companies to start weatherization upgrades until 2022 at the earliest. What more could the Legislature have done to fix the grid? ... What should I do to conserve electricity? ... ...[6]

Did Houston lose power?

The Arctic blast which has crippled Texas, particularly Houston, isn't over, but things have certainly improved overnight. On Thursday morning, CenterPoint Energy showed that more than 98 percent of its customers had power and that was bumped up to 99 percent by that afternoon. ...[7]

Is Texas getting colder?

Therefore, winters in Texas are colder and receive more snowfall than normal. Texas is less likely to get impacted by hurricanes due to the increased wind shear across the Atlantic. ...[8]

Why did Texas go into a power crisis?

Record cold temperatures plunged Texas into a power crisis last week, with millions in the state losing power. The failure demonstrates the vulnerability of power grids to shifting weather patterns that come with climate change. ...[9]

How much power was lost in the Texas power outage?

Texas power plants were only able to muster up roughly 51 GW of electricity, leaving millions without power and shivering in the cold. It was a different story farther north. ...[10]

Why are millions in Texas still without power?

Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) ...[11]

Why has Texas had such devastating power shortages during winter storms?

Why has Texas had such devastating power shortages during the current winter storm? Some people, including prominent Republicans, are blaming wind power — but every power source has struggled to cope. On this winter morning, millions of people in Texas remain without power, without clean water or both. ...[12]

What caused Texas power problems?

First,some power plants may not have been operational during routine maintenance,Cohan said. ... Second,some power plants may have failed to operate in the cold,Cohan said. ... Third,some natural gas plants may not have been able to get adequate supply of gas to be converted into electricity,Cohan said. ... ...[13]

How many people are without power in Houston?

Around 1.3 million CenterPoint Energy customers are facing outages, while 1.2 million Oncor customers are without power. But Houston 's residents have taken to Twitter to share images of the city's skyline with its lights on, surrounded by residential areas in darkness. ...

How did Texas’ decision to cut power to millions affect grid?

Magness said that while the decision to cut power to millions prevented the grid from suffering catastrophic damage, he understands the toll it has taken on the state. “The amount of time that people in Texas have to be out of service for electricity, during a time of extreme cold, is terrible,” Magness said. ...

Why did the Texas power system fail in 2011?

The Texas system was simply not prepared for the cold, despite having experienced freezing temperatures in 2011 that saw gas wellheads lock up and coal plants seize up. Many power plants in the southern United States are not enclosed inside a building, with boilers and turbines exposed to the elements. ...

Is natural gas to blame for Texas' power crisis?

While he said all of Texas’ energy sources share blame for the power crisis — at least one nuclear power plant has partially shut down, most notably — the natural gas industry is producing significantly less power than normal. “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Webber said. ...[17]

Why is Texas'power grid so bad?

The regulations that govern the two electric grids that power the rest of the country reward power plants that build additional capacity for periods of excess demand. Texas does not, and the state hit dangerously low levels of reserve electricity in 2018 and 2019. ...[18]

What happened to Texas’ electricity infrastructure?

Photograph: Ralph Lauer/EPA Millions of people in Texas have spent days in below-freezing temperatures without power in what officials have called a “ total failure ” of the state’s electricity infrastructure. How did oil- and gas-rich Texas – the biggest producer of energy in the US – get here? ...[19]

Are there power outages in Texas in the winter?

With winter weather in Texas, some power outages are possible. This map tracks them across the state. text you back with helpful links. HOUSTON — We all remember what happened during the February freeze of 2021. Power was out for millions of people across the state, and more than 200 people died. ...[20]

How many people have died in the Texas power outage?

At least 210 people were killed directly or indirectly, with some estimates as high as 702 killed as a result of the crisis. State officials including governor Greg Abbott initially blamed the outages on frozen wind turbines and solar panels. ...[21]

Why did the Texas power go out for days?

By Veronica Penney Feb. 19, 2021 A huge winter storm slammed Texas earlier this week, knocking out power plants and leaving millions of residents without electricity and heat for days, amid freezing conditions. A major part of the problem: The state’s power plants were not prepared for the frigid temperatures that accompanied the storm. ...[22]

What happened to natural gas power in Texas?

Natural gas, coal and nuclear plants — which provide the bulk of Texas’ power in the winter — were knocked offline, and wind turbines froze, too. Texas’ Power Generation Took a Hit During the Storm. Natural Gas Was Hit Hardest. ...[23]

How many people are still without electricity in Texas?

Nearly 4.5 million customers went without electricity Tuesday, and by Wednesday over 3.3 million Texans still didn't have the lights turned on, according to poweroutage.us. Power outages across Texas ...

Why are there so many power outages in Texas?

Power outages across Texas have left millions of people in the dark and bitter cold this week amid an unprecedented winter storm that buried the state in snow and ice and brought single-degree temperatures. Extreme energy demand and overloaded frozen utility plants are among the factors that led to the power outages, experts said. ...

How much power has been taken offline in Texas?

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, manages about 90% of the state's power for 26 million customers. During a news conference Tuesday, representatives from ERCOT said there were 45,000 megawatts offline. Of that, 15,000 megawatts were wind and 30,000 were gas and coal. ...

Is Texas the energy capital of the world?

What's different in Texas is “how widespread this is and also that it's happening in the energy capital of the world,” Webber said. Texas is the third largest gas producer in the world after Russia and the United States. ...

Videos of Why Is Power Out In Texas?

What is causing statewide power outages in Texas? - YouTube

  • https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article256091817.html
  • https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/20/texas-power-grid-explainer-winter-weather
  • https://www.networx.com/article/what-to-do-when-the-power-goes-out-in-on
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Texas_power_crisis
  • https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/natural-gas-power-storm/
  • https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/24/texas-ercot-power-plants-offline/
  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-the-deep-freeze-caused-texas-to-lose-power/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Texas
  • https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty-research/policy-topics/environment-energy/understanding-texas-energy-grid-failure
  • https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-the-deep-freeze-caused-texas-to-lose-power/
  • https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/explainer-power-grid-failed-texas-75957608
  • https://www.npr.org/2021/02/18/968921895/what-really-caused-the-texas-power-shortage
  • https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2021/02/16/texas-weather-power-outage-rolling-blackouts-leave-millions-dark/6764764002/
  • https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/natural-gas-power-storm/
  • https://www.curbed.com/2021/02/texas-blackouts-energy-grid-failure.html
  • https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/18/why-is-texas-suffering-power-blackouts-during-the-winter-freeze
  • https://www.khou.com/article/weather/interactive-map-check-power-outages-across-the-state/285-ce71f805-afbd-4bcc-8e6a-150c3d6fa1f8
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Texas_power_crisis
  • https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/02/19/climate/texas-storm-power-generation-charts.html
  • https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/02/19/climate/texas-storm-power-generation-charts.html
As millions lose power, Texas Gov. Abbott declares ERCOT ...

15-02-2021 · Power outages: 4.1M Texans without power; check your area as energy conservation urged 4.1 million Texans are without power, as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers, …

15-02-2021

AUSTIN - As more than four million Texans face winter storms without power on Tuesday, State Gov. Greg Abbott declares the reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) an emergency item this legislative session.

The governor made the announcement on Tuesday morning.

Power outages: 4.1M Texans without power; check your area as energy conservation urged
article

4.1 million Texans are without power, as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers, representing about 90% of the state's electric load.

As the sole operator for the region, ERCOT schedules power on an electric grid that connects more than 46,500 miles of transmission lines and more than 680 generation units.

Another winter storm to impact southeast Texas: What you need to know

Gov. Abbott is calling on the legislature to investigate ERCOT and ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days.

Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?
article

Basically, Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with — you guessed it — the feds. But grid independence has been violated a few times over the years — not even counting Mexico's help during last week's blackouts.

"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours," said Gov. Abbott. "Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable."

The governor hopes that by making this an emergency item, the state legislature can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.

According to CenterPoint Energy, they were able to restart the process of rotating outages Monday night but the process was halted due to another ERCOT order to reduce electric delivery.

DOWNLOAD THE FOX 26 WEATHER APP FOR LATEST ALERTS IN YOUR AREA

How to stay warm and safe during a winter storm power outage
article

If you're one of the millions of Texans without power during the historic winter storm, there are tips to stay warm and safe during an outage.

Fact Check: Did Wealthy Areas Around Dallas Not Experience ...

17-02-2021 · Texas is in crisis mode as a winter storm has caused millions to lose power in their homes during freezing temperatures. The effects have been widely …

17-02-2021

News Fact Check Texas Power outage Dallas

Texas is in crisis mode as a winter storm has caused millions to lose power in their homes during freezing temperatures.

The effects have been widely shared on social media by those who have lost power. One user tweeted an image of icicles hanging from their apartment ceiling fan on Monday.

"I have many friends and some family members who have had no power for over 24 hours in Texas. This is infuriating. Their house inside temp down in the 20's," one user tweeted.

This is how cold it is at my Apartment.

As a Texan, yes, I'm certainly not built for this. I don't even care. pic.twitter.com/FMt8imglJp

— 𝐓𝐇𝐎𝐌𝐀𝐒 𝐁𝐋𝐀𝐂𝐊 ☩ (@ThomasBlackGG) February 16, 2021

The Claim

Multiple social media users have expressed complaints, claiming that wealthy regions of Texas have not been hit by rolling blackouts while many have suffered without power for over a day.

One Twitter user on Tuesday posted, "Hey @CityOfDallas care to explain why the wealthiest section of Dallas has not experienced any loss of power while all other areas have been down/had rolling blackouts for over 24 hours?" in a tweet that received more than 300 likes and 100 retweets.

The tweet appears to show a screenshot of the wealthy Dallas suburb of Highland Park without any power outages.

One tweet also claimed Uptown, Preston Hollow and Farmers Branch as other Dallas areas that did not lose power.

"It's so wild that this is how we're living in our minority-majority communities, but Highland Park, Uptown, Preston Hollow, and Farmers Branch never even lost power. #texaspoweroutage."

I have many friends and some family members who have had no power for over 24 hours in Texas. This is infuriating. Their house inside temp down in the 20’s.
WTH is going on?

— April in TX (@BGHeaven) February 16, 2021

The Facts

As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, almost 3 million customers were out of power in Texas, according to PowerOutage.us.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is Texas' electric grid manager that represents 90 percent of the state's electric load.

Oncor Electric Delivery (ONCOR) is the largest transmission distribution company for Texas and the largest electric service provider for Dallas. In Dallas, ONCOR's outage map on Wednesday showed more than 22,000 active outages.

Sunday night into Monday morning, ERCOT directed ONCOR to begin the rolling outages, ONCOR spokeswoman Kerri Dunn told Newsweek.

ONCOR's outage map displays both the rolling outages, which they refer to as "controlled," and the weather-related outages, according to Dunn.

"Right now, this is overall a generation issue," Dunn said.

When generation of electricity drops, there is a loss of supply, which is what has occurred in Texas over the past few days.

ERCOT gave ONCOR the directive to drop a certain amount of load, according to Dunn.

ONCOR's intentions were to rotate outages around the grid to provide relief for its customers. Some outages have lasted longer than expected because of the amount of load ONCOR has had to drop, Dunn said.

The rolling (controlled) outages are the majority of the outages displayed on ONCOR's map, according to Dunn. The location of the rolling (controlled) outages depend on how much load, which Dunn said can be understood as the energy, that ERCOT has directed ONCOR to drop.

ONCOR is primarily focusing its rolling outages on residential neighborhoods and commercial areas to avoid dropping the electricity to hospitals and critical infrastructure according to Dunn.

"It would normally be everyone gets cut off for a short period of time as we go through these rotations, but because we haven't been able to move through those rotations you're seeing them everywhere," Dunn said.

4 bricks, a terracotta pot, and some candles will heat a room for anyone who needs it.

It's so wild that this is how we're living in our minority-majority communities, but Highland Park, Uptown, Preston Hollow, and Farmers Branch never even lost power. #texaspoweroutage pic.twitter.com/mX7OaSC2Rc

— Amanda Harris (@_amanda_jean) February 16, 2021

Regarding areas hit by ONCOR's rolling outages, Dunn said, "That's decided at our operations level and at our emergency plans level. It's not looked at as far as geographical- or population-wise, it's looked at from an engineering and mathematical standpoint."

Dunn advised that looking at ONCOR's outage map by ZIP code, not by location, is more helpful to gain an accurate picture.

She said ONCOR has received reports from customers outside of Highland Park saying that they believe Highland Park still had power, which was not true.

"We're hearing from customers who are in Highland Park who looked at the map and didn't believe they saw their outage reflected accurately on the map," Dunn said.

Viewing Highland Park by ZIP code shows the region partially covered in red and yellow. That means that there are more than 1,000 customers affected by outages in the red region and about 501 to 1000 customers out in the yellow region.

Other Dallas areas that social media users alleged did not lose power are the neighborhoods of Preston Hollow and Uptown and the city of Farmers Branch.

On ONCOR's map, viewing the region of Preston Hollow by ZIP code shows that it is covered in red and green. That means more than 1,000 customers were out in the red region and 51 to 500 in the green region. Most of Uptown's region was covered in red, with more than 1,000 customers out of power. The region of Farmers Branch was entirely covered in red, with more than 1,000 customers out of power.

"We're trying to find these areas where we've had customers who are without power for longer periods of time and as soon as we have the supply to do so, we're doing everything we can to give them a moment of relief," Dunn said.

The Ruling

False.

ONCOR's power outage map shows sweeping area outages throughout the Dallas area.

Highland Park, Preston Hollow, Uptown, and Farmers Branch can be seen experiencing power outages by viewing ONCOR's map by ZIP code. The outages displayed are rolling and weather-related.

texas storm outage
Millions have been hit by power outages in the U.S. John Weast/Getty Images
Texas power crisis: ERCOT says outages could have lasted ...

17-02-2021 · Why did so many people need to lose power? If the system load wasn't kept in balance, the state was at risk of cascading, catastrophic blackouts. …

17-02-2021
AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Millions of Texans woke up Wednesday to the reality of a third straight day without heating or lights, though, we've learned a good portion of those people had power restored only to lose it.Leaders of ERCOT, the nonprofit council that oversees the power supply for more than 26 million Texans, faced questions several hours after they instructed local utilities to shed enough power to around 2.8 million households.
While they touted their efforts to quickly restore power to 600,000 customers overnight, ERCOT CEO and President Bill Magness and Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin went on the defensive over the decision to prolong outages as opposed to the rolling blackouts they said were to happen ahead of the historic statewide winter storm earlier this week.We've also learned the best and worst case scenarios the state faces in power restoration. Here are the key

When will power be restored in Texas?

Cutting straight to chase, ERCOT could not offer an exact timetable for full restoration.According to Magness, restoration depends on the amount of generation to balance demand, which has been a point repeated over the last few days.There are challenges, though, with Magness stating getting weather-impacted generators back online as soon as possible.

Why were there longer outages as opposed to rolling blackouts?


Leadership stood by their decision to start outages overnight Monday as the winter storm began statewide.They explained that if it wasn't done, it could have caused outages that lasted months.

13 INVESTIGATES: 48 hours without power a 'nightmare' as residents demand answers


Why did so many people need to lose power?

If the system load wasn't kept in balance, the state was at risk of cascading, catastrophic blackouts. Those are much more serious than even what we've seen, because they put the critical operations, such as hospitals, police, and emergency response, at risk. Those would not be outages that could be restored, but they could potentially have lasted for weeks.

Can more households get power back today?

ERCOT's leaders felt that was a strong possibility as the homes currently online use less power and they bring supply and demand back into better balance. As it warms up, the amount of power being used by the homes that have power is lessening, so the supply and demand moves into better balance.

What is best and worst case scenario for fully restored power?

It really all depends on the generators of power, the board said. As fast the energy producers can come back online, they're restoring what can be.

What makes this current outage different from a blackout?

Even though this feels endless, a blackout could be catastrophic, leaving Texas without power for even months.
Has ERCOT sold any energy to other providers during this event?The board claims that notion is either a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Texas has been trying to import power from other generators/sources. But we can't get more than they can give, when they're faced with their own shortages.

How ERCOT leaders responded to Gov. Abbott's call for the board to resign?

They basically passed on answering, sticking to the message that the priority is getting through this terrible situation and they promise to assess the next steps after we get the power back on.

SEE MORE: Gov. Greg Abbott calls on ERCOT leadership to resign during ABC13 one-on-one interview


Will it help when the weather warms up?

Yes. Frozen wind turbines will thaw. When the roads are drivable, they can bring in workers to get things back online. Natural gas supply will pick back up after freezing weather ends.

How do you respond to critics who say you aren't being transparent to the public?

They said they tried to give notices starting on Feb. 8 that there would be an excessive load, and they did a press conference with the governor on Saturday.

SEE ALSO: Power lines blown from Humble utility poles as electricity is restored


Follow Tom Abrahams on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Report a correction or typo
Texas produces more power than any other state. Here's why ...

16-02-2021 · Texas has been hit with life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday. In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into ...

16-02-2021
US oil prices rise as winter weather hits Texas

New York (CNN Business)Even mighty Texas, the energy powerhouse of America, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature.

A deep freeze this week in the Lone Star state, which relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing power demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities in Texas have been knocked offline by the unthinkably low temperatures.

This situation could have wide-reaching implications as the US power industry attempts to slash carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis.

That nightmarish supply-demand situation has sent electricity prices in energy-rich Texas to skyrocket more than 10,000% compared with before the unprecedented temperatures hit. Texas has been hit with life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday.

In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, which controls most of the state's grid. The group's CEO on Tuesday defended the controlled outages, saying they "kept the grid from collapsing" and sending the state into a complete blackout.

Although some are attempting to pin the blame on one fuel source or another, the reality is that the Arctic temperatures are hobbling fossil fuels and renewable energy alike.

"The extreme cold is causing the entire system to freeze up," said Jason Bordoff, a former energy official in the Obama administration and director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. "All sources of energy are underperforming in the extreme cold because they're not designed to handle these unusual conditions."

The ripple effects are being felt around the nation as Texas' prolific oil-and-gas industry stumbles.

Motiva's sprawling Port Arthur oil refinery, the largest in the United States, shut down Monday, citing "unprecedented freezing temperatures." About 2.5 million barrels per day of refining capacity was shut between Houston and Louisiana, according to Rystad Energy.

Countless drillers went offline as temperatures in the Permian Basin, the nation's fracking capital, plunged below zero. The supply shortfall helped send US oil prices above a barrel for the first time since January 2020.

Prices at the pump are also on the rise. The national average could easily rise 15 cents per gallon over the next week or two, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

Texas is No. 1 in natural gas, oil and wind

It's striking that these power outages are happening in a state with abundant energy resources. Texas produces more electricity than any other US state — generating almost twice as much as Florida, the next-closest, according to federal statistics.

Texas is the No. 1 US state in both crude oil and natural gas, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The state accounted for a staggering 41% of America's oil production in 2019 and a quarter of its marketed natural gas output.

Wind power is also booming in Texas, which produced about 28% of all the US wind-powered electricity in 2019, the EIA said.

But the problem is that not only is Texas an energy superpower, it tends to be an above-average temperature state. That means its infrastructure is ill-prepared for the cold spell currently wreaking havoc. And the consequences are being felt by millions.

It's not just wind power

Critics of renewable energy have pointed out that wind turbines have frozen or needed to be shut down due to the extreme weather.

And that is significant because almost a quarter (23%) of the power in Texas last year was generated by wind power, according to ERCOT.

Even though other places with colder weather (like Iowa and Denmark) rely on wind for even larger shares of power, experts said the turbines in Texas were not winterized for the unexpected freeze. Cold weather protection like antifreeze and heating elements within the turbine blades and components are not commonly used in Texas.

"That adds cost, so it is cheaper to not have those additional features," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University who studies energy systems and policy.

But this is not just about wind turbines going down. Natural gas and coal-fired power plants need water to stay online. Yet those water facilities froze in the cold temperatures and others lost access to the electricity they require to operate.

"The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen. This includes the natural gas & coal generators," Governor Abbott wrote on Twitter.

And that's an even bigger deal to Texas than frozen wind turbines because combined cycle natural gas (40%) and coal (18%) generated more than half of the state's power in 2020, according to ERCOT.

'Power prices going to the moon'

Nuclear also depends on water to operate and at least one unit in South Texas shut down, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Texas gets about 11% of its power from nuclear.

"Even if Texas did not have wind power, you would still have power prices going to the moon," said Matthew Hoza, manager of energy analysis at BTU Analytics.

The problem, according to Hoza, is that a lot of companies in Texas did not invest in cold protection for power plants and natural gas facilities.

"When you're in West Texas, are you really going to spend money on that equipment?" Hoza said.

It's too early to definitively say what went wrong in Texas and how to prevent similar outages. More information will need to be released by state authorities.

Still, some experts say the criticism of wind power appears overdone already.

"In terms of the blame game, the focus on wind is a red herring. It's more of a political issue than what is causing the power problems on the grid," said Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University.

Cohan said there was a far greater shortfall in terms of the amount of power Texas was expecting from natural gas than wind.

It's clear that a wide range of energy sources — from fossil fuels to renewables — were not prepared for the unusual weather in Texas.

"Regions need to rethink the extreme conditions to which they're planning for and to make sure their systems are designed to be resilient to those," said Princeton's Jenkins.

The energy crisis in Texas raises also questions about the nature of the state's deregulated and decentralized electric grid. Unlike other states, Texas has made a conscious decision to isolate its grid from the rest of the country.

That means that when things are running smoothly, Texas can't export excess power to neighboring states. And in the current crisis, it can't import power either.

"When it comes to electricity, what happens in Texas stays in Texas," Cohan said. "That has really come back to bite us."

Why the power is out in Texas ... and why other states are ...

17-02-2021 · Why the power is out in Texas … and why other states are vulnerable too The U.S. electric grid is uniquely susceptible to power outages, a problem expected to get worse with climate change. by Bob Henson February 17, 2021 May 19, 2021. Share this: Steam fog extends across Lake Thunderbird in Norman, Oklahoma, on the morning of February 16, 2021. Just to the north, Oklahoma City dipped to …

17-02-2021

It wasn’t a torrid heat wave or a Category 5 hurricane that brought the Texas electrical grid to its knees on February 15. Instead, it was the most widespread and intense cold and snow in decades.

The frigid onslaught triggered a cascade of events that left millions of Texans shivering in the darkness of unheated, unlit homes. Temperatures sank well below freezing all the way to the Texas coast, putting Houston below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly 48 hours and leaving countless records broken on the icy plains.

All-time lows were set in Tyler (-5°F) and Longview (-6°F), and a bone-chilling -20°F was reported in the Texas Panhandle.

Frozen wind turbines played only small role in Texas outages

Many – including some prominent climate change contrarians – were quick to pin the “electric emergency” on the massive turbines that make Texas the leading U.S. state for wind energy. While the deep freeze did knock some turbines offline, practically every mode of energy supply was hobbled by the intense cold, snow, and ice.

The main cause of the massive disruption, by far, were the frozen components leading to the outage of thermal plants that heat water and convert the steam to electricity. The vast bulk of those thermal plants are powered by natural gas. In addition, the South Texas Nuclear Plant was thrown out of service Monday as a result of frozen pipes, which cut even further into the Houston area’s electricity supply.

Also feeding the crisis were several factors unique to Texas. Most of the Lone Star State is on a power grid that’s separate from the western and eastern U.S. grids, a decades-old bid to avoid interstate regulation but one that reduces the Texas grid’s flexibility. The state’s deregulated, just-in-time energy marketplace is also a factor, as it leans on production versus storage – a risk when natural gas lines freeze up – and it allows for massive price spikes during weather outages.

The three main components of the North American power grid are the Western and Eastern Interconnections and the ERCOT Interconnection, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and encompassing most of the state. (Image credit: ERCOT)

Investigations after similar but less-extensive Texas freeze disasters in 1989 and 2011 pinned much of the blame on equipment that was insufficiently protected against extreme cold, a threat that’s infrequent in Texas but notoriously brutal when it does arrive. “Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011,” according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission.

“I think the Texas freeze will become the new poster child for compound weather and energy disasters,” said atmospheric scientist Daniel Cohan of Rice University, who’s working on a book about energy and climate change. “The challenges faced this week will likely be studied for years to come, and they show how tough it is to achieve resilience in a changing climate during an energy transition.”

Overall, of course, the temperature trend points to more warming. In Texas and in most other U.S. locations, the coldest winter temperatures have been steadily rising, according to data compiled by the nonprofit science and communications group Climate Central. Yet a warming climate doesn’t preclude the occasional extreme wintry blast.

It’s also possible, though not universally accepted, that depleted sea ice and amplified Arctic warming are exacerbating at least some mid-latitude cold episodes, a topic of lively, ongoing research debate.

U.S. electric grid is uniquely vulnerable: This ‘doesn’t happen everywhere’

The week’s U.S. power woes extended well beyond Texas, the result of an unusually prolonged and widespread bout of frigid air and frozen precipitation. According to poweroutage.us, some 175,000 customers were without power in Oregon on the evening of February 16. They were joined by more than 200,000 customers in Kentucky and West Virginia, and 3.2 million customers still powerless in Texas.

More trouble is looming in the forecast, with fresh winter-weather watches and warnings in place from Austin to Boston. All told, this sequence of mid-February storms could end up interrupting power for well over 10 million Americans.

To put it bluntly, this kind of situation doesn’t happen everywhere. In fact, it happens more often in the U.S. than in any other developed country, according to the University of Minnesota’s Massoud Amin, a founding expert in smart-grid technology. Amin has found that utility customers lose power for an average of 4 minutes annually in Japan, compared to 92 minutes per year in the Upper Midwest.

“We are behind all other G7 nations in our infrastructure, including the power grid,” Amin said.

One clear factor is America’s outsized crop of extreme weather. Another is the vast number of weather-vulnerable U.S. power lines that lie overhead, especially in older eastern cities. Nations such as Germany and the Netherlands prioritize burying power lines, a process that’s costly but that helps reduce the havoc resulting from extreme weather.

Between 2010 and 2019, the U.S. had an increase of 67% in major weather-related power outages (those affecting at least 50,000 customers) as compared to 2000-2009, as tracked by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and analyzed by Climate Central. These outages cost an average of to billion per year, with the indirect costs much higher.

For 2020, DOE reported 118 major outages, the second-largest annual total this century. That ranks behind only 2011, a year with record tornado damage.

What’s more, the aging U.S. grid is being hit hard by compound weather disasters, those occurring near each other in time or space – or both. From the final week of October 2020 into early November, three far-flung areas experienced nine major outages, some lasting more than a week. The culprit was a strange juxtaposition of weather disasters that included an exceptionally early and destructive ice storm and a very late-season hurricane landfall.

  • Wildfires in California, 10/25-10/27 (506,000 customers)
  • Ice storm in Oklahoma, 10/27-11/7 (682,000 customers)
  • Hurricane Zeta in and near Louisiana, 10/28-11/2 (1,099,000 customers)

How climate change is stressing the grid

Compound disasters are a topic of growing interest among researchers. They point out that the total impact of compound events can be much greater than the sum of their parts. For example, the nation’s limited supply of utility repair crews can get stretched beyond its ability to respond.

Climate change is already exacerbating some potential threats to the power grid: for instance, the ramped-up intensity of heat waves and the increased frequency of sprawling “stuck” weather patterns in summertime.

Colin Raymond of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is lead author on an essay published last summer in Nature Climate Change that delves into understanding and managing compound and connected weather and climate disasters. Raymond draws a distinction between compound weather and climate events – often linked to a single, persistent large-scale weather pattern – and connected events, which occur when compound events are “amplified by societal networks.” According to Raymond, the latter “leads to impacts that are larger or have a different spatiotemporal pattern than they would otherwise.”

The coast-to-coast power outages of February 2021 are one example. In their Nature Climate Change essay, Raymond and colleagues highlight another: the sequential assault from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria within a month’s time in the summer of 2017.

By the time Maria struck Puerto Rico, the study noted, U.S. emergency response systems had been stretched thin by Hurricane Harvey striking Texas the previous month and Hurricane Irma hitting Florida the previous week. On top of Puerto Rico’s pre-existing vulnerabilities – including under-maintained infrastructure, limited budgets, an aging population, and lack of statehood benefits – relief supplies pre-negotiated by FEMA had been drained by Harvey and Irma. The agency rushed into new arrangements that were plagued with problems, including steep markups.

Damaged power lines were strewn across Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017, when a military convoy including Governor Ricardo Rosselló visited the cities of Loiza and Canóvanas to survey destruction left by Hurricane Maria. (Image credit: Puerto Rico National Guard, via Flickr)

Scientists are exploring an array of new tools to help examine how compound and connected events are intertwined and how policymakers can unravel the knots. According to Raymond and colleagues, “impacts can serve as a winnowing device to identify what combinations of extreme events matter.” Emerging computational and communication technologies could also make a big difference, especially with the help of high-quality, fine-grained impacts data.

The most promising analog, according to Raymond and colleagues, may be in the spectacular progress of aviation safety. They call it a realm where “physical science, engineering, and social sciences have come together to successfully mitigate – despite greatly increasing system complexity – the frequency of disastrous failures.”

How to keep the juice flowing

As for the U.S. power grid, there’s no sign that weather and climate will be giving it a break anytime soon. With La Niña still in place, extended climate outlooks point to the potential for a drought-ridden spring across the western United States, perhaps extending into summer. In addition, tornadoes and hail tend to be more frequent in the southern Great Plains during La Niña springs, and La Niña often fosters an enhanced Atlantic hurricane season.

Texas’ electricity calamity of 2021 is bound to trigger debate on how to keep the evolving U.S. grid robust during various types of disasters, especially as the nation becomes more reliant on electricity that will increasingly come from renewable sources. De-icing systems and cold-weather lubricants are used in many wind turbines in northern climates. Over time, grid-scale battery storage for wind and solar energy could play a major role.

No matter how the sources and storage evolve, transmission and grid coordination are two Achilles’ heels that’ll have to be dealt with. Several companies are now using artificial intelligence to anticipate and track grid outages. In addition, decentralized microgrids could help distinct locations such as hospitals or college campuses keep the power going even during grid outages.

“We need a smarter, stronger, more secure grid,” said Amin, who chaired the board of the Texas Reliability Entity (the regional council for ensuring bulk power access) for seven years. “My hat is off to grid operators and utilities in Texas and elsewhere who are trying to keep up a system that was never designed to handle such contingencies. We need to help them make it stronger and more resilient.”

Collaboration among weather, climate, and energy researchers could also help ensure the grid is equipped to handle the mix of weather extremes that the evolving climate will be flinging our way.

“No infrastructural relic may be as vulnerable as the U.S. electric grid,” environmental scientist Urooj Raja of the University of Colorado Boulder wrote in a 2020 essay for The Hill. “As climate change escalates and disrupts weather patterns, our country must update the grid, immediately, or risk losing not only power, but lives.”

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Why Winter Storm Uri Caused Millions of Power Outages in Texas

15-02-2021 · Power plant equipment froze as demand surged for electricty amid frigid temperatures in Texas. - Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com

15-02-2021
  • More than 3 million homes and businesses were still without power Tuesday.
  • Officials say power plant equipment froze.
  • And increased demand only made things worse.

Millions of people across Texas are shivering without electricity through one of the worst cold spells and largest snowfalls in the state's history.

But how did the state that produces more energy than any other end up without enough power to go around?

Here's what we know so far:

-At least 1 in 10 power plants in Texas were offline Tuesday, according to WFAA. There are 680 plants statewide. "We have seen nothing like this honestly in Texas, that has covered the state like the storm has. It increased demand to an extreme, extraordinary height, and then the storm also made it difficult for the supply to be provided," Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that manages the state's power flow, told WFAA-TV in an interview Tuesday.

-The problem started Sunday night, when Winter Storm Uri moved in and temperatures plummeted to the single digits. "Beginning around 11:00 p.m., multiple generating units began tripping off-line in rapid progression due to the severe cold weather," Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at ERCOT, told WFAA. Key equipment froze, natural gas supplies were limited and, after daylight, solar farms were blocked out by cloud cover and snow, Magness said.

(MORE: Here's When the South Will Finally Thaw After Record-Smashing Cold, Snow and Ice)

-The record breaking weather led to record breaking demand for power, which strained the grid even more. By Monday morning, two million homes and businesses were without power across Texas. That number continued to go up throughout the day as temperatures went down. By the end of the day, there were more than 4.1 million outages being reported. More than 3 million remained without power by early Tuesday evening. And since each outage only represents a single utility customer, that number represents millions more people who were directly affected.

-Rolling blackouts didn't go as planned. ERCOT ordered local power companies to institute periodic shutoffs to keep the grid from shutting down altogether. But because there was already so little power to go around - and neighborhoods with hospitals, fire stations and water treatment plants were prioritized for energy - it was hard to evenly rotate the blackouts, according to the Wall Street Journal. That meant some homes were without power for extended periods of time, while others never lost it all.

-As of 2020, Texas got most of its power from natural gas-fueled plants, followed by wind turbines, coal and nuclear, the Journal reported. All were affected by the cold weather, Woodfin told Bloomberg. While it was widely reported that crippled wind turbines were largely to blame for the blackouts, Woodfin said that was the least significant factor.

-Some say the bigger problem lies in Texas' power system as a whole. Texas is the only state that runs its own power grid without any federal oversight. It also doesn't require power equipment to be winterized against extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, like other states do, according to WFAA. David Tuttle, a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said the issue comes up every decade or so, but cost is always a question. "All of us would love to say, we want super reliable [electricity]," Tuttle told WFAA. "It would be millions to really bulletproof the system for that. How much do we want to pay to go protect ourselves with insurance policies for rare events?"

-Lawmakers are looking for answers. Texas State House Speaker Dade Phelan has asked for a joint hearing later this month on the power outages. Phelan said in a statement that the purpose would be to understand what went wrong and help prevent it from happening again.

(MORE: At Least 17 Deaths Being Tied to Winter Storm Uri as Millions Remain Without Power)

-Many people turned to dangerous ways to keep warm. The Cy-Fair Fire Department in northwest Harris County transported 14 people, including seven children, to hospitals because of various carbon monoxide poisoning incidents. At least two people are dead. Officials pleaded with residents to remember never to use grills indoors for heat and to never operate a generator indoors or adjacent to a building.

-The Texas outages rank among the largest weather-related blackouts in a single state in U.S. history, according to poweroutage.us. They are the highest number of outages since Hurricane Irma left more than 6 million people in the dark in Florida in September 2017.

-There's no clear answer as to when everyone's power will be restored. As for the weather, another round of snow and ice through Wednesday night will be followed by more record cold through Saturday, though not as cold as what we've already seen, according to weather.com senior digital meteorologist Jon Erdman. "Fortunately, a warm up kicks into gear this weekend and, while it may not be springlike, it will certainly feel like that after this outbreak," Erdman said.

Bethany Fischer, right, rests her head on the shoulder of her husband Nic, while staying at a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. The couple, who lost power at their home on Monday, are part of the more than 4 million people in Texas who still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Bethany Fischer, right, rests her head on the shoulder of her husband Nic, while staying at a church warming center Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Houston. The couple, who lost power at their home on Monday, are part of the more than 4 million people in Texas who still had no power a full day after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Why Did Wind Turbines Freeze in Texas When They Work in ...

18-02-2021 · Some Texas officials have criticized wind power after turbines froze during the winter storm. But in Arctic regions, turbines are used regularly with measures in place to …

18-02-2021

Wind turbines in Texas have been targeted by state officials after a freezing winter storm knocked out power supplies to millions of homes.

Temperatures in the state fell as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this week, causing widespread disruption. Thermal energy sources, including gas, coal and nuclear energy were all affected due in part to frozen instruments.

But it was wind turbines which drew the attention of Sid Miller, Texas's Commissioner of Agriculture. He said in a Facebook post Tuesday: "We should never build another wind turbine in Texas. The experiment failed big time. Governor Abbott's Public Utility Commission appointees need to be fired and more gas, coal and oil infrastructure built."

Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw said on Twitter that same day: "This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source. When weather conditions get as bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn't there when you need it."

However, Texas generates most of its energy from other sources including natural gas—a fossil fuel which was also affected by the storm—as the below graph from Statista shows.

Texas electricity generation - Statista
Statista

But wind turbines in Texas did indeed freeze during the state's coldest temperatures in over 30 years. Newsweek contacted ERCOT for comment.

So why did this happen, and how do turbines operate in locations where severe cold is much more likely?

'Very uncommon'

Several wind turbine experts have told Newsweek that the situation in Texas could have been avoided if the turbines had been equipped with what are known as cold weather packages, which can involve a number of precautions such as heating up turbine components and lubricants.

Samuel Brock, a spokesman for the American Clean Power Association, told Forbes on Tuesday it "hasn't been necessary" to install such kits in Texas where the climate is generally warm.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex in the U.K., told Newsweek: "In Northern Europe, wind power operates very reliably in even colder temperatures, including the upper Arctic regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

"As long as wind turbines are properly maintained and serviced, they can operate reliably in temperatures well below zero. Humans, to carry out servicing and maintenance and operation, are the most important factor, not the weather."

Iain Dinwoodie, head of advanced performance engineering at renewable energy consultants NaturalPower, said it is "very uncommon" for wind turbines to freeze, and said the operating range for "typical turbines" is between -4 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Clifford Jones, a chemical engineer and visiting professor at the University of Chester, said the initial design of the turbine itself is also a factor. Special "cold-temperature steels" are used in wind turbines that are destined for colder climates, while lubricants are used which are capable of remaining at the right viscosity for those temperatures.

He told Newsweek: "In terms of annual average temperature Texas is the third-hottest U.S. mainland state, being exceeded only by Florida and Louisiana. Wind turbines at such locations not incorporating these features can be upgraded by installed heating. Such upgrades have been consistently successful at wind farms at cold locations."

Wind turbine in snowy conditions
A wind turbine looms through the fog in Finland. Experts have said there are measures in place to prevent icing from becoming a problem in places that are regularly colder than Texas. Giles Clarke/Getty Images

Are the criticisms valid?

In some ways. Dinwoodie points out that when some "active" anti-icing systems are installed, they can fail when weather conditions knock out existing power supplies because they rely on the grid to work in the first place.

He also said: "On a 'bad' Nordic site where very cold temperatures are present and at elevation, we might see up to 10 percent reduction in annual energy production as a combination of icing stops or reduced efficiency in operations but most of the newer, larger turbines have anti icing systems—although these have varying degrees of effectiveness in my experience—which should significantly lower this."

Another downside is that blades which do not have an ice-prevention system installed may need to be stopped temporarily while cold temperatures pass. Jian Wang, a professor of aircraft technology and his team at London's Kingston University said doing so "introduces safety hazards where big chunks of ice falling off the blade could present a hazard to people in and around wind farms".

However, Wang also told Newsweek: "With the current range of anti-icing measures available, wind power is an effective source of energy in cold climates, because icing can be managed and the quality of wind that is normally available in colder locations.

"Although fossil fuels may have met our needs in the past, they have caused significant problems for the environment and to our health. They are also a finite resource which is reducing with the growing market demand for energy, so relying on them would not be a wise long-term strategy."

This article has been updated with additional information about cold weather packages.

How The Power Grid In Texas Failed In A Winter Storm ...

17-02-2021 · How The Power Grid In Texas Failed In A Winter Storm : Consider This from NPR Millions of people in Texas have gone three or more days without power, water or both. Texas has had winter weather ...

17-02-2021

Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snowstorm on Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas. Millions across the state have been without power, water or both, following historic low temperatures brought by winter weather.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Millions of people in Texas have gone three or more days without power, water or both. Texas has had winter weather before, so what went so wrong this time?

Reporter Mose Buchele of NPR member station KUT in Austin explains why the state's power grid buckled under demand in the storm. And Marshall Shepherd, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia, explains the link between more extreme winter weather and climate change.

Additional reporting in this episode from NPR's Camila Domonoske, who reported on the Texas power grid, Ashley Lopez of KUT, Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media, and Dominic Anthony Walsh of Texas Public Radio.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at [email protected]

This episode was produced by Lee Hale, Brianna Scott, and Brent Baughman. It was edited by Sami Yenigun with help from Acacia Squires, Jennifer Ludden, and Wynne Davis. Our executive producer is Cara Tallo.