Texas — Like a Whole ‘Nother Country, Especially the Power Grid

I’m trying really hard to not feel smug about the power outages in Texas. We’ve got our own weather issues here in the Ozarks — snow and single-digit temperatures — and the power flickered on and off a few times today. I am not one to tempt fate in these matters.

And this is not amusing:

At least 14 people are dead in four states from the effects of a record-shattering cold snap and series of winter storms since Sunday. In Texas, as the electricity grid struggles to keep pace with record high demand amid a historic cold outbreak, people are turning to unsafe means to heat their homes. A woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston after a car was left running in a garage to keep them warm, according to police.

The Arctic air has also claimed the life of at least one homeless person in Houston, and a 10-year-old boy died after he fell through ice near Millington, Tenn. A tornado associated with the storm system that helped draw Arctic air to the south struck in North Carolina overnight, killing at least three and injuring 10.

But there also are tweets, like this one:

Yes, my dears, Texas has its own power grid, as described at Vox.

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.

Here’s more on the Texas power grid from Houston Public Media. This confirms that the power grid has been kept separate from the rest of the country in order to avoid federal regulation. I also found an informative blog post titled The Ultimate Guide to Texas Electricity Deregulation . It appears the overriding concern in Texas has been to deregulate, deregulate, deregulate, and let competitive market forces provide low-cost energy to Texas consumers.

The extreme cold is causing multiple system failures, but as I understand it the single biggest problem is the natural gas supply. See The Real Reason for Texas’ Rolling Blackouts by Molly Taft at Gizmodo:

 Some of the country’s biggest oil refineries, owned by big names like Saudi Aramco and Exxon, shut down operations in Texas Monday. Last week, several natural gas facilities and pipelines in the state also shut down as temperatures dipped and wellheads froze up.

“We don’t have the supply of gas that we normally do, and we’re consuming gas in record numbers, which is also depressurizing the gas lines,” Rhodes explained. “Natural gas power plants also require a certain pressure to operate, so if they can’t get that pressure, they also have to shut down. Everything that could go wrong is going wrong with the system.”

Natural gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma froze, people. That’s one reason why there is less natural gas now.

But Some People are eager to blame renewables.

A photo of a helicopter de-icing a giant wind turbine went viral. However, that image wasn’t taken in Texas 2021, but in Sweden 2014.

Some old tweets are back in circulation:

I understand a lot of Texas righties are blaming the Green New Deal, which is pretty amazing considering the Green New Deal legislation was never passed. That Green New Deal is powerful stuff. Imagine what it would do if it ever went into effect.

I can’t be too hard on Texas, because the whole country has been living with a creaking, antiquated power grid for many years, and no one seems to be able to address the problem. Mostly because Republicans. The extreme weather has caused blackouts in 13 other states beside Texas. See Severe weather, blackouts show the grid’s biggest problem is infrastructure, not renewables, at Tech Crunch.

The current blackouts have nothing to do with renewables and everything to do with cold weather slowing down natural gas production because of freeze-offs and spiking demand for heating at the same time.

As Dr. Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, by courtesy, of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted, the problem is more of a total systems issue than one associated with renewable power.

“Let us be absolutely clear: if there are grid failures today, it shows the existing (largely fossil-based) system cannot handle these conditions either,” Grubert wrote on Twitter. “These are scary, climate change-affected conditions that pose extreme challenges to the grid. We are likely to continue to see situations like this where our existing system cannot easily handle them. Any electricity system needs to make massive adaptive improvements.”

Updating energy technology and increasing use of renewables would make the power much more reliable, the article says.

7 thoughts on “Texas — Like a Whole ‘Nother Country, Especially the Power Grid

  1. Look, Righties gotta bitch about… 

    Something…

    ANYthing.

    EVERYthing!!!

    This is the hand of your precious market flipping TX the (state's official) bird: The  "Deregulating Loon."

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  2. Also, too, they ALREADY took wind (and other renewable?) generators offline way before this cold snap – that is normal procedure for Texas winters. Plus, too, because demand was forecast to be low, several extra energy-related facilities of various sorts were scheduled for routine maintenance for this period!

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  3. What do Texas and California have in common? According to articles a year apart, the companies didn't upgrade the infrastructure because they were more concerned about quarterly reports. Both TX and CA were doing well in normal, average conditions but they had an obligation to be prepared for extraordinary conditions. 

    That said, you have to use your own head I'm in Florida now and I learned Hurricane preparedness. But the issue today is cold – really cold – weather. I lived on the NC – VA border in a haunted house. Different story. The oil heater froze up in a sustained cold snap. The fuel oil they sell in the South doesn't include the thinner that the Great Lakes states get. We didn't freeze because we had a standby kerosine heater and enough fuel to get us by. This didn't heat the whole house, but it kept the LR toasty.

    We were on a well – the pump was in the garage. Froze up solid. I got a lamp with a 60-watt bulb and built a box around the pump and put the lamp in it. In a few hours, we had water. Too many fools die in survivable conditions, or outright kill themselves. Harsh weather isn't nearly as dangerous as ignorance. 

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  4. Pride goeth before the frozen pipes.  Mother nature provides waves of humility even without the effects of climate change.  

    More evidence that Republican de-institutionalization is dangerous.  Of course in Texas it is of a much bigger danger than in other places.  

    I miss Molly Ivins, the literary belle of Texas.  I would love to have her take on the current situation of her state.  

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  5. I live in Western NY & it's been below freezing here for weeks, months now.  I'm in the process of house-hunting so I'm traveling all over the place looking at houses.  Last Sunday, I happened to drive by a bunch of windmills & they were all moving just fine.  We had only a high of 20 on Sunday & that wind chill was way below that!  Maybe our windmills are built to withstand the freezing cold weather?   As is our gas lines?  Cuz there's no power outages here.  & it's cold cold cold.  All I can say is I love NY.

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  6. I think my new quick test of sanity is to ask about Tucker Carlson.  Anyone who gives Tucker a less than negative response gets put on the failed the sanity screening list.  

    Phil Owen writes about Tucker dueling with windmills:

    Tucker did not sat whether he was including himself in his sweeping condemnation of the news media, but it's worth pointing out that he certainly is a member of the news media.

    "The news media are profoundly dishonest. All of us lie from time to time — that's the human condition. But imagine if lying was your job. Imagine forcing yourself to tell lies all day about everything in ways that were so transparent and so outlandish that there is no way that people listening to you could possibly believe anything you said," Tucker said with a straight face.

    Tucker Carlson: 'Imagine if Lying Was Your Job' (Video) (msn.com)

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