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After near blackout, Texas government is stepping up grid regulation

image credit: Courtesy Dreamstime
Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 725 items added with 352,971 views
  • Mar 31, 2021

In Texas, the electric utilities and power producers have largely avoided strict regulations over the state’s power grid. But after a near complete failure of the state’s power system that left millions of Texans without electricity for days during a record cold snap, the state’s legislators are stepping in to tighten industry oversight.

The icy temperatures that hit the state in the early hours of Feb. 15 caused issues at unprepared plants. Natural gas and coal plant equipment malfunctioned; wind turbines froze; and snow smothered solar panels. Supply across the state slowed as demand from utilities—their customers cranking the heat—skyrocketed.

Texas, the only state in the U.S. to operate on its own isolated power grid that essentially avoids federal regulation, has notoriously low oversight. Its utilities were not required to weatherized against extreme temperatures. The state’s public utility commission has the ability can only make recommendations and push for weatherization, but they cannot enforce it.

That’s looking likely to change, as a package of bills passed with bipartisan support through the Texas House of Representatives. Included in that package is mandate for all utilities in the state grid system must reinforce themselves against weather extremes. In Texas, to have such bipartisan support for additional regulation is evidence legislators are taking the historic February blackouts seriously.

“The Texas House today took important first steps in passing critical, essential reforms in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement after the vote. “The actions taken by the House will help restore confidence in our critical infrastructure after the catastrophic mismanagement of our electric grid last month.”

Grid resilience is going to be a sticking point in Texas for years to come and has been a top priority during the state’s legislative session, where lawmakers have floated a number of bills. One idea legislators aren’t talking about regarding a resilient power system is connecting to the national electric grid in order to avoid disasters like in February.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 31, 2021

Texas can weatherize its wind turbines. It can step up grid regulation, connect to the national grid, and temporarily restore confidence in its critical infrastructure. What it can't do is make the wind blow at the right times.

Saw this coming a mile away.

Robert Borlick's picture
Robert Borlick on Mar 31, 2021

You are focusing on a red herring.  Wind was a minor contributor to the blackout.  ERCOT forecasted wind generation to be a fraction of its nameplate capacity during the polar vortex.  it was the gas-fired plants that contributed the most to the capacity shortfall.  And much of that was because of the lack of natural gas to fuel the plants.  

It is well known that wind generation has little capacity value.  It's primary function is to replace more expensive fossil fuel generation.  It's true in California as well as Texas, where the wind stops blowing for days at a time each year.

Lastly, Texas does not have to interconnect to the other grids to achieve a reliable system.  Interconnect would have not helped during the polar vortex because the adjoining systems were also under stress and had little spare energy to sell. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 31, 2021

"It's primary function is to replace more expensive fossil fuel generation."

In what parallel universe does wind replace fossil fuel generation? In this one, wind requires it.
Warren Buffett would disagree with you about wind's primary function:

"For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit."

Dan Greenberg's picture
Dan Greenberg on Apr 1, 2021

That quote is 7 years old. What rock have you been under?

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Mar 31, 2021

Does this mean that Texas is reverting to a cost of service model? Anyone know what's inside these bills? I would be interested in your thoughts, if you do.

Robert Borlick's picture
Robert Borlick on Mar 31, 2021

Nobody is seriously considering a return to cost-of-service regulation.  However, Warren Buffet's proposal to build standby generation to only be used in emergencies is certainly a cost-of-service model, and an inefficient one.  I'm sure he would love to earn a guaranteed 9 percent rate of return on his investment (at the expense of the retail customers).  

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