Words of Advice:

"If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It." -- Unknown

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level
and then beat you with experience.” -- Mark Twain

"Colt .45s; putting bad guys underground since 1873." -- Unknown

"Stay Strapped or Get Clapped." -- probably not Mr. Rogers

"Let’s eat all of these people!” — Venom

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Friday, February 19, 2021

Texas Power Problems: The Republicans’ Wholly-Owned Disaster

In surfing around, it seems that there are, essentially, three eletricity networks. The eastern one covers the area east of the Rockies, the western one covers the area west of the Rockies. The third network covers Texas.

It seems that Texas didn't want to have to follow any Federal rules about how power is generated or distributed. They didn't want to have to bother with emergency preparedness or backups. All that shit costs money, you see.

What little regulation the Texans did was scrapped at the behest of Enron (maybe you've heard of them) during the governorship of George W. Bush. Texas went to basically allowing anyone to buy power from anyone, which, naturally, pushed both prices and profitability down. Lack of reasonable long-term profitability meant that there was no incentive to invest in anything that couldn't make cash tomorrow. The Texas utility system because a quick-buck casino.

Winterized power plants, natural gas distribution facilities, switching gear and the like? All that costs money, pal. So they didn't do it. Cheap wind turbines went up because, in places where the wind is reliable, they are a low-cost way to generate power. A cold snap ten years ago did to texas pretty much what is happening now, but other than reports suggesting that maybe something should be done, Gov. Perry did nothing.

The Republicans have controlled Texas for the last twenty-five years. They may bleat about the wind turbines and the Green New Deal being a problem for them, but what happened in Texas was as a result of their choices. Both Bush and Perry pushed the use of renewables. Renewables were not the reason why the pipelines and generating plants were knocked off-line by cold weather.

The reason was greed, pure and simple.

6 comments:

Ten Bears said...

There are windmills on Antarctica.

Texas is a failed state.

dinthebeast said...

Q: What happens to your constituency when you let it freeze in the dark?

A: It turns blue.

Well, one can only hope.

-Doug in Sugar Pine

Frank Wilhoit said...

It is (of course?) not quite so simple.

Your point about profitability sits awkwardly with your point about greed. The reality is in between. The utility business model is based upon "rate recovery". What that means is that the regulators guarantee the utilities a specific rate of return on capital investment -- the cost of capital expenditures is passed on to the ratepayers, plus a percentage. That means that some capital programs add real, new, important capabilities, and some are unbelievable boondoggles: no one cares which are which.

But then, operating expenses are a pure cost center. The operating budget is allocated as a single, opaque bucket for a fiscal year, which is usually the calendar year. It never lasts twelve months. Six is typical, eight is good, I've seen it run out in February -- and there is no doubt that the past week has used it up for this year.

So the incentives cut both ways, and the distinction hinges upon the interpretation of accounting rules. The game, right now, is to redefine catch-up maintenance as capital, by alleging that e.g. winterproofing is a new business capability. Government mandates, as often come down in the wake of incidents such as the present, help in making that kind of case, but the accountants answer to the auditors and they can be amazingly stiff-assed about things like this.

Stewart Dean said...

DL: The reason was greed, pure and simple.
The Texas Legislature, AKA the Lege, is greed personified, pure and simple.
ERCOT is controlled by the Lege
Ergo: The reason was greed, pure and simple. QED.

Texas exceptionalism.

Similarly, tons of TX housing was built on the cheap without real insulation or water system drainback capability. The state plumbing code states that water lines shall be buried not less than 12" below the surface. No need, it never gets cold and the power never fails or energy runs short in the energy state. There maybe a lot of housing trashed by water damage, as in near worthless.

Heard an NPR short where some enterprising person got the head of the TX plumbing licensing board on line and asked him if there were enough plumbers in TX to fix all the damage. Hilarious laughter was the response.

BTW, the problem with the natgas supply is that unlike the rest of the country, TX gets it direct from its own wells. Such sourced natgas has a not insignificant water component along with the gas. Which gets separated out at some point...but not in the local intrastate pipeline...which froze and froze until the pipe was full of frozen water and gas didn't come through. Wonder if the gas lines burst as well as blocking up from the frozen water.
Interstate long distance pipeline pass (ahem) gas that's been dewatered.

CenterPuke88 said...

Lots of fun to unpack, but Stewart Dean hit the nail on the head! The frozen gasline lines were a huge factor in the mess down here, followed quickly by frozen instruments, improperly insulated pumps and then the icing turbines.

ERCOT Board choses new/replacement members...WTF?

Winterization does reduce hot weather production capacity a small amount, and dollarwise, it's not "sensible" in a business sense. The Lege down here refused to mandate the winterization.

The deregulated market here failed so bigly last week that the minimum cost for power (calculated as X times the cost of natural gas) enforced by ERCOT actually topped the price cap...

Stewart Dean said...

Kevin Drum hosts an excellent explanation of why power plants HAVE to shutdown when the grid gets overloaded and frequency goes unstable, phases get misaligned (meaning a dead short at incalculable amperage) and harmonic vibration (that shakes the rotating machinery apart). Complete with a video explaining normal successful parallelizing of multiple generation sources. Be sure to read the comments for war stories
https://jabberwocking.com/heres-why-texas-power-stations-had-to-be-shut-down/

As for the guy with $17.000 electric bill (reported in the NYTimes): it was the gas producers who made a killing here, raising the prices not because it cost more produce the gas, but because there were charging all they could...because they could. OTOH, if a gas producer had winterized his equipment and dewatered his gas at the well head, he had, all this time, been producing gas at slightly more overhead than everyone else (thus a disadvantage)......this was his time to get back all that "lost sales and profit"

Profits (for producers) were privatized and risks (for consumers) were socialized: A glorious triumph of conservative libertarian capitalism.....