Epic Fail: How Wind & Solar Caused America’s Big Freeze Blackouts & Killed Hundreds

Wind and solar’s hopeless intermittency delivered a deadly lesson during America’s big freeze last winter: hundreds died in freezing homes left without electricity thanks to hundreds of wind turbines that were frozen solid and breathless frigid conditions that meant the remainder delivered no power, in any event; and thousands of solar panels plastered in snow and ice that, likewise, delivered nothing but a pointless sense of virtue.

It took days to restore power to Texans and thousands of others across the Midwest.

The calamity was as perfectly predictable as it was perfectly avoidable. Had Texans focused their reliance on ever-reliable coal, nuclear and gas, instead of obsessing about subsidised wind turbines and solar panels, the disaster would have been avoided, altogether.

America’s leading energy expert, Robert Bryce revisits the scene of a government-instigated crime of epic proportions.

The Texas blackouts were caused by an epic government failure
Dallas News
Robert Bryce
1 August 2021

As the postmortem of the blackouts that slammed the state back in February continues, it’s apparent that Texans narrowly averted a catastrophe that could have resulted in what biologists call a mass mortality event.

At about 2 a.m. on Feb. 15, the Texas grid came within four or five minutes of a systemwide failure that could have plunged nearly the entire state into a blackout at a time when temperatures were plunging, it was snowing sideways, and the roads were impassable. Recovering from such a failure and executing what’s known as a “black start” could have taken the Electric Reliability Council of Texas days or even weeks. Had that occurred, Winter Storm Uri would have killed thousands, even tens of thousands, of people.

As it was, the February snowpocalypse likely cost the state some $200 billion, according to estimates by economist Ray Perryman, and the final death toll, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News, could be as high as 700.

The February blackouts should have been a neon-bright wake-up sign for the state’s politicians and regulators that the structure of the Texas energy grid is deeply flawed and that fundamental changes are needed. Alas, the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott have largely kicked the electric can down the road. That’s a mistake.

The electric grid is the Mother Network. Our most important networks, including food delivery and storage, communications and GPS, depend on the electric grid to deliver cheap, abundant and reliable flows of energy 24/7/365. A prolonged electricity outage due to extreme weather, or malicious actors, would have dire effects on Texas, and because the state provides much of the country’s food and fuel, it would also short-circuit much of the American economy.

I’ve been obsessing about ERCOT and the causes of the blackouts since February when my wife, Lorin, and I, who live in central Austin, were blacked out for about 45 hours. The government failed us, and there are three things government needs to do to assure that the state has reliable and affordable electricity.

Before going further, a caveat: The blackouts were the result of several interconnected factors and failures. Thus, there are no simple or quick solutions, particularly when it comes to a system as complex as the electric grid. That said, the blackouts were caused by flaws in the way the state’s electricity market was designed and how it has evolved since it was deregulated two decades ago. And that leads to my first point.

The blackouts were due to government failure of epic proportions. The most obvious example of government failure was the decision by the Public Utility Commission to set the clearing price of electricity in ERCOT at $9,000 per megawatt-hour — and to leave it at that extremely high level for several days despite the fact that it did not bring more generation into the market.

The result of that blunder: Texas electricity consumers were overcharged by roughly $26.3 billion. The burden of paying for those costs will fall most heavily on regular Texans, who will see surcharges on their utility bills for years to come to pay down the bonds the state is issuing to spread out the cost of those overcharges.

Second, deregulation wasn’t a boon for consumers. That conclusion is controversial, but studies have shown that Texans paid more for the electricity they used than they would have in a regulated market. A recent Wall Street Journal analysis estimates that Texans paid $28 billion more for home electricity in the 20 years of deregulation than they would have, if they had only been charged the average regulated rate for the rest of the country.

The deregulation of the Texas electricity sector opened up the utility sector — an industry that is at root, a power-plant-poles-and-wires business — to “retail electric providers.” In a flash, entrepreneurs could get into the electricity game, with no hard assets or knowledge of how the electric grid works required.

One hundred and forty years ago we had Thomas Edison. Deregulation gave us Griddy.

The deregulation of the Texas electricity sector opened up the utility sector — an industry that is at root, a power-plant-poles-and-wires business — to “retail electric providers.” In a flash, entrepreneurs could get into the electricity game, with no hard assets or knowledge of how the electric grid works required.

But the PTC keeps getting extended, including yet another extension granted last month by the Internal Revenue Service. For years, Big Wind and Big Solar have claimed that they can produce the cheapest electricity. It’s time for them to prove it.

Third, the Texas Legislature will have to pass measures that incentivize companies to build and maintain plants that can be dispatched during times of peak demand. Those incentives should include provisions for on-site fuel storage at power plants. This was one of the recommendations put forward by ERCOT in its 60-item “Roadmap to Improving Grid Reliability” report that was released on July 13.

During the February disaster, the most reliable power plants were the ones that had on-site fuel: the coal and nuclear plants. Thus, the state should give incentives for fuel storage near power plants. For instance, diesel fuel can be stored easily and relatively cheaply. That fuel could be used in turbines or quick-start reciprocating engines like the ones made by outfits like Caterpillar, Cummins and Wärtsilä.

In summary, the mistake made by Texas regulators was to treat electricity as a commodity. That’s wrong. Electricity isn’t like sneakers or hot dogs. Electricity is a critical service. The grid is the backbone of modern society, a complex and delicate machine that connects all of our homes and businesses to each other. Without reliable power, modern society falls apart.

The February blackouts were the result of a government failure to properly manage our most important network. If Texas’ elected officials don’t fix the problems in ERCOT, more blackouts, and even cost burdens for low- and middle-income Texans, are certain.
Dallas News

Not cool: never reliable & hopeless in icy winter weather.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. ronaldsteinptsadvancecom says:

    Who in their right mind wants to rely on breezes and sunshine for a continuous uninterruptible supply of electricity? Intermittent electricity from breezes and sunshine, has not, and will not, run the economies of the world, as electricity alone is unable to support the prolific growth rates of the medical industry, military, airlines, cruise ships, supertankers, container shipping, and trucking infrastructures to meet the demands of the exploding world population.

    Only healthy and wealthy countries like the USA, Germany, Australia, and the UK can subsidize electricity from breezes and sunshine, and intermittent electricity at best. The 80 percent of the 8 billion on earth living on less than 10 dollars a day cannot subsidize themselves out of a paper bag. Those poorer countries must rely on affordable and abundant coal for reliable electricity, while residents in the healthy and wealthier countries pay dearly for those subsidies with some of the highest cost for electricity in the world.

  2. Shudong Zhou says:

    Electricity isn’t like sneakers or hot dogs. Electricity is a critical service. 
    solar ?24/7/365?garbage electricity power.

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