(32) comments Back to story

Gary Scoggin

It's dangerous to try to solve a complex problem before you undertand the complex problem. There are many moving pieces to this mess, from ERCOT's response, to generator reliability, to natural gas supply, to the market structure itself. Everyone, it seems, has their own boogeyman, including me. I propose the State bring in an independent expert to sort all of this out and create a report outlining the different contributing factors and the degree to which each factor was culpable.

If there are a few "do no harm" measures we can take in the legislative session currently underway, then it's okay to take them, but we need to resist a massive overhaul of the system until we are comfortable the unintended consequences of our actions don't make matters worse (which, honestly, right now hardly seems possible). I doubt that this can be sorted out in the current session. Once an analysis has been completed, and the report has been issued, the Governor should call a special session solely focused on reform of how the Texas power grid is managed.

Bailey Jones

I wonder if anyone read the last report? https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/08-16-11-report.pdf

Bailey Jones

I can think of a few obvious measures, -

Winterize our generators and our electricity and natural gas distribution infrastructure. This storm counts as a worst-case temperature event. It should be used as the baseline for regulations.

Connect the Texas grid to the national grids. The inability to transfer electricity across our state border is ridiculous and obviously short-sighted.

Re-regulate electricity contracts. No one should see their electricity bill spike 10, 20, or 100 fold during a weather event just because electricity providers are unable to meet demand. This is just price gouging disguised as free-market capitalism.

Gary Scoggin

Details matter, and that's why we need to understand the situation. Fixing the Texas Power grid will have to address a host of issues - techncial, political and commercial.

Winterizing - seems obvious, but to what design temperature? Winterizing to 20F is different than winterizing to -5F. Similar to floods, do you pick a 10 year event, a 100 year event, or a 500 year event?

Connecting to the other grids seems obvious. Do we know if the SPP or the SERC could have supplied power to ERCOT in meaningful quantities to achieve a different outcome? They were both faced with brutally cold weather, too. I know the SPP had outages as well, nothing like ERCOT, granted, but outages nonetheless. What is the proper rate to pay for imported power?

There are different ways to re-regulate electricity pricing. We can add a reliability surcharge to the rates in "Power to Choose.org" (just like there is a distribution surcharge) and keep market-based pricing, or we can go to a full blown state-wide Public Utiity Commission model where every dime has to get approved in Austin and we are in perpetual high-stakes rate cases. (I've seen that model in other states and it has the direct effect of raising emissions and stifling innovation.) Where is the happy point for Texas? Given the massive bills some people are seeing, they have to realize that they agreed to open ended contracts (like with Griddy), obviously not imagining the downside risk. Do we retroactively give these folks some relief? Do we ban such contracts, put caps on them, or let the free market do its thing?

There are these and a dozen other issues that have to be studied and calibrated. None of them exist in isolation. Most importantly, what do we want, and what are we willing to pay for? Do we want no outages ever again anywhere or just not a repeat of last week's fiasco.

Bailey Jones

That's why I suggest using this storm as the baseline, and the 2011 and 1989 storms. It's not like we don't have records of the temperature of every square foot of Texas for the last century. I think a reasonable conclusion would be one where this sort of rare event is met with (what should be) another rare event - rolling blackouts. Most people can live with a 1-hour blackout every few hours, especially if they know it's coming. I do think that these open-ended adjustable rate contracts should be illegal. Any adjustable rate contract should have a cap on it, then let people take that known risk if they so choose.

Dalton Logan

Was California connected to the national grids when they were having all their rolling black outs and blackouts?

Gary Scoggin

I think their problem was the infrastructure internal to the state and the ability to shift power from one area to another.

Gary Miller

Complex problems are not Solved by bureaucracies. De regulation is a good idea but needs more study and thinking. I thought backup generators were supposed to be running on standby. If not all the time at least starting in November or December. Power generated on standby would be sold on the grid.

Gary Scoggin

Texas lost about a third of its generation capacity last week (68kMW to 46kMW). Certainly, you don’t expect 22,000 MW to be on hot stand by all the time? And, when things are running right, there is nobody to sell that power to if you were to generate it. Even if we were connected to the national grid, it would back out power generation somewhere. You can’t produce power with no place to put it.

Carlos Ponce

"You can’t produce power with no place to put it." Gary Scoggin, you rotate it. You bring one up and another down for routine maintenance. And in case of emergency, you will know they all are functioning.

Gary Scoggin

If a unit is down for maintenance then it's not available for emergency standby. Utilities generally keep some generation available for peaking but asking for 1/3 extra capacity for a 1/100 year event is pretty expensive insurance. It's probably better to winterize what we've got. We are all amatuers here. Let's let the experts analyze the problem and then see what they recommend.

Carlos Ponce

"If a unit is down for maintenance then it's not available for emergency standby."

You take it down for maintenance if no emergency such as a deep freeze or 100+ degree is anticipated. Now is a good time .

As for letting the "experts" analyze the problem - they leave much to be desired. They are part of "the problem".

Gary Scoggin

That's the problem with MAGAs. They think they are smarter than the experts when in reality they don't know enough to realize what they don't know.

Jim Forsythe

You are right Gary, it is not a simple problem with a easy solution.

The turnarounds that I was involved with were planed many months, if not years ahead of time. If someone thinks that you can get a weather report and use it to start a turnaround, are mistaken because the have no clue..

The worse part of this, is for the last few summers, we were within one or two percent of maximum of all power available power, which would have caused rolling blackouts and perhaps tripping the system. To solve this would require building more power units or working with other states to make sure we have enough power for our summer needs. As we increase in population and this is just going to get worse.

Harris County is looking at trying to leave ERCOT.

Carlos Ponce

Gary and Jim - How many electrical generating plants are there in Texas? If there are only two, taking one down for maintenance is not wise. If there were only 100, again, you should rethink that. But we're talking about far more than that. And each plant has more than one generator.

Gary Miller

G.Scroggin> Back up generators for wind and solar were supposed to be available when needed. Wind and solar have battery storage for night and bad weather events. That storage should be required to be enough for not least but for an extra 48 or 72 hour need.

Gary Miller

G. Scroggin> Electrict power can be stored in batteries. Solar does it every night. Wind farms could also. A 48 or 72 hour storage before a bad weather event should be possible. Costly? Of course but solar and wind are heavily subsidized which could be used for extended need. Feeding the stored power to the grid would pay for most or all the extra cost.

Carlos Ponce

Connecting with the National grid is just asking for trouble.

ERCOT had unused skyscrapers in downtown Houston all lit up while people froze.

88% of Galveston County lost power.

12% of Harris County lost power.

(Information provided by Mayes Middleton)

ERCOT Board needs to be fired.

Increase number of natural gas generators and look for nuclear power.

Galveston had no water, no electricity. US warship type nuclear generators can provide both. DUH! Galveston sits in the middle of water. Use it!

Charles Douglas

The trouble with The RADICALS on the LEFT are they think they are the experts, and who dares to challenge them!

Gary Scoggin

I’m seeing a lot of the same from the RADICALS on the RIGHT here, my friend.

Carlos Ponce

Charles Douglas [thumbup][thumbup]

Gary Scoggin [thumbdown][thumbdown]

Bill Broussard

I think any confusion here might clear up a bit if we just realized that “free markets” are a THEORY and what academic economist assume into existence for the purpose of analytics. It’s about the same as “Trickel down economics”. Free markets get dangerous when the idea moves into an ideology. One of the reasons we had the problem we did is cause big regulated utilities outside our state have skunk-work operations in Texas to study our fee market experiment. Reliant is owned by NRG and Gexa by Florida light and power. They are considered “outposts” learning about the ups and downs of our deregulated state. So too are some of our previously owned power generation plants Do you think for one minute any of the mother ships will be responsive to freezing Texans? We’re little better than lab rats

The only free markets I’ve seen are universally illegal like human trafficking or drugs. The stock market, banking, pharmaceuticals all have some regulations to balance out no -legal or ethical practices. But next time you freeze know you ultimately doing so for some stupid theory

Martin Connor

You need to rethink the downtown part. Downtown Houston has multiple circuits feeding it to help prevent a circuit lockout from causing it to go down. All the outages were done by locking out the circuits at ERCOT's request. Regardless of locking out certain circuits, downtown was going to keep power. Additionally you wanted the power on. Many of those skyscrapers house gas control for transmission and distribution natural gas pipelines. So instead of just having electricity out, you would have had natural gas outages. The only way to have the electricity turned off to some of the unused buildings, it would have to been done by each individually.

Mark Houldsworth

One possibility would be for ERCOT to increase the spinning reserve ancillary payment to say $500 or $1000 per MWH 2 or 3 days in advance of a specified weather or temperature. This would motivate generators to be warm going into the event. As I understand it many of the failures were due to trying to cold start the generators coincident with the freeze. This wouldn't address the pipeline failures. But having nice flowing, humming plants before the freeze might have stabilized performance when the freeze arrived.

George Laiacona

Sharing the National Grid is the best responsible thing our politicians can do for us and our future generations. Regardless of what Carlos says. I can agree that Nuclear power is the best way to go only because it has been working very well in the Northern states and Canada.

Carlos Ponce

I agree with the idea of modern Nuclear power.

However if we go on the National grid we'd be subject to Federal regulation and that means:

NO NUCLEAR

NO NATURAL GAS

NO COAL

Only hydroelectric, wind and solar. And NO to maintenance of pre-existing nuclear, coal and natural gas.

Bill Broussard

Here’s the problem with that, George. I’ve been watching the news and one of the energy consultants was asked if it would to be wise to join the grid. The answer was no one would want us until we get our own grid fixed

Bailey Jones

I saw Bill Gates on Colbert this week - advocating nuclear. A new generation of nuclear generators could provide us with clean energy, but they take a very long time to design and build and create waste that lasts for generations. But I agree with an "everything" approach to replacing fossil fuels.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/25/bill-gates-nuclear-power-will-absolutely-be-politically-acceptable.html

Carlos Ponce

There are nuclear generators which take what has been described as "nuclear waste" as fuel.

Carlos Ponce

Bailey, do you consider natural gas a "fossil fuel"? It occurs on lifeless moons elsewhere in the solar system (Saturn's moon Titan is one example).

Gary Scoggin

Bailey... I think the future of nuclear is small standardized plants (Small Modular Reactors, SMRs). Since the standard design is already safety engineered they can be built cheaper and faster than the old style customized behemoths. Waste is and always will be a problem but it’s a manageable one. And it’s far less damaging than waste (CO2) from fossil plants. Now that the old hack Harry Reid is out of the Senate, perhaps Yucca Mountain in Nevada can come back into play.

Bailey Jones

Gary, I've always liked the idea of small reactors - I think smaller can be inherently safer. I've long had an interest in archaeology and used to subscribe to a couple of journals. I remember an article about how you might mark a nuclear waste site so that people 5,000 or 10,000 years from now could understand what was there - since obviously, no culture would likely last that long. The authors proposed clay tablets - imprinted with pictographs buried in the ground all around a site so that anyone digging there would keep finding them and stop long enough to consider what they were doing.

I remember at Tech there was a small Tokomak project going, looking into fusion power. I don't know that fusion will ever be a viable thing because of the energies involved. But we do have a huge fusion generator sitting right in the middle of our solar system. When we get electricity from wind and solar, we're tapping the immense power output of that reactor.

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