GALVESTON

The catastrophic failure of Texas’ power grid as temperatures plummeted Sunday evening wasn’t an unforeseen possibility, Rather, it was an issue some had warned state officials about for years, according to at least one energy expert.

The problems causing millions of customers to go more than 24 hours without power during some of the coldest days on record can’t be blamed on issues like wind turbines freezing, said Ed Hirs, a University of Houston Energy Fellow and professor of energy economics.

Instead, they have everything to do with how the system is structured in Texas, Hirs said.

“In the state’s enthusiasm for deregulating the electric market, the legislature and then-Gov. George Bush re-created an old-style Soviet Union purchasing bureau, called ERCOT,” Hirs said.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is charged with overseeing the state’s power grid. Texas receives most of its power via the Texas Interconnection, a power grid separate from the rest of the country.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council on Tuesday morning announced they expected they might be able to restore some customers by the afternoon because of additional wind and solar output, combined with more thermal generation.

But the number of outages remained high Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Calls and emails to Electric Reliability Council’s media relations line went unreturned.

Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, on Tuesday called for joint hearings with the House state affairs and energy resource committees to review what led to the statewide blackouts.

Phelan set a tentative date for Feb. 25 for the hearing.

“We must cut through the finger-pointing and hear directly from stakeholders about the factors that contributed to generation staying down at a time when families needed it most,” Phelan said.

Hirs, meanwhile, audibly laughed when asked when he thought the system might return to normal.

Texas’ power grid for years has suffered because generators that were unable to earn a return on capital went offline, and there was little incentive to reinvest and keep equipment in good working condition, Hirs said.

“They’ve structured everything the wrong way, and it’s come home to roost,” Hirs said.

Even now, there’s every incentive for generators to hold back on power because they make more during emergencies, Hirs said.

“Why would you put all your generation capacity online, available to the grid, if you’re only going to get a lower price?” Hirs said.

Some elected officials, such as state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, blamed wind energy and other issues for the week’s blackouts.

“There are a lot of upset people all over the state right now,” Middleton said Monday evening. “We know wind energy played a role in this, clearly. Wind energy capacity is normally over 20 percent of the state’s capacity. It’s down to 2.5 percent of its normal capacity. We’re going to have a lot of issues that we’re going to have to fix.”

Hirs had one word for claims that frozen wind turbines and solar panels are to blame for the issue: “Bullshit.”

Hirs asked to be quoted on that, specifically.

Essentially, so little of the state’s power is based on solar and wind turbines that the loss of them alone cannot explain what happened, Hirs said.

“The resiliency of the grid relies on legacy generators,” Hirs said, referring mainly to coal- and natural-gas fired plants.

Peak demand on the state’s power grid hovers around 70 gigawatts or 74 gigawatts during August and September but averages about 45 gigawatts over the year, Hirs said. Ordinarily, marginal plants operating during the summer will shut down.

But it’s not as if this cold snap is unprecedented, Hirs said. Some parts of Texas experienced a similar collapse of the state’s power grid in 2011, including the medical center in Dallas.

“How many people will get injured and die because of this?” Hirs asked. “We still don’t know. But this is a deadly serious problem.”

And one that Texas officials, until now, have been unwilling to consider seriously, Hirs said.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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(16) comments

Robert Braeking

Good reason to avoid electing globalist embedded deep state politicians like Bush.

Jack Reeves

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Diane Turski

Elections have consequences! Privatizing public services such as utilities is not a good idea because it puts profit above the people they are supposed to service.

Gary Miller

Diane> Giving a bureaucracy control of anything important always has a bad outcome. ERCOT , a bureaucracy, isn't interested in anything that could reduce their power.

Gary Miller

People who don't understand history will defend ERCOT a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies destroyed the Soviet Union and are as dangerious in the US. When bureaucracies have more power than voters the end is near. Texas voters can't control ERCOT until they control the politicians who support ERCOT. After politicians create a bureaucracy they expect the bureaucracy to protect them by being the fall guy if trouble happens and voters want to know why.

Jarvis Buckley

I agree with both Robert & Dianne . We have friend retired living on the WestEnd. No water or electricity going on 3 days .

Bailey Jones

RE: Mayes Middling-at-best - I agree with Mr. Hirs' assessment. Can we not even have a crisis without our mediocre paid servant pandering for political points? This is simple - find the problem and fix it. And since Mr. Middleman doesn't seem keen on finding the solution, he's part of the problem.

Bill Sterchi

So, it appears shutting down the P.H. Robinson Generating Station (2300MW) was not a good idea. This happened in 2009 while Obozo was Prez. Oh, and Mayes was just 27 years old and not yet into serving the People of Texas. ERCOT is not the end-all, do-all it was touted to be. It's also readily apparent their focus is on money (66 Mil in wages/salaries) than the welfare of the People of Texas. Have no fear or worry, Mayes will get to the bottom of this pile and excoriate the real problems.

Gary Scoggin

It was the opposite of a Soviet style approach that got us here. The only similarity was an under-investment in resiliency. The mechanisms that got us here are quite different.

Gary Miller

G. Scoggin> ERCOT is a bureaucracy. All bureaucracies thrive on Soviet style policies.

The Soviets collapsed when there wasn't enough money to fund all their Bureaucracies. The other peoples money they ran out of was the earnings of working people.

Carol Dean

So, Bailey...be sure and leave the water donated by Mayes Middleton to other more appreciative people then you seem to be.

I’d love to read your answer to the current situation as it is and has been.

Bailey Jones

Thanks for your concern, Carol, but we're fine with what we have. Good to see our congressman doing something, even if it's too little too late - I'm sure those without appreciate it - at least he didn't fly off to Cancun with Cruz.

Gary Miller

Bailey> Why is Cruz trip to Can Cub a problem. Our troubles are state problems. Cruz is federal, not State. He has no state responcibilites that can't be handelled by phone. If he were in DC, Idaho, Can Cun or California all his Texas business would be by phone.

Bailey Jones

That's ridiculous Gary. What possible purpose does Cruz serve on this planet if not to help Texans in their greatest hour of need in a generation? None.

Bailey Jones

Gary, maybe ol' Ted could have done what Beto did - set up a phone bank to reach 800,000 Texas seniors to help connect them with water, food, transportation, and shelter. Or maybe like AOC - who raised $2million and is flying into Houston to join with Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia to distribute supplies. You know - state-level stuff.

Carlos Ponce

Bailey, were only Liberals informed of this "help"? I don't know any senior who was "helped" by the likes of AOC, NO'Rourke or Garcia? Were you helped?

Liberals are making a big deal of Ted's flight to and from Mexico. He apologized.Harping on it smacks of HATRED. But then again, HATERS GONNA HATE!

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