Why is ERCOT a bad system?
ERCOT is a flawed energy system that the Texas state government isn’t willing to fix anytime soon. The issue begins with politicians that don’t want to address the problem about how the electrical grid isn’t built for long-term self-sustainability.
What happened with the 2011 February Power Outages?
In February of 2011, Texas became plagued with weather resembling the cold front that came over the state earlier this year. It caused 3.2 million customers to lose power in their homes as 200 generating units went down. (Amy Sherman, statesman.com) As the gas and electric utility companies in Texas didn’t have the resources to maintain services for customers, they were forced to operate under rolling blackouts, where pockets of ERCOT “homes and businesses lost power from 20 minutes to over eight hours”. (A Guide to the 2011 Texas Blackouts, stateimpact.npr.org)
In response, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp. published a report about the outages.
“The report stated that in 1989, after cold weather caused many generators to fail, the Public Utility Commission of Texas issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization of the generators. However, “these recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011.” The report found that in 2011 “the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds.” More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented many of the weather-related outages, the report found.”
Here’s the problem with this:
Despite warnings from officials and bills that sought to help ERCOT manage the power grid to better operate during weather occurrences, nothing changed to help fix ERCOT’s infrastructure for 9 years.
And that’s just the start.
Earlier I quoted “A Guide to the 2011 Texas Blackouts”, on stateimpact.npr.org. True to the title of the article, you can read a basic description of why there were blackouts on February of 2011. However, if you scroll further down, there is an article posted titled “There’s a Solution to Power Outages During Texas Storms, But You Won’t Like It,” where B. Don Russell, Electrical and Engineering professor at Texas A&M, gives a very compelling reason for how power lines can’t handle snow: trees.
Now, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and every few years we get a cold front that leaves us several inches of snow for any number of days. Now, we get some power outages; it’s pretty normal. However, the main difference for us is that Washington is part of the Western Interconnection grid, so if the entire state goes down, we have Oregon or Idaho to help us out. Texas is on its own, so the state has to rely on its own resources to fix any problems that arise. Yes, snow does weigh down on trees and can knock down energy lines.
But that’s for the areas that still have exposed power lines above ground. In the newer areas of the state, mainly the richer parts, there are buried power lines where an electrical company is willing to pay for developers to install them. The issue is, paying for installation is expensive, and Texas law gives electric companies the freedom to say that they aren’t required to install underground power lines.
Carl R. Allred, from Randle Law Office LTD, L.L.P., wrote an article titled “Electric Power Lines: To Bury, or Not to Bury. That is the Question”, where he discusses how electrical companies aren’t fans of building underground. Allred summaries the article in terms of:
“In summary, what all Texas cities need to be aware of is that they can adopt a valid ordinance requiring electrical facilities to be placed underground, but the ordinance itself must be written in such a way that it does not conflict with the utility company’s tariff. Meaning that the ordinance can require the customer to request that the electrical facilities be placed underground, but the ultimate decision must be left to the utility company, who must have a valid reason for such a denial and the customer has to reimburse the utility company for the costs associated with placing the facilities underground.” (Allred, jgradyrandlepc.com)
This is supplemented by Ed Hirs, energy lecturer at the University of Houston, where he tells statesmen.com that he wrote articles raising issues about the power setup back in 2013 where he saw ERCOT’s grid “had a Soviet-style model that allowed ERCOT to essentially set prices across the state,” and how “ERCOT’s problem with the model has been made evident in the rolling blackouts across Texas over the past several years,” Hirs wrote in a 2013 Houston Chronicle op-ed with co-author Paul MacAvoy, an energy expert and Yale University professor emeritus.
Here’s another thing, marginalized neighborhoods got hit even harder than other areas in Texas.
The Washington Post wrote a piece earlier this February about how marginalized neighborhoods were put second behind the new downtown hotels and apartments of San Antonio. It was especially harrowing for the homeless population. Now, I haven’t been to San Antonio, but I’ve heard about its homeless problem. I’ve seen homelessness in Austin from a couple years ago, and in a state where it seems like it’s a paradise outside of the federal government, its citizens are still subjugated by how they’re at the mercy of where their power comes from.
It makes it seem like ERCOT knew what they were doing.
What do you think?
If you want to get some background information check out these links below that I used as sources!