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Texas power outages: How the state's grid failed under pressure


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https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2021/02/17/winter-storm-tva-avoid-rolling-blackouts-plagued-nearby-staes/6780479002/

 

From the Article: 

Quote

While the "unprecedented" winter storm that continues to grip much of the U.S. and the Mid-South has left millions without power, Tennessee was able to avoid these extended outages and rolling blackouts. 

Aaron Paul Melda, transmission and power supply senior vice president for the Tennessee Valley Authority, says the utility's continued reliability is a product of its dedicated workforce and its public power system model. 

"We have been built and funded by the people of the United States and the Tennessee Valley and are beholden to them alone," he said, adding that the utility can plan its grid and operations more conservatively in the absence of investor pressure.  

"We work to balance cost and high reliability and ensure a diverse fleet so that we have the ability to shift power sources if need be," he said. 

Thank G-d Ronnie Reagan didn't get his way with the TVA. 

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11 minutes ago, DanteEstonia said:

bUT ThE FrEe MARKet fIXeS EvErYThING!

And you can unequivocally  prove that a 100% government owned and run system would be better?  That it would have performed significantly better under the same exact set of circumstances that occurred in Texas?

 

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14 minutes ago, DanteEstonia said:

Key point from the article:

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Forty percent of TVA's generating capacity is nuclear, and 45% of its power is coming from carbon-free sources, according to the company. According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission data, most of TVA's nuclear reactors operated at full capacity Monday and Tuesday. 

ERCOT's nuclear power generation?  10.9% according to this quick fact sheet:  http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/lists/144926/ERCOT_Quick_Facts_2518.pdf

That is the difference, Dante.  Not some New Deal government program.

 

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Oh, also this @Muda69

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-wind-turbines-frozen/

From the Article:

Quote

He went on to note the shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Bay City because of the cold and finally got to what energy experts say is the biggest culprit, writing, “Low Supply of Natural Gas: ERCOT planned on 67GW from natural gas/coal, but could only get 43GW of it online. We didn’t run out of natural gas, but we ran out of the ability to get natural gas. Pipelines in Texas don’t use cold insulation —so things were freezing.”

 

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Just now, DanteEstonia said:

the free Market favorS the CHeaPest SoLUTiOn, AnD ThE CHEApESt sOLutIoN Is WIND aNd NaTural gaS!

How Big Government Infrastructure Projects Go Wrong: https://www.cato.org/commentary/how-big-government-infrastructure-projects-go-wrong

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The recently enacted $787 billion “stimulus” program appears to be the down payment on a sweeping “new New Deal” that will include many other ambitious government programs—including the possible nationalization of health care.

Given the size and scope of such interventions into the economy, it’s important to remember that big government programs often have results that are very different than what was intended. We can gain particular perspective by reflecting on the experience of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most ambitious infrastructure program, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

It was heralded as a program to build dams that would control floods, facilitate navigation, lift people out of poverty, and help America recover from the Great Depression. Yet the reality is that the TVA probably flooded more land than it protected; much of the navigation it has facilitated involves barges of coal for coal‐fired power plants; people receiving TVA‐subsidized electricity have increasingly lagged behind neighbors who did not; and the TVA’s impact on the Great Depression was negligible. The TVA morphed into America’s biggest monopoly, dominating an 80,000 square mile region with 8.8 million people—for all practical purposes, it is a bureaucratic kingdom subject to neither public nor private controls.

Back in 1933, David Lilienthal, one of the founding directors of the TVA, vowed, “The Tennessee Valley Authority power program is not a taxpayers’ subsidy. It is a business undertaking.” In fact, for more than 60 years, Congress appropriated funds to cover the TVA’s losses.

Although the TVA no longer receives congressional appropriations, it continues to receive large subsidies. The TVA pays none of the federal, state, and local taxes that private businesses pay. A 1993 study by Putnam, Hayes & Bartlett, a consulting firm retained by investor‐owned utilities, estimated that annual cost‐of‐capital subsidies exceeded $1.2 billion, including the taxes that the TVA avoided. As a government‐backed entity similar to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the TVA can borrow money cheaper than private businesses. Currently, the TVA has about $26 billion of debt.

Moreover, the TVA doesn’t have to incur the costs of complying with myriad federal, state, and local laws. Energy consultant Dick Munson reported that the TVA is exempt from 137 federal laws, such as workplace safety and hydroelectric licensing. The TVA can set electricity rates without oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over private utilities. The Securities & Exchange Commission has only limited jurisdiction to oversee the TVA. On top of that, the TVA is exempt from federal antitrust laws and many federal environmental regulations. It’s also exempt from some 165 laws and regulations in Alabama and hundreds more laws and regulations in other states in which it operates. When the TVA wants to acquire more assets, it doesn’t have to haggle, because unlike private businesses, it has the power of eminent domain. More than 15,000 people were expelled from their property to make way for the TVA.

Established by President Roosevelt in May 1933 as part of his first 100 Days, the TVA’s roots actually go back to 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson decided that the federal government should get into the gunpowder business after German submarines sank several ships bringing nitrates from Chile. At the same time, E.I. du Pont de Nemours, the world’s most experienced gunpowder manufacturer, wanted to build a gunpowder manufacturing facility at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on the banks of the Tennessee River, and his company proposed building a hydroelectric plant to provide the power that was needed.

“Progressive” politicians were wary that du Pont might make money on the deal, so the decision was to have two gunpowder manufacturing facilities: one built by du Pont and the other by the federal government. The du Pont facility was finished for $129.5 million and produced 35 million pounds of canon powder before the Armistice (November 1918), while the government’s facility produced nothing at all. Wilson’s Muscle Shoals project became the starting point for the TVA.

It’s run by three directors, each appointed by the president to staggered nine‐year terms. Although the directors are sure to be political supporters, the unusual length of their terms gives them considerable independence, and they’re not subject to constraints by investors, customers, or voters.

As a remedy for the Great Depression, the TVA didn’t work. It created no new wealth and, through taxation, transferred resources from the 98 percent of Americans who didn’t live in the Tennessee Valley to the two percent who did. Any spending that happened in the Tennessee Valley therefore was offset by the spending that didn’t happen elsewhere. Those taxes reduced net incomes.

Much like any other complex public works project, it took an inordinate amount of time to build the TVA. Only three TVA dams were completed during the 1930s. The dams themselves were small—with less than one‐twentieth the power‐generating capacity of big western dams like Grand Coulee. Although the building process provided work for engineers and skilled construction workers—who earned above‐average incomes—the dams simply came too late to have much impact on most people in the Tennessee Valley during the Great Depression.

To the degree that the TVA had any impact, it appears to be negative. The most important study of the effects of the TVA, conducted by energy economist William Chandler, estimated that in the half‐century after the TVA was launched, economic growth in the Tennessee Valley increasingly lagged behind non‐TVA southern markets. Chandler concluded, “Among the nine states of the southeastern U.S., there has been an inverse relationship between income per capita and the extent to which the state was served by the TVA…Watershed counties in the seven TVA states, moreover, are poorer than the non‐TVA counties in these states.”

In the non‐TVA southern markets, there was a greater exodus of people out of subsistence farming into manufacturing and services, which offered higher incomes. Ironically, electricity consumption has grown faster in the non‐TVA southern markets, because it tends to correlate with income. Subsistence farmers might be able to afford light bulbs, but they could not afford the electrical appliances that people in non‐TVA southern markets were buying. Furthermore, despite the vast sums spent building TVA dams, water usage grew faster in the non‐TVA southern markets.

In any case, it was a delusion to believe that there was one “key” (such as TVA‐subsidized electricity) to eradicating poverty. Subsistence farmers needed equipment such as tractors, trucks, and hay bailers (which are powered by diesel fuel, not electricity). They needed to develop more skills, more sophisticated farming practices, and so on.

Backed by the power of the federal government, the TVA promoted electricity for home heating–even when oil and natural gas were cheaper. To the extent the TVA’s home heating campaign was successful, it still squandered resources.

As for flood control, the TVA has flooded an estimated 730,000 acres—more land than the entire state of Rhode Island. Most directly affected by TVA flooding were the thousands of people forced out of their homes. And while farm owners received cash settlements for their condemned property, black tenant farmers received nothing.

As one might expect with a government monopoly that can ignore so many laws, there have been frequent reports of waste and possible corruption. According to TVA’s own inspector general, these include lucrative executive perks, cozy consulting contracts, costly building leases, and much more. The TVA spent $15 billion building nine nuclear power plants—and none of them worked. The TVA hired a former Navy admiral to fix them, but he was charged with cronyism and bad judgment. Congressional investigations followed.

Although the TVA was established to build dams, it has expanded relentlessly (as bureaucracies do) to include 11 coal‐fired power plants and three nuclear power plants as well as 49 dams—apparently with ambitions to expand the TVA’s power‐generating monopoly beyond the Tennessee Valley. Among other things, this has raised environmental concerns. Ralph Nader charged that the TVA “has the poorest safety record with [nuclear] reactors.” On December 22, 2008, at the TVA’s Kingston, Tennessee coal‐fired plant, the dike of a 40‐acre holding pond broke, spilling as much as a billion gallons of coal sludge with elevated levels of arsenic. The sludge covered some 300 acres up to six feet deep, damaging homes and wrecking a train. This spill reportedly was much bigger than the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker that went aground in Alaska.

As the TVA’s long record illustrates, voters rarely receive what they signed‐off on when it comes to massive government programs. Despite all of the harm it has done, the TVA has grown into a powerful and politically unstoppable special interest that has done a grave disservice to the Tennessee Valley. Too bad today’s advocates of a new New Deal seem determined not to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes.

 

5 minutes ago, DanteEstonia said:

So I'm sure under a government run TVA-like entity operating in Texas that those gas pipes would have been insulated.  <rolleyes>

 

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2 minutes ago, Muda69 said:

How Big Government Infrastructure Projects Go Wrong: https://www.cato.org/commentary/how-big-government-infrastructure-projects-go-wrong

 

So I'm sure under a government run TVA-like entity operating in Texas that those gas pipes would have been insulated.  <rolleyes>

 

Tennessee has electricity; Texas does not. 

And of course, he falls back to the CATO articles and the hypotheticals. I give real-world live data. 

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5 minutes ago, DanteEstonia said:

Tennessee has electricity; Texas does not. 

And of course, he falls back to the CATO articles and the hypotheticals. I give real-world live data. 

What in the CATO article is hypothetical, Dante?  

And you do realize ERCOT has 2.5 times the number of customers as the TVA does, do you not?  

Nobody is denying that mistakes were make in Texas.  Yet you still haven't proven that a TVA style government monopoly would have done better.  The conditions in Texas versus those in Tennessee were not the same.

 

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The Texas Blackout Blame Game

https://reason.com/2021/02/22/the-texas-blackout-blame-game/

Quote

"If I owned Texas and Hell," Gen. Philip Sheridan once said, "I would rent out Texas and live in Hell." He probably was thinking about our hot summers, but after last week Hell's central heating is starting to seem appealing. Millions of Texans were left without electricity, heat, and in some cases water service.

The Texas blackouts are shaping up to be the costliest disaster in state history, and the loss of life remains unknown. People are justifiably very angry. And when people are angry, politicians look around for someone to blame. Many have trotted out their favorite villains for the occasion. Many on the right have picked Don Quixote's old enemy, the windmill, while many on the left jumped at the chance to blame deregulation. Neither explanation really holds up. While it will be some time before all the specifics are known, what we do know doesn't support any easy political narrative.

The central fact about the chain of events that led to the blackouts is deceptively simple: It got super cold.

In order to keep the lights on, electric generation must match demand on a minute-by-minute basis. For that reason, the system's planners and forecasters focus their attention on the times of the year when demand is typically highest. In Texas, that's the heat of summer. Many features of our electric grid are designed to work optimally during the summer, with the understanding that in the winter we will usually have far more electric capacity that we need.

The state was not prepared for record cold temperatures stretching across all 254 Texas counties. This generated summer levels of electric demand, and it also caused significant amounts of generation to become unusable. Because really cold temperatures are rare in Texas, many plants contain components that are not protected from the elements. This is true for generators of all fuel types, from wind to nuclear. In addition, Texas typically relies heavily on natural gas to meet its peak electric demand, as natural gas plants are easier to ramp up or down on short notice. During the summer that's not a problem. In the winter, though, gas is also used for heating, and many gas plants did not have firm contracts to deliver fuel and had trouble buying it on the open market. Finally, the winter is a time when some plants shut down for scheduled maintenance.

The result: In the early morning hours of February 15, the state's grid operator—the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT—found itself facing a supply shortfall with more than a third of the grid's thermal generation capacity (natural gas, coal, and nuclear) unusable. To prevent total system failure, ERCOT ordered utilities to curtail service, plunging millions of homes into darkness and cold.

The sheer size of the supply hole makes it hard to blame either wind or deregulation for the failure. While pictures of frozen wind turbines may be evocative, ERCOT's forecasts do not rely on a large amount of wind to sustain the system—and wind ended up meeting those expectations. Some have argued that the low cost of wind power over the last decade has forced the retirement of more reliable power plants that could have helped make up the gap had they been there. I've addressed those arguments at length elsewhere; here I'll add that many of the recently retired Texas plants were rendered unprofitable not by wind but by the fracking-induced fall in natural gas prices. And given how many thermal plants failed, it doesn't seem plausible that having a few more of them would have made the difference.

Similarly, there is little reason to think that Texas' competitive electric system is to blame. ERCOT's most recent winter forecast included a worst-case scenario for the grid that roughly predicted the needed demand but underestimated the amount of generation that would be unusable by almost half. A more centralized or state-run electric system almost certainly would have relied on the same forecast and ended up in the same situation. In retrospect, it's easy to blame generators for not doing more to protect their plants from cold. But if a plant had known that unprecedented cold was coming and had weatherized, it would now be reaping millions in benefits. The problem was not a lack of incentives but a lack of imagination.

One outstanding question has to do with the fact that Texas maintains its own separate electric grid (the rest of the continental United States is split between an eastern and western grid). This has given the state more control over electric policy, and the state is large enough that historically not being part of a larger grid has not been a problem. Would Texas have been able to avoid its problems if it had been part of one of these larger interconnects? So far I don't think we have the data to answer this question one way or the other. In theory, a larger geography should help, and while neighboring states also had to resort to rolling blackouts, they did not do so on nearly the same scale. However, I've yet to see any detailed analysis of whether being part of a larger system would have reduced the overall number of outages or simply spread them out over a greater area.  

That's not a very satisfying answer, and I'm sure that there are many decisions made in the days and years leading up to the blackouts that will and should be second-guessed. But fundamentally the blackouts happened because across the entire system, people did not anticipate how bad things could get. It was a failure to expect the unexpected.

Agreed.  And there is simply no way a 100% government run system would have been any better.

 

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Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm: https://yournews.com/2021/02/19/2033550/joe-bidens-dept-of-energy-blocked-texas-from-increasing-power/

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A week before, Texas begged for help and asked for DOE to lift federal regulations barring state’s energy output.

An Emergency Order from the Biden administration’s Department of Energy shows Texas energy grid operator ERCOT was instructed to stay within green energy standards by purchasing energy from outside the state at a higher cost, throttling power output throughout the state ahead of a catastrophic polar vortex.

Going into effect Sunday, Feb. 14, Emergency Order 202-21-1 shows the Energy Dept. was aware of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide disaster declaration and that ERCOT was readying gas utilities in preparation for a demand surge.

ercot-3525 Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS

The order shows Acting Energy Secretary David Huizenga did not waive environmental restrictions to allow for maximum energy output, instead ordering ERCOT to utilize all resources in order to stay within acceptable emissions standards – including purchasing energy from outside the state.

ercot-3525 Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS

“ERCOT anticipates that this Order may result in exceedance of emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon monoxide emissions, as well as wastewater release limits,” the order states. “To minimize adverse environmental impacts, this Order limits operation of dispatched units to the times and within the parameters determined by ERCOT for reliability purposes.”

ercot-3525 Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS

Moreover, the order instructed an “incremental amount of restricted capacity” to be sold to ERCOT at “a price no lower than $1,500/MWh,” an increase of over 6,000 percent over February 2020 prices of $18.20.

ercot-3525 Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm Featured Top Stories U.S. [your]NEWS

On Wednesday, the Dallas Business Journal reported, “Electricity on the Texas grid has averaged about $1,137.33 per megawatt hour so far in February, up from $18.20 per megawatt hour in February 2020, according to data from the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas. That’s a jump of more than 6,000 percent.”

The EO shows the Biden administration basically ordered ERCOT to throttle its energy output by forcing it to comply with environmental green energy standards, while knowing full well Texans could freeze to death in their homes with zero electricity as temperatures plunged into the single digits.

Read the order:

Why yes, government.  The answer to all our problems, right Dante?

 

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12 hours ago, Muda69 said:

Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Enduring Storm: https://yournews.com/2021/02/19/2033550/joe-bidens-dept-of-energy-blocked-texas-from-increasing-power/

Why yes, government.  The answer to all our problems, right Dante?

 

ERCOT isn't subject to Federal regulation-

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/congress-texas-should-rethink-ercots-go-it-alone-approach-ferc-chair/595335/

Quote

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is regulated by the Texas Public Utilities Commission, not by FERC.

Texas can't have it both ways when it's convenient. 

13 hours ago, Muda69 said:

And there is simply no way a 100% government run system would have been any better.

Yes there is. Tennessee has power. 

On 2/22/2021 at 6:44 AM, Muda69 said:

And you do realize ERCOT has 2.5 times the number of customers as the TVA does, do you not? 

Also, ERCOT isn't an electric company. 

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11 hours ago, DanteEstonia said:

Yes there is. Tennessee has power. 

So does Indiana.  What's your point?  And you complain about others throwing out red herrings?

Tell me Dante, Does the TVA serve the exact same number of customers that ERCOT does?  Does the TVA encompass the same size geographical area that ERCOT does?  Were the weather conditions experienced by the area that the TVA serves the exact same weather conditions as what occurred Texas?

11 hours ago, DanteEstonia said:

ERCOT isn't subject to Federal regulation-

So are you saying this story is a lie?  

Edited by Muda69
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1 hour ago, Muda69 said:

So are you saying this story is a lie?  

Yes

http://www.ercot.com/news/releases/show/57

From the Article-

Quote

Except for three direct current tie lines, the ERCOT grid is separated electrically from the rest of the U.S.

 

https://www.factcheck.org/2021/02/biden-administration-approved-texas-power-request-contrary-to-false-claim/

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21 minutes ago, DanteEstonia said:

Thank you for discovering this Dante.  So ERCOT is not totally separated electrically from the rest of the U.S.   Good to know.

Still does nothing to discount my assertion that a totally government run electrical system would not have done an ounce better in Texas than the current system. In fact they probably would have performed worse.

 

Edited by Muda69
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8 hours ago, DanteEstonia said:

and they got what they deserved. 

Nobody or no organization is perfect, Dante.  Even your precious federal government.

 

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8 hours ago, DanteEstonia said:

 

Good.  Texans are great people, wanting less federal government intervention in their lives.  Something socialists like yourself and Mr. Cillizza can't stand.  I'll take independence over dependence on the federal government any day, as apparently so do most Texans.

 

 

 

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