King Canute Revisited

King Canute Revisited

Texas, indulging in its famed braggadocio, loves to talk up the fact that it is the biggest wind power state and even ranks high world-wide compared to other countries. But somehow, that didn’t seem to serve the residents of the great Lone Star State on February 2.

During the deep freeze of 2011, Texas could not meet its own needs on a non-peak day, saying 7000 Megawatts were “tripped” off the grid due to cold weather and imposing potentially damaging rolling blackouts and requesting voluntary curtailments at a time when it is least desirable and most dangerous with water lines, among other things, vulnerable to freezing.

Explanations so far are that some new coal plants’ coal-handling equipment froze up. And at least one natural gas plant was not able to receive sufficient gas supplies due to system freeze-offs. The shortage was partially mitigated by purchasing power from the better run and more efficient neighbor on the south side of the Rio Grande.

A popular firestorm is apparently now raging against the power companies, grid operators, and state legislators. Texas residents, who pay much higher electricity rates than most neighboring states, seem to believe that it does occasionally get cold in Texas (that’s why they call it winter) and it would have been reasonable to prepare for it.

Perhaps the crazy quilt of generators, transmission companies, grid operators, and regulators that make up the Texas power industry is too busy chasing the wind (power) to pay attention to things such as weather. Perhaps the fact that the Texas power industry is a world unto its own and cannot easily bring in large supplies from neighboring states is really quite satisfactory to the Texas power industry (see map).

But no worries, I have the perfect solution: Next time power plants are “tripping,” ERCOT (irony alert: Electric Reliability Council of Texas) should issue an order for the wind to blow harder in West Texas. If the wind is reluctant to comply, ERCOT should brook no nonsense and immediately escalate. Surely an order from the governor’s office will do the trick.

King Canute Revisited

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