Who’s to Blame for the Texas Power Crisis?

What ERCOT planners got colossally wrong was the availability of their fossil fleet: gas and coal plants failed. Even a nuclear reactor tripped offline.

By Leonard Hyman and William Tilles for Oilprice.com:

Our last report focused on the uniqueness of the Texas wholesale electricity market, ERCOT, and how it was specifically designed to evade federal utility regulation. And as if he were our paid spokesperson, former Texas governor Rick Perry stated publicly that Texans were happy to suffer blackouts and other hardships if it meant evading federal regulatory scrutiny. Whether the good (and shivering) citizens of the Lone Star State agree is another matter. But today, instead of dealing with politics, we’ll take a closer look at ERCOT as a state planning agency.

First the good news. One of the hardest parts of every planning agency’s job is correctly estimating future demand. This is doubly hard in a dynamic, fast growing economy like Texas. Consequently we were surprised at how good their planning estimate was for this winter’s electrical load of about 67,000 megawatts.

Because of the blackouts we can’t precisely know what peak electrical demand in Texas would’ve been given the extreme winter demands from home heating and the like. But the shadow estimates published by ERCOT suggested about 72,000 megawatts of peak demand.

In total, ERCOT has the ability to supply electrical capacity of about 80,000 megawatts. This amount of available electric power generation should have been adequate to meet demand this week. Not by a wide margin but adequate. Barely. As an aside we should point out that ERCOT runs “light” in terms of electric system reserve capacity with reserves typically about 8%. This compares with other US grids where targeted reserve margins are about 15%. Lower reserve margins are cheaper but mean less back up for emergencies.

Our first tentative conclusion is that Texas would have withstood this recent snowstorm and polar vortex event in pretty good shape from a grid perspective IF thermal plants were available to meet skyrocketing demand.

Let’s briefly talk about the second big thing ERCOT planners also got right, or close to right—the amount of available electricity generated by wind turbines in Texas. There are about 20,000 megawatts of electric wind turbine capacity in state. And this sounds superficially like a lot. But wind as our readers know is an intermittent generating source. And it is not particularly windy in Texas in mid-February so the planners estimated that only about 6,000 megawatts of wind would be available. This is approximately one third of the installed wind capacity and less than 10% of the projected ERCOT daily electrical system capacity. This tells us that the ERCOT planners correctly viewed wind power as just not that big a deal in Texas in winter.

Of the 6,000 expected megawatts from wind, 4,000 megawatts were actually available this week to reap insanely high wholesale prices. (One facilities operator noted that prices this week repaid a large portion of the entire capital costs of their entire wind farm project. This is akin to purchasing an expensive automobile and winning the lottery the next day to pay it off. Perhaps cool but nonetheless unusual.)

Bottom line: did wind underperform the expectations of planners? Yes by about 2,000 megawatts. Was this a big deal in terms of the Texas outages? No, because the total power system shortfall approximated over 30,000 megawatts. Wind was only responsible for 2,000 megawatts of that deficit.

What ERCOT planners got colossally wrong was the availability of their fossil fleet. They assumed almost all of it would be available this week. From an electric generating perspective, Texas is predominantly a natural gas and coal fired state with a few nuclear plants. All those thermal units together comprise about 75% of the state’s electrical generation.

Together with wind, ERCOT, at the height of their weather emergency, could only cobble together about 40,000 megawatts vs approximately 70,000+ megawatts of system demand. This extreme level of supply/demand mismatch is why there was a near total system blackout. The gas and coal plants failed and even one unit at the South Texas Nuclear Project Unit tripped offline due to a cold weather-related instrumentation malfunction.

Now on to what ERCOT planners got half right in our view. First, there are two types of power plant outages: planned outages for thorough out of season maintenance and unplanned outages typically due to equipment malfunction. In a summer peaking electricity system like Texas, it would be normal to have power plant operators engage in routine, extensive maintenance primarily in the winter when demands on the system are typically decreased. (Unfortunately for ERCOT managers, the last week was anything but typical.) A portion of their gas fleet was unavailable for this reason. That’s the way it’s supposed to be in a summer peaking system. We’ll give the ERCOT planners partial credit here.

Whether these gas plants with planned maintenance outages could’ve been quickly restored to service as the weather outlook deteriorated will no doubt be determined. In addition, Texas’s second line of electricity defense, coal fired plants, also failed to perform as expected. Coal piles, several months worth of stored coal on site at the power plants, froze into unmanageable carbon boulders and rendered much of the coal fleet inoperable.

But to us, this in a way is the really good news here. Why? Ask yourself a simple question. Are there places where natural gas, coal and nuclear plants operate quite well in colder climates. The answer is of course, yes—all around the globe in fact. We assume that whatever engineering and maintenance expertise that permits successful cold weather power plant operation can be brought to Texas. And from a financial perspective this does not even seem that big of a lift.

But there is always something. And it has to do with the notion of system resilience. Texas is highly dependent on natural gas and the related infrastructure for two vital things—residential home heating and wholesale electricity production. In extreme situations, residential heating gets precedence over power generation which sounds nice. But as our readers know, a gas furnace doesn’t work without electricity (although sometimes sadly a gas stove does.) These two systems are completely interdependent.

Second, the gas distribution network—which also failed— uses electricity to distribute gas through its system of pumps and motors. When the electric system goes dark there’s no power for gas distribution either. Not to mention water pressure. Pressures drop and systems fail.

This is not a resilient energy system. It is “fragile” in philosopher N. Taleb’s terms, the exact opposite of what people should expect here. This is not a problem we believe people will talk about because it is very difficult and expensive to remedy. Sadly for many politicians it is much easier to prevaricate and blame the wind turbines. This is the energy equivalent of what the pundits call “hippie punching” — that is bad outcomes are always due to progressive initiatives.

Energy systems are complex to say the least. There are at least five key variables for all electric system planners to manage: reliability, cost, pollution remediation, social equity, and resilience. And these issues are being taken up under circumstances of heightened politicization. There is no reason for optimism if difficult, but science-based decisions are required in highly ideological environments. By Leonard Hyman and William Tilles for Oilprice.com

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  334 comments for “Who’s to Blame for the Texas Power Crisis?

  1. Reverse Petunia says:

    That seems like a very even-handed assessment.

    Now “round up the usual hippie suspects”!

    • ross says:

      Typical Regressive tolerance and compassion.

      • JoeSmith says:

        Doesn’t matter, Texans can just incorporate and issue junk bonds with the Fed buying them at 1% over 10 years to cover their electricity bills.

      • max says:

        Outages Morph Into Outrage As Texans Slapped With “Mind-Blowing” Power Bills

        The rolling blackouts that plunged up to 15 million Texans into darkness amid a historic cold snap are diminishing by the end of the week. About 188k customers were without power in the state on Friday morning. Days after power prices jumped from $50 per Megawatt to more than $9,000, the horror stories pour in for those who had power this week during grid chaos as they are mind-boggled how their energy bills skyrocketed.

    • timbers says:

      It has been a clarifying experience to see libertarian sites (Mish) jumping to splain to us all how frozen wind mills and the sun setting at night are the reasons for the energy crisis in Texas.

      • Mark says:

        I was just thinking the same thing ( though otherwise I think Mish’s site is one of the the 2 best that exist – this is the other one.)

        re Mish’s blaming the outage on solar and wind – who has more egg on their face ….. Mish or Ted “Cancun” Cruz.

        I’d call it a tie.

        • Joe Saba says:

          Mish is complete lefty RINO like Braindead McCain, Flake, Romney
          he’s OK at best if you can stand he LIBERAL RANTS
          downgraded him nearly year ago

        • Jdog says:

          Mish is a liberal hack masquerading as a libertarian. The man has no credibility.

      • Harrold says:

        I think we were all able to see the free market correct the lack of electricity in Texas when people started burning their furniture.

        • Trailer Trash says:

          I read one story where they were ripping up baseboards to burn, holding their prize dining table and chairs in reserve.

          People see the refugee tragedies “over there” on TV, and refuse to believe it could happen to them (just like the virus?).

          I recall watching the destruction of New Orleans on live TV in 2005. Even that horror show hardly made a dent in the collective conscious.

          So far haven’t seen much about the (tens of? hundreds of? ) thousands of homes and apartments destroyed by water damage. I speculate many will be abandoned and the families forced to live in cars.

          Will this latest Texas disaster wake people up?

        • NBay says:

          Yeah. I guess those “invisible hands” do show up when they are really needed. And here I thought only the filthy rich and their puppets had a pair of them.

      • Kurtismayfield says:

        To a libertarian.. the free market cannot fail. People can only fail the free market.

        See: Grafton NH and it’s trash management.

        • Jdog says:

          You cannot have a free market in a monopolized commodity.
          Utilities have a monopoly, and therefore should be strictly regulated to ensure they do not exploit the public and ignore the public well-being..
          We have seen countless deaths and destruction due to the deregulation of the industry and the corporate greed and mismanagement that followed it.
          Texas and California are perfect examples of what happens when you allow monopolies to regulate themselves….

        • intosh says:

          @jdog

          It’s a free market in the sense that Texans are free to choose between doing business with the utilities and burning their furniture. They are also free to leave the state if they don’t like this arrangement. ;-)

        • Nacho Libre says:

          Monopolies are free market?

          Leaving a place if you don’t like monopolies is free market?

          I know some people get triggered with ‘free market’. But they should at least make some effort into learning what free market is.

          Place where the competition thrives, regulations don’t create huge barriers for entry or operation is free market.

          Utilities are government mandated monopolies. Ask yourself this question – are you free to purchase your power or your water from any other provider than the one you have now?

      • max says:

        5 Horrific Winter Storms That Have Gone Down In Texas History
        Panhandle Blizzard of 1957
        San Antonio Snowstorm of 1985
        Winter Storm Goliath of 2015
        Houston Snowstorm of 1960
        1983 freeze

        it would be interesting to find if there was any problem with electricity at that time.

        • Chase metz says:

          December 1989. I lost power Day Two and as a result of thousands in damage learned to have backup in place. This time was a no-sweat situation and didn’t lose power. But I was ready and that’s what this socialist big government mentality loves to propagate.

        • Michael says:

          In 1983 for almost the whole month of December the temperatures never got above freezing. Ranchers had to go out every day and bust the ice off their stock tanks. Perhaps there were some small power outages, but I don’t remember there being any. Since then many coal fired plants have been retired and millions in subsidies have been poured into wind generators and solar panels. Until an economical method for storing energy generated by the latter is invented, the latter are nothing more than “feel good” energy, with zero reliability for a grid which needs to operate day in and out whether or not the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Michael,

          READ THE ARTICLE: It was gas plants, coal plants, and a nuclear reactor that were responsible for the vast majority of power plant failures.

          If the wind turbines had been equipped with de-icing equipment, as they are in northern regions, they would have worked fine. And if there had been more wind turbines, all equipped with de-icing equipment, they could have provided a big relief.

        • 728huey says:

          There was also the 2011 deep freeze that nearly postponed the Super Bowl. In fact, it was after that particular weather event that a ton of proposals to update and weatherize the electricity generation plants were issued only to be ignored by the Texas energy lobby.

        • w says:

          Do some research and get back to us.I do know that one site said about 2400 weather records were broken in a few days due to this strange arctic storm.

        • Capt Mel says:

          There are usually some outages when a storm hits, freezing rain and snow take down power lines. The TRUE issue is ECORT is a weak and toothless agency. They suggest standards and maintenance but are powerless to enforce those standards. The utility owners skimp on maintenance and suggested standards to enrich the bottom line.

          It goes without saying if I just killed 30 people I’d be considered a monster… but these companies just did and all they get are bad press. A few state hearings with outraged state officials and its business as usual.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      AGREE with your first sentence rp,,, but why bother to begin/continue bashing after that?
      Also AGREE totally with the last paragraph of the report, ”There is no reason for optimism if difficult, but science-based decisions are required in highly ideological environments.”
      SO sad that that paragraph is apparently becoming the worst factor preventing all kinds of apparently otherwise available improvements in SO many areas of global as well as local concern.
      Wolf and at least most of the commentariat on Wolfstreet.com at least mostly try to stay on the facts, anecdotal or otherwise.

    • Candyman says:

      Very inappropriate comment. In poor taste, lacking serious cognitive process.

    • Russell says:

      I’m waiting for the official report, enough speculating. Texas legislature is in session and they are asking for a full response from ERCOT. Everyone else only sees the issues that follow their personal agenda. I have a feeling there were failures on multiple fronts.

      My power was down a total of 24 hours, rolling. I made it to work everyday and my family didn’t suffer any real hardships. That doesn’t make is acceptable.

      • EdYooper says:

        Well, real work got disrupted. Many people were without power for over 72 hours. So much for the internet or working from home.

        Monday 2 am to very late Thursday was very common. Many people are still down and now secondary effects like water systems going down are occurring.

        Texas houses leak heat. My mom’s house in DFW was 44 only a day into the outage when I drove up, turned off the water to her frozen pipes, and brought her to my house. My house was an island of power. I believe it’s because we share a local grid with the fire station two blocks away. We had 10 people in our 2000 sq foot house, which is “enough”!

        • Chris says:

          PM
          If they leak heat it mean they leak cool air as well and it tells me that Texas houses are just poorly insulated and you must have high utility bills in summer too since heat and humidity are not strangers to Texas.

      • w says:

        Heard elsewhere that they had no power,cell phone service,water,driveable roads for several days.Said Texan also said pupes burst at the nuclear and coal plants.Turbines frozen,while natgas orices insane so to prevent both a huge e onomic loss and catastrophic equipment failure,there were managed rolling outtages.About 8,000mw of wind were quoted before storm onslaught.Also heard that Gov. Abbott has stopped or drastically limited natgas shipments Out of Texas.

      • Capt Mel says:

        I agree, but ECORT can make recommendations, no enforcement authority. A few meetings with outraged state officials will follow. Let’s see how many state officials lost power and water and the changes they make to keep us safe as they all promise to do!
        Except for Cancun Ted, that’s a whole other problem!

    • NBay says:

      Only if it’s predestined…..BTW; betcha Osteen’s house was predestined to stay nice and warm and dry.

    • Petunia says:

      In south Florida, they have backup generators to power the gas stations and supermarkets. In Texas, the supermarkets are empty because they lost all the perishable food. The gas stations are open only where there is still power.

      • J7915 says:

        I remember in the 50’s and 60′ in S. America mostly at road side gas stations, they had to remove gas pump cover, insert handpump when power was out. Also the registers were manual, and we paid cash.

    • robert says:

      Some years ago, Ontario and Quebec had a weather event, freezing rain, that shut down power for up to a month as power lines went down everywhere, pulled down by the ice. It’s that magic number at which it rains, and instantly freezes. The damage was staggering, and thousands of workers came from the northern states to help fix it.
      Also, the author states “Are there places where natural gas, coal and nuclear plants operate quite well in colder climates. The answer is of course, yes—all around the globe in fact.”
      Sometimes no. In Northern Canada, where I worked in paper mills, the boilers ran on NG, but there was a pecking order on supply due to cold weather. It’s a combination of high consumption and the fact that they just can’t pump it fast enough even though there’s no electrical interruption. Big industrial users were given notice of supply interruption so they could switch to oil, and sometimes coal if that was their fallback energy source, so households were usually not deprived.
      So everything works, until once in a while the weather, or some unique set of circumstances says no, and everyone looks for someone or something to blame, somehow forgetting that 99.99% everything works fine.
      There’s no reason to blame anyone or anything – things happen.

  2. WES says:

    Using the mirror effect, politicians pointing fingers should do well to remember that 3 fingers are pointing back at them!

    Got to give Texians credit! They do things big!

  3. 2banana says:

    Huh? And yet this doesn’t happen in Maine or Montana. Are they using special anti-freeze coal?

    “Coal piles, several months worth of stored coal on site at the power plants, froze into unmanageable carbon boulders and rendered much of the coal fleet inoperable.”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      2banana,

      Correct. It doesn’t happen where folks prepare their power plants for the winter. Not winterizing fossil fuel infrastructure and power plants, wind turbines, and nuclear power plants is reckless negligence, even if it doesn’t get cold often.

      And that’s what happened here. I lived in Texas (and Oklahoma) for many years, and I can attest to the simple fact that no one ever prepares for winter. The theory is that the winter storms don’t last long, and after a few days, the southerly wind comes back with its warm air, and everything goes back to normal.

      • 2banana says:

        I have lived in upstate NY in winter.

        I have watched the trains dump coal on the ground, in huge piles, right next to the power plants.

        No special preparations. No clumping either.

        It is one of the main benefits of coal.

        You can safely store months of fuel, right where you need it, on the ground and in the open.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Up there, do you get ice storms like they do further south? Like “black ice?” It rains and freezes at the same time, and everything is covered in ice. This is fairly common down there. I’ve experienced it quite a few times. The ice causes power lines and tree limbs to snap. You can’t open the door of your car, etc.

        • Danno says:

          Yes Wolf we do.

          I’d estimate 3 times a year.

          Those ice storms that are heavy cause a LOT of damage as you know, especially if leaves are still on trees during a freezing rain storm in late fall.

        • Tom S. says:

          That was my first thought. They’re really trying to act like a dozer cant break through a coal clump? Maybe not with a sheet of ice on the ground? I don’t know.

        • Ron says:

          Texas coal is sub-bituminous or lignite with a relatively high water content; therefore easier to freeze.

        • Kurtismayfield says:

          Upstate NY has all that hydro from Robert Moses.

          Coal is like a decimal point in the overall energy consumption of NY:

          https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=NY

        • peter hunt says:

          If the coal pile wax frozen , then could have got a demolition excavator in with a bucket and jack hammer on it
          theres really no excuses

      • Cas127 says:

        Wolf,

        And that is pretty much exactly what happened here.

        The weather was much, much colder than normal, for significantly longer.

        The question is how much additional money gets spent to address circumstances that hold for 1%, 3%, 5% of the time.

        Adding to the issues are a dying MSM in full clickbait, crying chryon, hysterical, meth’ed up pre-teen drama queen mode.

        The situation in TX was bad…but nothing like the MSM post apocalyptic coverage.

        • Yaun says:

          Exactly, it hard (and uneconomical) to be 100% prepared for every tail risk eventuality.

          And it sounds that in Texas the problem was (apart from the low reserve capacity) not so much structural but rather an experience problem. For example, with the right foresight of how much of the system would fail, parts of the system in maintenance could have been brought back online in time.

          (Un)fortunately stress-test experience problems are the easiest problem to fix in retrospect but the hardest problem to fix by contingency planning.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Except, this only happened in Texas, because they insist on having their own grid. It’s worth noting small parts of Texas, don’t use the Texas grid and instead use one of the 2 national grids (these people were fine). Texas also came VERY close to blowing their grid, which could have made this situation last potentially for months. That would have been a VERY BIG deal indeed.

          Besides having their own grid, Texas decided to have little excess capacity and to not winterize it, which although rare, if you insist on having your own grid and having little excess capacity, you should at least ensure its reliable.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          It’s worth noting that in various states, governors/state congressmen have been known to cut or eliminate funding to state agencies that report on infrastructure like dams, that release reports saying things like, there’s problems, money needed. I would bet immediately that the reason ERCO, said everything was fine, was that anyone who said otherwise, risked being fired by the state government. It’s unclear whether people will fall for the ERCOT sccapegoat, without wondering why they got that way externally.

        • Cas127 says:

          TR,

          “Texas also came VERY close to blowing their grid, which could have made this situation last potentially for months.”

          What *exactly* do you think you mean when you say things like this?

          *Define* *how* the grid was going to “blow”, requiring “months” of repair…continuing “the situation” for months (record Feb lows were going to continue for months? Rolling, local blackouts were *not* going to be used to avoid any physical damage to grid?)

          Provide details, not hyperventilation…the MSM provides that in endless abundance.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          This has happened before c10;
          Hurricane Andrew took down the main power transmission line from east coast to west coast of FL, as well as all the main lines anywhere near Homestead, and power was out for months, etc.
          Happened again a decade or so later, when parts of the SE coast of FL were out of power for months, and many residential facilities became so full of mold they were demolished.
          The comment from TR is all over the MSM, true, but even so, that alone does not make it wrong.
          Since the entire grid system now relies on electronic and digital controls in many many places, and those are well known to be very fragile as the article makes clear, it is not unreasonable to deduce the same long term repairs might happen in any event such as this.
          As we have already seen several times in the last few decades, NOW it’s the to begin the work to provide completely independent redundant back up systems for all kinds of ‘stuff’ needed for modern life, power being one of them, water and food being the most basic.
          None of them currently provided with sufficient backup, obvious at every extreme natural event, and those events are not very likely to stop.

        • Harrold says:

          Estimates of damages over $20 billion for Texas due to this slight snafu in power generation.

        • bill tilles says:

          Hi Cas 127
          Really interesting point but I think we disagree. My take is that a near catastrophic failure of the electric grid coupled with “mere” faulures of the gas and water grids as well is very, vety bad. And whether the state descended into a violent hellscape or cheubic neighbors assisted each other incessantly is irrelevent. Compound multiple systems collapse means that the life giving sytems we more or less take for granted, like heat and potable water, suddenly canish.

        • Ethan in NoVA says:

          Cas127: The large bits of power handling hardware are usually special order and can take a while to source. If transformers, converters, switchgear was damaged in mass it could take a while for China to build and ship the new ones.

          Also, it isn’t fully constructed yet but there has been a planned site in Texas that would allow Texas to buy and sell to/from the other grids in the country. I assume it will be constructed quicker now :-) Tres Amigos SuperStation, look up the Wikipedia page, started in 2009.

        • nick kelly says:

          Cas 127:

          “It needed to be addressed immediately,” said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”

          Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

          Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

          I suggest that the President of Ercot knows something about this and the fact that the MSM quoted him doesn’t make him wrong.

          Under these circumstances with you disagreeing with the expert, it is up to you to ‘define exactly what you mean’.

          There are so many examples of early shut down required to prevent catastrophic damage it would take a library to list them. One is over heating a car engine. Another is overloading a transformer until the oil explodes.

        • Cas127 says:

          Ethan,

          “If transformers, converters, switchgear was damaged in mass it could take a while for China to build and ship the new ones.”

          But isn’t that precisely the point why rolling blackouts are implemented…to avoid insufficient supply and asymmetric demand actually causing hardware damage?

          (Your re supply from China pt is well taken tho)

          It isn’t like rolling blackouts are unknown across the US, for precisely the same reason…to avoid hardware damage due to supply/demand distortions in the grid…usually caused by weather.

          The difference here was that the Texas cold was a 50-100 yr event in terms of the depth, breadth, and length of the cold, causing generation and transport issues that don’t hold in 90%+ of TX winters.

          Again, a big, transient mess…but not the Apocalypse that NY/LA medias are motivated to promote.

          Two weeks (or less) from now, the MSM will be pimping some other panic porn that suits their political agenda.

          Or do you think they’ll be providing live, wall to wall coverage of ERCOT hearings to address the failures that arose?

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Cas127,

          I posted a link yesterday to a forbes article describing it. For some reason link didn’t get approved. Other sites have talked about it as well.

          Search for

          Texas Power Grid Was ‘Seconds Or Minutes’ Away From Complete Failure, Leaving Whole State Dark, ERCOT Says

        • Cas127 says:

          Nick,

          “I suggest that the President of Ercot knows something about this”

          1) You do realize that this is the same individual that is responsible for the entirety of system reliability and…therefore being pilloried for failures in many other areas…insufficient generation planning, transport weatherization, etc…so it isn’t like his judgment is beyond reproach…which people like you are reproaching him for continuously, right now. You can’t hold him up as a truth speaking oracle in one instance and a useless political hack in the next.

          2) His drama queen language is intended to shield against heated criticism for pulling the trigger on the vast, now lengthy, blackouts.

          “I had to do it or worse would have resulted”.

          Okay…but that is exactly why rolling blackouts are always and everywhere employed…to avoid hardware damage.

          The difference in TX is that the depth, breadth, and length of the cold (for TX) has kept the power off for 4 or 5 days instead of 1 or 2.

          Again, not the Apocalypse that is being promoted for political purposes (did Sicknick freeze to death in TX this time, now that even CNN is moving away from the DC fire extinguisher story?).

        • Denise says:

          I am sure property insurers would beg to differ. Water damage claims and lost business is expected to cost $18 Billion. Some of those homes have already been repaired after flooding from
          Harvey and the tax day floods in Houston. Most people who have insurance will see huge premium increases others may just move on especially those living in damaged rental units. Texas is known for doing everything on the cheap. Houses are under insulated for both winter and summer. Now ERCOT and it’s private generating owners are looking for legislative handouts. Power generating systems can be harden for extreme weather events that occur in any season. PSC like mine that allow system hardening costs to be passed on to the end user benefit all parties. Customers and shareholders. It takes time but I am fortunate to get my electricity from the number one utility in the country. I benefit as both a consumer and a stock holder. In 25 years I have only had to use my one room portable ac unit with generator for only one night.

        • EdYooper says:

          Hmm. Ask a Texan. This was a disaster. Texas houses are not like Michigan houses.

          No one would be happy if their utility made them freeze — and I do mean freeze — for three or four days without any power.

        • J7915 says:

          Time to get the Wehrmacht winterization manuals out, the ones the US Army later plagerized :))) IIRC. I.E. most of this is old hat, advanced Boy Scout stuff.

          If there were no windfall profits to be made, if the cosequences of failure to deliver energy due to lack of reasonable foresight fell back on the energy providers, reliability would be at 95% plus.

        • Happy1 says:

          Power was also out for some people in LA and MS also, this wasn’t just a TX thing although TX definitely had it worse.

      • Up North says:

        This is a general reply:
        -Texas wanting to have it’s own grid probably isn’t only related to bring under no scrutiny: it also has to do with the danger that the rest of the grid around could make you fail. I’m from Quebec, and that province is connected to the other grids only thru special special systems, meaning of all around then fails they are fine (Toronto blackout summer 02 or around that).
        -Quebec’s ice storm in 97 or around that was most spectacular: you simply cannot prepare well for extremes like that (although they subsequently added a new power line between Montreal and Sherbrooke by hwy10 to create a triangle to prevent similar future problems)
        -add to all this the fact that all those systems have internet points of access and with our Chinese and Russian friends, you cannot predict what could happen

        • Harrold says:

          This happened to Texas in 2011. It happened in 2021.

          Its estimated it would cost almost $10 million to weatherize the power plants.

          But, as Jerry Jones said, this week has been like hitting the lotto for his gas company.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Up North,

          In some places around the world, they actually have spots where they temporarily convert the power to DC and back to AC, to connect 2 unlike grids. This could be done for Texas, it costs more than simply linking the Texas grid into one of the bigger 2 grids fully, but would provide better security and protection. It would be much cheaper than current setup in long run and more reliable.

        • Jdog says:

          There is nothing wrong with a stand alone grid, providing it is properly maintained and managed. Being tied to a multi state grid is done for economics, not reliability. You are just as likely to be damaged from a multi state grid as saved by one.
          Southern California was taken down by a mistake in Arizona a few years ago which caused a total grid failure in San Diego and Orange Co.
          The issues with grid reliability are 100% due to maintenance and design, and the stocking of supplies and transformers to make emergency repairs. Of course those kinds of preparations are expensive and cut into the corporate profits so all utilities take chances and shortcuts that cause major problems when emergency situations arise…

        • Earl says:

          With the latest news that the Texas Republicans are considering a bill to secede from the US, dont rule out Washington taking down their grid

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Earl,

          Those Texans like to think they are special, but Texas wouldn’t do so well by itself (no individual state would). Even if Texas could secede, not all of Texas would probably go. Once most national level companies pull out, it would be a faiiled state. Not all will pull out, but definitely the vast majority will. Once Texas (part of it, is out) all leverage is gone and the much smaller, less powerful country will have to beg from the big dogs. Just like brexit (which because of pandemic, hasn’t really hit yet) and like Cataloniia would be. It’s easy for a part of a union or economic union to thrreaten to leave and make demannds, but you just have to explain why it would fail, call their bluff, or use the situation to your advantage.

          Without being a part of America, the leaving part of Texas, would have its own far less valuable currency and the US in the likely upcoming deglobalization era, would have to plan on divesting from Texas.

          It’s important to remember that parts of Texas, use 1 of the 2 national grids. With special connection stations, there would be little direct risk. Regardless of whether, Texas connected to national grid, Washiington would have little difficulty taking down Texas grid.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Having lived a bit east at the same latitude, it was the same there: when a winter storm hit, everybody just stayed home.
        And almost everyone had wood heat and/or a propane tank fueling heaters that did NOT require electricity, especially after many lost power for 2 weeks one winter due to ice bringing down even the major lines, not to mention the local lines.
        Kinda like sailing long distances, everyone needs to have completely independent redundant systems in place, NOT completely interdependent as pointed out in the article re the natgas system.
        Such as the local Water District manager taking a load of firewood and a tank of diesel fuel and making a big fire under the elevated water tank when it froze one year… or just walking down to the creek and bringing back a bucket of water when the pipes froze, eh??

      • They failed to prepare for a 100 year event. Maybe they believed in global warming rather than climate change. Watching the weather pattern it’s not hard to imagine the jet stream dropping just a bit more which would freeze all of temperate coastal California, which is I think what happened in 67′ when it snowed in San Diego.

        • EdYooper says:

          Something similar happened in 2011, though not as bad. Some places weather proofed. ERCOT made it voluntary and kept it voluntary even after 2011.

          I call it terrible planning.

        • EdYooper says:

          For instance, El Paso did. They had practically no trouble with this weather event.

        • Jdog says:

          More like a 25 year event…..

        • Happy1 says:

          Seems like they just need to spend a little extra to cold proof their system. Not rocket science.

      • max says:

        Everyone wants clean energy, but reliability is what really counts in a crisis. As renewably sourced energy captures a larger share of the power grid, outages become inevitable.

        This is the problem with renewable energy; it isn’t always there when the going gets tough. The ramifications of changing our current electric grid from carbon and nuclear based sources to wind, solar and other more environmentally and politically correct sources are not esoteric; they are real, consequential, and life threatening.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          But most of the energy that was out was fossil. Plus a nuclear reactor.

        • max says:

          The incentive for gas generation to do the right thing was taken away by Texas’s deliberate energy only market strategy. The purpose of which was to aid the profitability of intermittent wind and solar resources and increase their penetration levels. I don’t believe anyone has ever advanced the notion that fossil fuel plants might operate based on altruism. Incentives and responsibility need to be paired. Doing a post-mortem on the Texas situation ignoring incentives and responsibility is inappropriate and incomplete.

          The breakdown for 16 February 2021:

          MWh %
          Wind Generation 73,395 6%
          Solar Generation 20,134 2%
          Hydro Generation 3,833 0%
          Other Generation 682 0%
          Natural gas Generation 759,708 65%
          Coal Generation 204,655 18%
          Nuclear Generation 98,394 8%
          Total 1,160,801 100%
          EIA
          Fossil fuels accounted for 83% of our electricity generation yesterday. Fossil fuels + nuclear accounted for 92%.

          Texas does not even have a capacity market.

          This article from GreenTech media praises energy only markets as do many green interests. Capacity markets are characterized as wasteful.

          Why has Capacity been devalued?

          Traditional fossil fuel generation has (as does most hydro and nuclear) inherent capacity value. That means such resources generally can be operated with a high degree of reliability and dependability. With incentives they can be operated so that they will likely be there when needed. Wind and solar are intermittent resources, working only under good conditions for wind and sun, and as such do not have capacity value unless they are paired with costly battery systems.

          If you want to achieve a higher level of penetration from renewables, dollars will have to be funneled away from traditional resources towards renewables. For high levels of renewable penetration, you need a system where the consumers’ dollars applied to renewable generators are maximized. Rewarding resources for offering capacity advantages effectively penalizes renewables. As noted by the head of the PUC in Texas, an energy only market can fuel diversification towards intermittent resources. It does this because it rewards only energy that is fed into the grid, not backup power.

          When capacity value is rewarded, this makes the economics of renewables much less competitive. Texas has stacked the deck to make wind and solar more competitive than they could be in a system that better recognizes the value of dependable resources which can supply capacity benefits. An energy only market helps accomplish the goal of making wind and solar more competitive. Except capacity value is a real value. Ignoring that, as Texas did, comes with real perils.

          The impacts are increased by both having more intermittent resources which do not provide capacity and also because owners and potential owners of resources which could provide capacity are not incentivized to have those units ready for backup with firm energy supplies.

      • nevket says:

        For the last 50 years the Crimatologists have had their way with the world preaching their Doom Porn of unmitigated Glowbull Warming. No public Company or Official had the brains or balls to ‘winterize’ their facilities as that would have been a career ending move.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          nevket,

          Good lordy. Just about all facilities in colder parts of the US are winterized and they work just fine in the winter. It’s just that Texas doesn’t get real winters, and only gets some winter storms periodically that last a few days, and there may be years without a big winter storm. So decision makers take the calculated risk to save money and not winterize. Which occasionally produces said results.

      • Peter Mott says:

        Right, that’s like snow here in UK.

    • bill tilles says:

      In a funny way that’s a really good question. Texas has lots of lignite which absorbs water more easily than harder coals which also have higher btu content. Was this a factor? Don’t know. Otherwise you just drive bulldozers over the pile repeatedly throughout winter to break it up.

    • NBay says:

      Probably something as simple as the size of the excavating/loading equipment on hand, on down to whatever pulverizes it for feeding to boilers. Coal, like almost everything else gets harder when mixed with water and frozen.

      “Unmanageable (for what?) carbon boulders.”

      Point is, they weren’t expecting what they got.

      More climate anomalies to come? The science says so.

      • Jdog says:

        There have always been, and will always be “climate anomalies”.
        The entire co2 propaganda campaign is a corporate invention, designed to give them power over, and profit from, all human activity which created co2, which is everything you do including breathing.

        If co2 was really a life threatening issue, the first and most obvious priority would be to reduce the population, as that would be the only real solution, but that is not even on the table. The corporations want the population to continue to grow so they can continue to reap ever more profit.

        Climate change is just another fake issue.

        • NBay says:

          Just curious, anyone have a list of issues that are not “fake”, that I can flip through to see if I can relate at all to you non-science and religious types?

          On second thought, forget it, almost half the country voting the way it did is really all I need to know.

        • Saylor says:

          5.1 metric tons-U.S. 32.5 metric tons global carbon emssions per year.
          Carbon was shown to be a atmosphere warming gas back in the last third of the 1800’s.
          Yeah…, that shouldn’t effect anything.
          And the earth is still flat.

        • c_heale says:

          Covid is reducing the population but no one is happy with this. Seems like reducing the population is not popular.

  4. Paulo says:

    I might have missed the part about the ‘Texas go it alone’ theme to avoid any federal scrutiny or regulations. From what I understand the State actually feels they function better as an independent, thus no grid tie to other states or reciprocity agreements for possible/probable supply interruptions.

    What’s that old saying, “Pride goeth before the fall”?

    I’m a BCer, a place that generates all electricity from hydro. However, we are tied to both the east, and to the western states grids despite generating much much more power than our domestic needs. This allows us to export, but also import power if there are any interruptions in supply. A no brainer, as far as I’m concerned.

    Furthermore, Alberta and BC produce oil, gas, and harvest wind energy throughout the year, including winter. We just experienced the same arctic outbreak, and my son, yesterday, finished his two week Alberta oil producing shift averaging -40 deg. Somehow we carry on. Apparently Texas has not bothered to research cold weather production.

    What is the other saying?, “Many hands make light work”? But Texas is different I guess. At least some thought so.

    • 2banana says:

      You guys are probably smart enough not to have electrically powered pumps to get natural gas to power plants because if you lost power the entire system freezes up (pun intended).

      But…but…that’s not green.

      • Shiloh1 says:

        That’s it, as Denninger has been saying all week. Pretty good summation in the last 5 minutes or so of his segment on Stocks & Jocks podcast this morning.

      • NBay says:

        Your reductio ad absurdum “thinking” strikes again, butt-butt.

        And we are coming for your butane BBQ lighters…..right after the we remove all the gas fired ones…..which I always thought was kinda stupid, anyway.

        • NBay says:

          A great discovery of 20th Century Physics was the probabilistic nature of physical phenomena at the atomic scale, described in quantum mechanics.

          Black and white thinking is going bye bye, Banana, sorry if it’s all you can handle.

      • J7915 says:

        IIRC gas line pumping stations tap into the pipeline.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi Paulo,
      You sound like a mover and and a shaker (“many hands”). Bottom line? Better grid interties would not have helped in this situation for two reasons. Most important, this was a bigtime operating failure of both gas and coal generation. And less important is that in a region wide weather calamity one’s neighbors also experience similar stress,

    • Jack 07 says:

      Excellent point Paulo!

      I am puzzled by this very theme here too!

      You’d expect some kind of NATIONAL GRID to be in place and the “ reciprocity”
      In transferring to high demand areas ( states) would be the function of the Federal government to see that all parts of the country remained functioning in cases like this!

      If this example ( and the apathetic varying degrees of response to other emergencies) the nation might encounter does NOT take shape in the near future, I am afraid we’ll be seeing the county falling into disrepair for a long long time.

      There is No time for ( STUPID GOVERNORS) to hold any sway in management of NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE AT ALL!

      No Matter how much you hate or dislike being tied to DC policies.

      The country is crying for a renewal of its infrastructure. This can solve the dire economic situation that is facing the US.

      Get on with IT.

      PS. Should we send Wolf there to straighten ‘em up? 😎

      • bill tilles says:

        Hi Jack07,
        Good point about the need for a national grid. However the US is prob. too big for one grid. And besides we only really have three major systems now: east, west and Texas. Electrical connections are good but it is still somewhat inefficient to move bulk electricity long distances due to line losses.

        • Jack 07 says:

          Hi bill tilles

          Thank you for your clarification there.

          I have read your other comments in this thread, and it seems to me you’ve got something to say here!

          I think I , and much of the readers here would appreciate if you elaborate ( if you could) on how best you think a crises like this could be averted in the future?

          Your comment would be appreciated. Cheers

      • Ethan in NoVA says:

        It hasn’t been built yet but the Tres Amigos SuperStation is in planning (since 2009) and will be able to sell power into the Texas grid from the East and West grids, and I assume sell excess and green Texas power to them as well.

        If you google it there are some interesting details, especially that they use DC. Can’t imagine how big the hardware is to generate the sine wave in sync with the Texas grid at those power levels.

      • Jdog says:

        So you want to put the same people who cannot run the Post Office or Amtrak in charge of the electricity? After all they have bankrupted the country, and have shown themselves to be completely incompetent at managing any emergency., so lets put the most incompetent entity you can think of in charge of the most important life sustaining utilities… what could go wrong?

        • Jack 07 says:

          Jdog,

          I concur entirely with every thing you’ve uttered there.

          But the reality is , to keep the country as a functioning POLITICAL and ECONOMIC ENTITY. You’ll need overarching programs and planning that stay above the squabble that ( most states tend to degenerate into)!

          You only have to look at THE EU.

          Without Uniform policies for INFRASTRUCTURE ( and forgive me the repetition here) the whole country will assume the mantle of a FAILED STATE!!!

          IT IS THE POISON PILL OF CREATING the FEDERATION.

          The Parts makes up the whole.

          However, the lack of Trust in the ( men and women overseeing the affairs in DC) have reached a critical lows!

          Hence the need for a clear and solid policies in the next 5-10 years.

          This period in the live of the AMERICAN FEDERAL SYSTEM is a make or break.

          No matter how you like or dislike the men and women in charge.

          Stay healthy.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          Speaking of the Post office, I was told my a P.O. manager that putting a 1st class stamp on an envelope does not guarantee delivery. If you want that you have to use express mail. I was complaining that it took over a month to get letters mailed to their destination and received. This started last June after the riots.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          Hunter Biden is on the board of Amtrak. How can you say it is not being run well?

        • w says:

          Jack07:Parts DO make up the whole.More individuals need to think like preppers and act accordingly rather than give more human sovereignty to commies,crooks,and captured people thousands of miles away.Built-in redundancy,Old,oldschool techniques and tech. Married to modern knowledge and best practices with a commonsense approach is best.I do not want the grid hacked as was the case in FLA recently when their water system was hacked.What happens when 360 million people are at the mercy of some hacker,bomber,natural event,whatever takes out the grid,water,comms???Compartmentalize and have backups for your backups,NOT depend More on the Fed anything!!! :-)

    • Steve says:

      Paulo, why the hell would we? I’ve lived just south of the Canadian border as well as several other northern cities and now live in Texas. In the 20+ years, I’ve lived here its gotten below Zero Zero times (wind chill doesn’t count). Below 10deg, a handful of times. When was the last time Canada spend 90+ days at or above 100deg. Jeez, why wouldn’t you plan for that? Seems like a no brainer.

      We plan for heat not cold. We build houses to keep the heat out. In the North we built to keep the cold out. You don’t plan for for the 1%.

      We spent 5 days without power with an average house temp of 45deg (a bit colder at night and a bit warmer during the day. Cold yes, bearable certainly. Water was not a problem as we keep 30-50 gallons of drinking water at all times.

      Stop listening to MSM or politicians. They both suck and just take up space.

      • Paulo says:

        Plan for both.

        But here’s the deal, if houses are insulated adequately for heat, it works the same for cold. There is no way homes and buildings should freeze to the point of pipes breaking in bathrooms or tubs full of frozen water.

        Never happened before?

        “It was January 1886, and the passengers had just lived through the worst blizzard Kansas had ever seen. Trains filled with hogs had frozen solid, along with their living cargo, as they sat idle, prevented from moving forward by drifting snow. People who had been outdoors on the prairie when the storm struck were found frozen, killed while searching for shelter. And then there were the cows—more than 100,000 of them, dead in the storm. All in all, the January 1886 blizzard killed at least 100 people and wiped out about 75 percent of the state’s livestock. ”

        This same storm, plus one other nailed Texas. It does happen. It has happened.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          You are not really getting the gist of the message re TX, LA, MS, AL, FL for sure, GA, and even into TN and the caro li nas P…
          Many folks in those areas, especially us/the older folks who have been (t)here for eva do NOT worry about COLD and the results thereof.
          Because the tradition always was, as I have commented on other articles/threads, just stay home and feed the wood stove, and cook on that wood stove, until the COLD was over, almost always in a couple of days, totally unlike MN and BC,,, and, for most, it was a ”non event” similar to many,,, and for many years.
          Now, with, and in spite of all the screaming and wailing from ”yankees” and ”half backs” who have no idea whatsoever of the local climate extremes,,, extremes similar to the present one in TX,,, extremes that have happened every decade or so for at least the 7 decades I can remember,,, ( in spite of the hysteria regarding this one and every one I have seen, in person,) for eva many years or so in FL, CA, OR, TX, GA, TN, AL, carolinas,,,
          WE the PEEDONs will very likely have to pay even more for our basic utilities to prepare for these events instead of just making our own preparations for likely about one quarter of what it will cost us eventually as a result of the political interference.
          OK, fair enough, the politicians have to get their cut of the cost of compliance, exactly as is the situation with pot legalization going on right now in many states,,, etc., etc…

    • AOC raised 2M for Texas aid?

      • Steve says:

        Good for her. She is still so full of hot air.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          OF COURSE she is full of ”hot air” and, in spite of what appears to be her clear dis agreements with ”natural laws,,, aka laws of nature” she is doing what needs to be done by any politicians.
          HOT AIR is what it takes to keep a hot air balloon in the air??
          At least until the current group of wonderful young theoretical physicists are able to completely develop the final theories of Einstein.
          After that, only the Great Spirits can know,,, and the fact that some of those Great Spirits continue to smile on our species every time they get the opportunity continues to give me great hope(s)!!!!

        • w says:

          Did the $$ come from the sales of her,soak the rich scammt, overpriced dogcoats and hoodies??! :-)

    • NBay says:

      I posted this a while back to answer some guy I saw yammering on and on about phase angles and impedance matching……all AC grid stuff.

      This, of course, will be part of our Green New Industry. Those “Hippie punchers” have their work cut out for them….better send some to Europe, China, and, yes, Canada.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-voltage_direct_current

    • Jdog says:

      You should do some actual research before coming to uneducated conclusions. Being tied to a multi state grid is not a reliability asset. It simply increases your chances of having problems due to issues out of state. I worked in the industry many years, and have witnessed it firsthand.

      • NBay says:

        Pass your “wisdom” along to the Chinese, Europeans, etc, then. I’m retired from electronics.

    • w says:

      As Wolf pointed out,it comes down to cost vs. Benefits.Energy capacity and reliability,I.e. Built-in redundancy IS a Value and must be in the analysis.Also said that they build differently in Texas as appropriate most of the time to their weathet or maybe their skimp and save attitude.Good insulation,passivhouse design,and basic weatherizing is beneficial for greenies,budget-strapped consumers,penny-pinching charities/biz/gov. Entities.Maybe they should build with deep basrments and bury those pipes nine or ten feet down from now on.Cost of deicing each turbine vs. Energy yield,do not know the numbers,but I would assume some energy qwant does.Smaller homes,less use is a commonsense approach also.

    • Pete in Toronto says:

      Paolo,

      Technically, the quotation is:

      “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
      —Proverbs 16:18 (King James Version, of course!)

    • Lindsay Berge says:

      Proverbs 16:18-19
      King James Version
      18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

      19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

  5. 2banana says:

    Now keep digging.

    It wasn’t that long ago that these pumps were not powered by electricity. They were logically powered by something readily available at the point of use. Something that doesn’t freeze either.

    All replaced to be “green.”

    “Second, the gas distribution network—which also failed— uses electricity to distribute gas through its system of pumps and motors. When the electric system goes dark there’s no power for gas distribution either. Not to mention water pressure. Pressures drop and systems fail.”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      2banana,

      OK, I admit, your political anti-“green”-anything brain just short-circuited a tiny bit. You think that using electricity instead of natural gas for powering compressor stations has anything to do with “green.” Well, maybe in an urban area, it does, in that people nearby complain about the noise and fumes. It’s also related to security — because an internal combustion engine and lots of natural gas can be a tricky combination, especially when people live nearby.

      But using an electric motor can be cheaper and simpler if you have grid power at the compressor station (the gas that an engine uses is not free either). Ultimately the profit motive wins. Pipeline operators make a decision what system to use.

      In our industrial engine subsidiary, we used to sell compressor engines to pipeline companies back in the day. They were big V-8 engines that ran on the gas in the pipeline and would drive a compressor. This was big expensive equipment that had to run 24/7 and had to respond to varying pipeline conditions, and required some maintenance. We didn’t sell electric motors.

      • 2banana says:

        Let me see if I understand your logic.

        Billion power companies, whose rates and profit are set by a public commission, changed out reliable gas compressors (using fuel at the source) with electric compressors, powered by a grid, to save an infinitesimal small amount of money (as compared to their overall yearly budget)….

        That put their entire electrical grid and their entire business at risk with a single point of failure.

        For a condition that has been aptly demonstrated in the recent past.

        No one does this…except under political pressure.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          No you didn’t understand my logic. It seems you didn’t read my comment.

        • Umang says:

          “ No one does this…except under political pressure.”

          There’s tremendous political pressure for Texas to have the cheapest electricity possible, reliability be damned. Penny wise, pound foolish thinking by short sighted politicians, enamored with the mythology of everything being bigger in Texas…brought to you by cheap energy/electricity.

        • Umang says:

          “ changed out reliable gas compressors (using fuel at the source) with electric compressors, powered by a grid, to save an infinitesimal small amount of money”

          And you’re implying they did this to reduce their carbon footprint an infinitesimal amount? Is swapping nat gas compressors for ones powered by electricity from coal/NG/wind even saving any GHGs?

      • bill tilles says:

        Wolf I’m much less granular in my thinking here. What interests me is the complete interdependence of the electric and gas grids. Without electricity they both fail. This is the opposite of what we call resilience. It is the essence of “fragile”.

        • You complement interdependency issues with redundancy, back up generators for critical electric loads such as pumps. I mean don’t these planners watch the weather reports?

        • Robert says:

          I never saw anything more ridiculous than when gas furnaces which had a pilot lit with a match were replaced with one relying on electric ignition- and so I went without heat for 3 days(or water- the slush from the street I shovelled into my toilet tank would not melt so I couldn’t flush it.). And my AT&T landline, which in the old days operated fine in power outages, no longer worked (much less my computer with no wi-fi). Real 21st century progress. I thought my neighbour had decided to snuff it when I heard his car running in his garage for 15 minutes on our blacked-out street, but fortunately he was just in it running the heater to try and stay alive.

      • dan worley says:

        Good response with logic.. A lot of time wasted responding to banana heads neurons that are preset..

      • Jdog says:

        If you ever visit a utility company district facility, you will notice that their facility always has a diesel powered back up generator to power the facility in the event of an outage. The utilities are quite aware of the vulnerability of being tied to the grid when it comes to reliability….
        It has only been in the past decade you see idiotic green policy’s replacing common sense practice….

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Jdog,

          “…idiotic green policy’s replacing common sense practice…”

          How many times do I hafta repeat it: using electric motors to run compressors was done because the operator thought it could save some money that way. The profit motive! The word “green” is short-circuiting your brain. This is TEXAS, dude! You need to blame the profit motive.

        • Jdog says:

          As I said before, I worked in the industry, and I know exactly how much influence the environmentalists have on it.
          I could tell you true stories that you would simply not believe due to their idiocy.
          No one can fathom just how much influence these people have unless they witness it first hand.
          In one case our company built a new substation, and cut a road through a solid rock hill. We were ordered to seed and water the sides of the where we cut through the hill even though it was solid rock and impossible to grow anything. Because it was a remote location, watering the rock walls required sending a water tanker there at a cost of about $4000 per trip, several times a week for years, before they gave up and admitted you cannot grow anything on solid rock.
          Also, we are not allowed to travel off road if there is “any” standing water on the dirt road as it is considered to be a vernal pool and environmentally sensitive. So crews sent to do maintenance on remote sites only have to find some standing water on the road, and the job is cancelled. Then you wonder why the infrastructure is not properly maintained.
          Much of our infrastructure must be maintained by helicopter at astronomical costs because the Utilities are prohibited from cutting new roads when they install transmission or subs. Crews and equipment must be flown in and out.
          One policy mandates that if you see snake tracks in the dirt, you cannot walk in the area. There are literally hundreds of these stupid rules, policies and laws that make the maintenance of these systems almost impossible.
          The stupidity goes on everyday and is a major obstacle for every utility in keeping the lights on.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Jdog,
          Been there done that in my construction management efforts the last couple decades, mostly for the feds, and mostly for the DOD efforts of our guv mint…
          DOD at least trying to keep up with their mandates to keep all of WE the PEEDONs safe and secure in spite of the crazies of all kinds out there and in here,,, etc.
          Problem is, as always, SOME of these kinds of rules actually make sense, and reflect some egregious not rational behaviours.
          I KNOW this is SO, because I have been with some of what I now know should be called ”perps”… God Bless us all.

        • go2marakesh says:

          “This is TEXAS, dude! You need to blame the profit motive.” – Wolf

          Renewable Electricity w/o Hydro (GW•h)

          Texas 70,759
          California 54,606
          Oklahoma 24,737
          Iowa 21,018
          Kansas 18,561
          Minnesota 13,628

          This list from 2017 surprisingly has mostly red states at the top. In a complex system you can skip over things like CA not upgrading 100 year old power lines. You can look at TX planning for capacity different ways as well. I see there’s graphs on ZH from some group Cascend Strategy showing the opposite of your article.

          It does make me wonder that the 2 biggest power failures in the last few years are from the 2 states at the top of this list.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          The top two states on your list are also the states with by far the largest populations (40 million in California, 29 million in Texas). These two states combined account for 21% of the entire population in the US.

        • go2marakesh says:

          They’re both top 10 by % as well. And the size of their population and land area does mean something. The other top 10 states by population don’t even have half the % of their energy in renewables.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          My electric utility used to have 4 multi-megawatt diesel generators and a large drum tank of diesel as “peakers” and as backups. In their wisdom the utility sold them in the mid 2010’s. Now our “backup” is buying electricity from some other utility – when we find one willing to sell, and at whatever price they demand. It’s an interesting take on preparedness.

    • Umang says:

      And why are pump failures caused by dependence on green electricity not a problem anywhere else? It’s not the greenness that’s an insurmountable hurdle.

      • roddy6667 says:

        I have a friend from Novosibirsk in Siberia, where it gets 80 below zero. They have natural gas, coal, and nuclear power plants that don’t even blink at those temperatures.

        • bill tilles says:

          Hi Roddy6667
          You are correct.

        • Winston says:

          That’s because they expect and properly prepare them for arctic cold weather. The South Texas Nuclear Project Unit tripped offline due to frozen feed water sensing line. There was actually plenty of feed water to cool the reactor, but the sensing line said there wasn’t. DUMB mistakes…

        • Cas127 says:

          Roddy6667,

          And how often does TX have Siberian winters?

          Over engineering things is fine…it is smart, conservative planning to build in a margin of error.

          But at some pt, “absolute worst case scenario” has to yield to “realistic worst case scenario” because additional engineering comes at a cost.

    • A says:

      I hope I’m not the only one who’s been getting knee-slapping laughter all week from people hilariously trying to argue Texas, one of the most conservative places in the 1st world, was secretly taken over by some kind of greenpeace communist cult.

      Who needs to pay for a streaming service when you have so much comedy for free in the real world?

      • Paulo says:

        Folks, it is all about profit. Money, money, money.

        Money spent on preps takes way from the profits of the few, who incidentally/coincidentally pull the puppet strings of the Republican politicians. i.e. Rick Perry.

        “We don’t need no stinkin oversight or accountability.”

        I wonder what the insurance companies will say? They want profits, too. Will they refuse to cover Texas business without changes?

        I have a friend who owns a small sawmill. (three rigs). His insurance company requires a pond on site with a functioning water pump system and adequate fire hose to buy time for the fire department to arrive. Has he ever had a fire? No. But he still needs the gear.

        I’ve never had a car crash, but except for my 40 year old Westie, my other vehicles all have air bags. Texas needed prepping and got caught by circumstances.

        And I’ll bet it will never happen again, by direction of insurance underwriters.

      • Robert says:

        Where do you get the idea Texas is “conservative*”? They just went for Biden, and pretty much every big urban centre is a “sanctuary city” with the lax enforcement of laws governing immigration and voter registration: Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Galveston, Corpus Christi.
        *Corporate is much more like it, and this goes for both of the mainstream political parties.

  6. Drunk Gambler says:

    Teaxas disaster is equall to small war.
    Huge demand for water, food, busted pipes need replacement, drywall, carpets, paint, not mentioning entire power grid restructuring and winter proofing.
    Plenty new jobs for plumbers, painters, carpenters etc.
    New materials has to be produced at plants, delivered, installed.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi DG
      I just read that the Tx governor suspended the state ban against licensed plumbers from out of state. Prescient call on your part.

      • NBay says:

        Funny!
        So that means these union guys will have a “right to work” there?
        Till the mess is cleaned up, anyway…..

    • Danno says:

      At what price?

      How many insurance companies will be going under with the huge inflationary cost of materials?

      Get ready to pay for this…most of us.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Sure. The more broken windows, the more work for the economy. Win, win. Or, maybe not.

  7. These are not complex systems. If I am a professional working in this field, and have been adequately trained, and I have a modicum of hands-on experience, and work with a team of likewise competent professionals, monitoring five variables and their impact on the system, a very small system by national standards, I’d say I have a very cushy job.

    Then there’s the now blatantly obvios fact, ERCOT is not resilient. The designers are to blame for that. But there’s no mention of them. Let’s see, you don’t want fed reg because you can do better. Seems to me you were sold a bill of goods.

    Whole article is about making excuses. That is not acceptable. This is the US of A, the new Roman Empire, and we want to see heads roll. So bring out the guillotines and let’s the get the blood flowing.

    Now that we know that blaming the hippies was a red herring, let’s direct the public’s righteous anger more accurately. Start with the governor, then the two-bit hustler they got for a senator, then let’s figure out who the designers were . . . (Did Hyman and Tilles really think their lame article would sway the mob?)

    Who else? . . I truly doubt the day-to-day staff were to blame. They’re just working stiffs. Besides, they probably have been complaining for year. Let’s dig into that. Let’s get a 9/11 style commission and dig into cover ups at ERCOT.

    • 2banana says:

      A better question is “what changed?” from when Texas got hit with arctic temperatures in the past with no massive failures?

      A quick Duchduckgo search shows this happening about once every 30 years going back to the mid 1800s.

      The last major one was in 1989 with two feet of snow and similar temperatures.

      So…what has changed since then?

      1. Millions have moved to Texas to escape mostly blue states.

      2. Reliable energy systems were replaced.

      • A says:

        Yeah I wonder what changed. In the 1960s Texas was a Democratic state so proud they put Democrat LBJ in the white house.

        But for the last 20 years it’s been a 1-party state where Republicans have won every single statewide election. It’s the fossil fuel capital of the world where small-government, deregulation, and privileging corporations to make decisions for society are canon.

        Yeah, huge mystery what changed, maybe we’ll figure it out someday.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          What changed is easy A:
          Democrats were the rock hard conservatives prior to JFK and then LBJ following up with the great society program, including pushing that program through the congress.
          Whatever may be said about LBJ, he was a master politician, as Cato’s biography makes very clear.
          After that, all the conservative reactionaries went over to the Republican party, first in the southern states, then, when Reagan made his moves to be elected POTUS, more and more knee jerk reactionaries went to the Rs, and that has been the case, more or less, since.
          Mom was a republican and a poll watcher in the Ike years, and definitely a moderate liberal; dad the opposite; made for some interesting conversations at mandatory family dinnertimes.

        • Jdog says:

          What changed was Democrats. Democrats used to be the party of the working people, and were anti corporation.
          Today they are in bed with the corporations and trying to overthrow every principal the country was founded on. They are basically trying to turn the USA into the Soviet Union.
          The USA was founded on freedom and libertarian principals, not communism and corporate / government totalitarianism…

        • Rick m says:

          Governor Alan Shivers, H L Hunt, Price Daniels and other democratic officials were characterized as having accepted democratic nomination and position but subsequently supported republicans in an op/ed, Texas Observer, 2/28/58. And not in a nice way. Our street in north Dallas in the sixties was of much the same attitude

      • Harrold says:

        There were rolling blackouts in North Texas on Super Bowl Sunday in 2011 (and the days preceding).

      • Anthony A. says:

        I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed since the 1989 Deep Freeze. Homes here are built on a slab (Gulf Coast area) because the Beaumont Clay is all over the area and the water table is a few feet below ground surface. There are no basements here to run supply water pipes into the homes.

        The typical water route of black iron pipe into the house is into the foundation slab and up into the attic through the outside walls and no dedicated pipe insulation is applied to the black iron water pipe. The walls (may) have fiberglass insulation though, but the plumbing is not usually insulated. Water is then routed in the attic to the water heater (great place to have one, eh?) and along the attic floor to drop downs into each area (bathrooms, sinks, etc). On a lot of older homes, bathrooms are located on outside walls. My daughter’s house has that “feature”. LOL

        When it gets really cold outside, like we just encountered, the outside wall and attic water pipes are exposed to that cold and if left exposed long enough, maybe a few hours, the pipe can freeze up. If the system was not being relieved by dripping faucets, water movement is not happening and when the freezing occurs on that closed system, the pipe will burst.

        Most folks around here that have been here for a while are aware of this issue and take action, as we did and our neighbors did. Our result was no pipe damage for us and our neighbors during the cold spell. Other people were not so lucky. One can’t find PVC, copper, or black iron pipe or fittings anywhere in Texas right now.

        On the building heat issue, well if you had a generator, fixed or portable, those were hopefully operated and the house had some radiant heat from portable heating units or if you had a Generac or other whole house generator, you were golden. Many people I know (including our daughter) used their fireplace and gas log setup to keep at least that room above 50 F until power was restored. My daughter was down with no power for 36 hours and did not have any busted water pipes because I drained her system and shut off the main supply before the severe cold hit.

        I don’t know of any residence on this north side of Houston that had a supply issue with natural gas, although a lot of areas were without power and also had experienced rolling blackouts.

        I spent 40 years on Connecticut and have experience with cold. A lot of people down here in south Texas do not have that experience.

      • Jdog says:

        What changed was deregulation. It is now profitable to cut corners and defer maintenance. It is all about profit now in the industry.
        Even now, the utility companies are cleaning up as rate payers are going to get stuck with power bills in the thousands of dollars….

      • w says:

        Good points.Thanks for the quick research.Always follow the $$$$ and ask that question,”What has changed????!”

    • DO says:

      No tengo pinchi página web carajo…LOL…Buen chiste.

    • Phoenix_Ikki says:

      Sorry, much easier to blame hippies or commies, easy to sell that to the masses especially in a place like Texas. You might have a shot at directing the legit anger to the real source if you can somehow wrap it in a QAnon like conspiracy theory or subliminal message it in Dancing with the Stars perhaps then heads will roll, otherwise too much critical thinking require for your average American. We are more happy to go with willful ignorance with a side of American psychosis. Government = all bad, Corporate self regulation = excellent, what can go wrong?

      • a says:

        I don’t even really blame the politicians. If a voter is dense enough to live in the most conservative place in the 1st world, laying in bed sick with COVID in a house without power as burst pipes flood their basement and the voter thinks “damn liberals!” Well, then those voters just get the society they deserve. That’s how democracy works, more or less voters get the society they deserve.

        • Jonas Grimm says:

          Unfortunately those people also drag it down for everyone else.

        • lager lover says:

          Yes…no one in a democracy has any right to complain because…elections. This certainly is an argument that has been reduced to its simplest form, void of all nuance.

        • w says:

          This is Not,nor has it Ever been a democracy!It used to be a profitable colony reborn as fledgling Republic or privelaged,white men.It evolved into a more inclusive republic,then a corporatized republic,and finally a frankenfascistic corporatized clientstate.Most voters have Never gotten what they voted for or Thought they were voting for.Voting has been Kabuki theatre for decades as the Real power pulls the strings from shadows.People do not desrve to be freezing,isolated,thirsty,and hungry feeling forgotten about;most people anyway. Do not forget all the vulnerable people and animals who also are suffering through this!!

      • Jdog says:

        Government is all bad. The only thing worse than government is corporations. When the two collude, the public does not have a chance.

        Those who make the argument that government is the safeguard against corporate criminality are lying through their teeth.

        Government and corporations are the same team.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          “Government and corporations are the same team.”

          You forgot to add the corrupt media in there

    • bill tilles says:

      To help focus your investigation: there was a similar polar vortex calamity of minor scale in Texas in 2011 and apparently numerous recommendations were made at that time. You might check to see what happened with that “list”.

  8. ross says:

    24/7/365 for decades, but for three days upwards of 30% of customers experienced some level of outages. Alberta and Texas climates are hardly an apples to apples comparison when deciding extreme cold hardiness of those facilities. Btw, didn’t states from Oklahoma to N.Dakota also initiate rolling blackouts? Last night the outages were less than 10%, and this afternoon, the outages had decreased to two percent.

  9. ross says:

    And what pray tell is “social equity?”

    “There are at least five key variables for all electric system planners to manage: reliability, cost, pollution remediation, social equity, and resilience.”

    • char says:

      That everybody gets main electricity, even if you live in the outback were it doesn’t make financial sense to lay a cable.

      ps. Almost no farm would have mains electricity without social equity, nor many hamlets.

    • Cheneys Toy says:

      Social equity? Something Americans don’t want, apparently

      • Phoenix_Ikki says:

        Nope, we trade our social equity for individual freedom. Rather freeze to death so we can prove how we don’t need any regulation or oversight. All things can be fix by pulling yourself by the bootstraps, apparently even pulling yourself out of a deep freeze is possible too

    • bill tilles says:

      One way to think of social equity is simply don’t poison people with pollution especially poor people just because you’re rich and powerful.

    • A says:

      “social equity” is the reason liberals in cities get taxed to run unprofitable power lines to rural conservative rednecks.

      Its an awful thing and hopefully one day we can cut out all the freeloading Republicans from our system and stop giving them so many taxpayer-funded handouts like unprofitable power lines. Pay for your own generator if you like small government so much, stop making me pay for it!

      • VintageVNvet says:

        You might want to take a look at the entire history of the TVA, including from the first when it was set up to run power to the war industries, along with the totally democrat rural population of that area up to today.

      • w says:

        SO much compassion,it’s scary!! Many of these so-called rednecks are Vets,Sherriffs,U.S. Marshalls,Farmers,Ranchers,city transplants,retirees,medical professionals,oilrig/energy workers,mechanics,construction tradespeople,teachers,foster parents,weatherspotters,and other very useful members of America.Many rural dwelling Citizens are trying to stem the flow of illegal invaders.Many rural living People are not that conservative,just pragmatic.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        I fear that if we cut of rural rednecks they will do whatever needs to be done, then start charging us more for food and fuel, and for wind and solar too. Cities tend to be more bureaucratic than productive. In cities social equity is kind of necessary or you get riots. Not a lot of riots in the sticks.

  10. MCH says:

    just curious, isn’t part of TX’s problem the fact that it isn’t connected to the national grid. It’s all on it’s own island, so there is no reserves to draw from, not like OK could even send power to TX if they wanted to, different grids. At least that’s what I understand. They really need to connect the whole of the US in a single grid system one would imagine.

    As for wind, if TX didn’t use wind, well, that’s just dumb. It’s like being in AZ and not use solar. You take advantage of all of the natural resources you have.

    • Jeff T says:

      I am visiting Chandler Arizona this week and went for a walk in a residential neighborhood. In a three mile loop I did not see any roof top solar installations. None on schools either. Is there some kind of law against solar in the Phoenix Arizona area?

      • Freedomnowand says:

        I know someone who lives in a golf community with their own grocery, salon, dining, and medical buildings, a real golf cart community. They have roof top on all the business, and most of the residences. They claim there electricity bill in the summer is $30. So looking at it your way, only the rich can afford that luxery.

        • Beardawg says:

          I am in Prescott AZ (in town) in a 100% OTG Solar-powered home – total solar package was $30K. I collect rainwater off my roof for my water. ZERO connection to ANY grid. Food is my only Achilles heel as I am too lazy to grow my own.

      • MCH says:

        Weird… but don’t worry, AZ is turning blue, things will change.

        • Steve says:

          Why? Because Blue States are run so well too? Blue/Red All politicians suck. Cali can’t manage its wild fires, Texas didn’t build a more resilient grid. Both good examples of failure of Management.

          Having a separate grid is neither good nor bad. Not being resilient is always bad. Solar and Wind have their drawbacks too just like fossil fuels.

      • Old school says:

        That’s a good question. Being an engineer I saw a lot of changes that later turned out to be oops. In fact a common occurrence is someone always wants to be the one that has the idea to save a $100K or 1M. One of things always on my mental checklist was “there is always a reason that a thing is being done a certain way”. You better dig deep and find out why before you change it.
        My guess is the state legislature isn’t encouraging individual solar installations. In NC I think there is a regulatory sweet spot that encourages relatively small solar farms, so that is what you see. If you want to go big there are a lot of hurdles to jump. I think this is because these intermediate size installations are the most practical to add to the existing grid.

      • El Katz says:

        Jeff T:

        Many of the rooftop solar installations are hidden from view on the homes with flat roofs…. they’re angled down below the parapets – some even laid flat – so, no… you won’t necessarily see them from the street.

        The parking covers at local high schools, municipal buildings, shopping centers, office complexes, etc., are not simply covers: They’re solar installations.

        On my block of 13 homes, 5 have large solar installations. We also have a solar hot water system. Our community center has solar, the country club has solar, the post office has solar…..

        There is no *law* against solar here in PHX and surrounding areas.

      • josap says:

        Solar companies will lease you the equipment, but you don’t save any money. If you buy the equipment it is very expensive. The utility co got approval a few years ago to massively increase the rates for solar users on elec they did need and then pay far less for elec bought when there was extra produced.

        They don’t want you to have solar and have made it both difficult and expensive.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi MCH,
      No, the problem in Texas is they failed to run a large percentage of their electric generating plants in cold weather. If you mess this up no amount of interconnection can save you.

    • Up North says:

      As i said higher:
      -Texas wanting to have it’s own grid probably isn’t only related to being under no scrutiny: it probably also has to do with the danger that the rest of the grid around you could make your own fail. Re:Toronto blackout summer 02 or around that). I’m from Quebec, and that province didn’t crash at all during that blackout because it is connected to the other grids only thru special systems, meaning of all around then fails they are fine.
      lower prices demands being what they are, as many have said earlier, it’s hard to justify to customers that they should pay an extra 1% (say) to ensure resiliency.
      Pride comes before a fall.

      • bill tilles says:

        Hi Up North,
        One quick point: there was no one to pose any physical or operating threat to the Texas grid for a simple reason. These companies all emerged originally as municipal entitiies and even back in the day Dallas, Houston and so on were the largest regional urban centers. There was no one around to “threaten” them (Kansas to the North, New Mexico to the west). Only New Orleans was a risk so what did they do? Those interties they cut or more precisely abandoned to others. fwiw.

  11. OutWest says:

    Thanks for the facts.

  12. Wascally Wabbit says:

    Extremely interesting that while citizens of Austin were freezing and dying during the cold nights, much of the downtown, including empty offices and the unused parking garages of J.P. Morgan and another large commercial bank, were brightly lit up as though nothing was wrong. So was the Austin power authority’s big red sign over their brightly lit doorway. There was a LOT of energy being completely wasted in Austin when the residents sorely needed it and it supposedly wasn’t available. Seems very suspicious. And the “hippie punching” anti-green propaganda machine has been rolling full bore for the last several days. My theory? J.P and the other seven big banks and hedge funds who are getting battered in the great silver squeeze are desperate to deter the seemingly unstoppable rise of alt energy – especially solar panels – which use a lot of silver. Denigrate alt energy enough, and people stop believing in solar (or so their thinking goes). Destroy the solar industry and you keep the silver flowing into the retail markets where it can be continually shorted by COMEX paper, and the banks can keep capturing the stream of income from hapless precious metals investors. And at the moment, the Big 8 desperately need more silver to back their COMEX positions, especially if any institutions get courageous enough to buy in quantity soon. And the more deaths and suffering from the cold, the better the case against alt energy, right? So, once again, “bad news is good news” for the banksters, maybe? I think the Texas power debaucle is more about taking advantage of a crisis to push a very self-serving agenda than about genuine failure. Bottom line: drain the silver, drain the swamp! Keep stacking, and give the banks what they so richly deserve for blatantly wasting power when people are cold and hungry.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      It could be — I don’t know — that the JP Morgan building and other big buildings had their own backup power generators.

      • bill tilles says:

        Hi Wolf,
        I totally agree that JPM had their own gensets and plenty of them. But by day two or three even they would’ve run out of gas literally. Downtown business districts usually share one electrical system feature which enhanses reluability, it is 100% underground. Huge in an ice storm type calamity fwiw.

        • Mark says:

          Maybe we should find out first? Before we defend JP Morgan as “having generators” ?

          “It could be — I don’t know”

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Working in construction of many large facilities, starting in approximately late 1980s, almost all had large diesel back up generators with large fuel tanks nearby.
          Part of monthly maintenance routine became test running of the generator and checking on the condition of the fuel for mold, etc.
          Don’t know if that has changed since last decade??
          Do know that FL currently requires elder care facilities, etc., to have back up generators for hurricanes, etc., and many gas stations also being equipped with generators to get the gas out of the underground tanks when the grid fails.

        • Harrold says:

          Companies in Texas can receive lower electricity rates if they agree to be removed from the grid during times of stress.

          This makes it cost effective to install generators.

      • Shiloh1 says:

        CBOE building in Chicago has 2 completely separate grid feeds into the place, one from Downtown grid, the other from Pilsen south side neighborhood grid. They still have backup generators, too.

        “Sears Tower” also has backup generators.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Willis (Sears) Tower electrics didn’t work so well when the basement filled up with water. There is an old engineering adage for these circumstances: “Shit happens.”

      • bill tilles says:

        Hi Wolf,
        You just reminded me. It’s in the overall grid interest to sometimes keep even seemingly random parts of the grid energized, i.e. an empty parking garage. Why? It’s like a defeated army and two types of retreat, disciplined vs unbridled panic. These blackouts by ERCOT were like an orderly retreat. But they’re now saying they (to use a military analogy) they nearly got routed. This could have meant an electric system collapse with lots of damaged equipment and months of repairs.

      • BenX says:

        Utilities have priorities for tripping their distribution systems for rolling blackouts. Areas where hospitals, prisons, and pumps are get tripped last. Big buildings may have backup generation, but they have fuel only for hours, not days – and it would be for a single building.

        ERCOT actually did a good job forecasting – it was the generator and transmission owners who overestimated their resiliency.

        Forecasters would consider this a 1 in 100 year event. But considering the new weather patterns, that historical data is far less reliable. They need to adjust their “confidence bands” (uncertainty factors).

        • SpencerG says:

          Since it has now happened in 2011 and 2021 I think we can reject the mathematical models and go with experience to say that these storms will be a once a decade event.

          Similar to the Space Shuttle program which mathematically was only supposed to suffer a catastrophic failure once in every 100 missions… when it turned out to be twice that in real life the plans had to change.

      • rick m says:

        Wolf, I held electrical journeyman licenses in Austin and San Antonio thirty years ago. Buildings above a given size and number of floors had emergency and exit lighting requiring a natural gas or diesel generator with automatic transfer switch. Here on the Mississippi coast I installed many for Y2K. Most have long service lives

    • Mira says:

      Solar energy has been a potential for at least 200 years.
      And still today .. EASY Solution is not allowed.
      Man on planet earth has not invented EVERYTHING yet.
      The door was shut tight on anything NEW that interfered with the profit making & taking of mainstream invention ..

      “You crazy boy, there ain’t nothin’ out there but empty space.”

      So little or nothing has changed .. been refined .. upgraded .. there are more cost-effective & user friendly solar panels & every thing else that was invented 50-100 years ago .. but hey .. “we’re makin’ a killin’ on this stuff .. new stuff might not make us as much profit.”

      Where are all he young people ??
      To lead us into the future !!

      • Up North says:

        Sorry Mira you clearly don’t understand solar panels: how are you going to turn on your drive at night without hugely expensive and ridiculously huge batteries?

      • Anthony A. says:

        Mira, the young people are on Facebook, Instagram, etc, sharing selfies. Or if they are in college, they are not studying any STEM curriculum.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Not true! Many are in the basement (or attic) playing very challenging video games and learning human interfaces to advance military hardware.

    • nick kelly says:

      A sci-fi paranoid novel about big banks gunning down solar so as to divert silver and all the replies are about whether JP has generators?

    • El Katz says:

      Having two kids in TX…. My daughter’s apartment is down the freeway a few miles from DFW and directly next door to the fire department/EMT. They always have power because they have dedicated infrastructure to support those critical services.

      Downtown Austin and the areas that were “lit” are adjacent to the convention center. From what I have read, it was a “north side / south side” issue, with the commercial areas having independent supply from the southern residential areas.

      I doubt that there was any nefarious plot.

    • MooMoo says:

      I won’t bother with this whole (peripheral) argument – but will leave you with two salient quotes:

      “If you think JPM is a short, you need your head examined. The will make more than anyone when the market goes up” – Jim Sinclair (made roughly $200 million in 1970s Gold bull market…carried 20k lots of long Gold and 5,000 silver for years)

      and

      “What JP Morgan has invested in Silver is what they use to tip the shoeshine boy” B. Moriarty.

  13. Phoenix_Ikki says:

    “And as if he were our paid spokesperson, former Texas governor Rick Perry stated publicly that Texans were happy to suffer blackouts and other hardships if it meant evading federal regulatory scrutiny. Whether the good (and shivering) citizens of the Lone Star State agree is another matter.”

    You gotta give it to the idiot spokesperson though, putting on those glasses doesn’t make him smarter unfortunately. Guess he is still too busy blaming it on wind turbines and advocating Texans to own the libs by freezing their butts off. Of course you can say that when you are nice and cozy at home or vacationing in Cancun like their other weasel spokesperson.

    • Harrold says:

      Rick Perry was the United States Secretary of Energy two months ago.

      • 728huey says:

        Actually he left that post in 2019 just before the first impeachment of Trump as he was involved with bribing Ukraine for energy deals in exchange for dirt on Hunter Biden.

  14. raxadian says:

    A gas heater can work with gas only. I have no clue why some would need electricity when decades ago them not needing it was common.

    • Mira says:

      They froze to death before they got to complain.

    • Shiloh1 says:

      Old tech gas hot water tank heaters only need a standing pilot light and thermocouple, no electric dependency. Theoretically you could run a hot water heating system from a simple hot water heater, too.

      The new tech, pilotless, tankless water heaters do require electric to work.

      Also hot water heaters and boilers with “energy efficient” features like dampers will require electricity to work.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Our natural gas house furnace shares the fan blower with the air conditioning system. Both need electrical power to run.

    • Kenn says:

      A modern gas furnace needs electricity to provide greatly increased efficiency and safety.
      An old, natural draft, vented gas furnace had about 50% efficiency (if I remember correctly). Modern forced draft furnaces run 85% to 95% efficient. The blower, thermostat, gas valve, and igniter need electricity also.
      The vented gas space heaters which Raxadian mentions are low efficiency, the mechanical thermostats don’t work well, and the natural convection air flow gives uneven heat distribution.
      Unvented gas heaters are worse than the vented ones. While they don’t lose any heat up the flue, they put all the combustion exhaust into the room air – not very healthy.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      raxadian,

      Yes and no.

      Every place (dumps) in Texas I lived in back in the day had gas heating, and they had a gas pilot light. And they didn’t have any blowers or other electric equipment. Those worked fine during the blackouts. But those were small units that just heated one room.

      Now I live in a place with central gas heating; it has a big furnace downstairs with electric blowers to circulate the hot air, electric regulators, and an electric igniter. No power = no heat. If you have central gas heating, and the power goes out, your heater is out and stays out until power comes back on.

      • Russell says:

        Exactly. I put a battery operated fan in front of my gas fire place and it kept the area directly in front of it and the entire upstairs toasty though.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        No power, no well pump. About 3-4 flushes in the pressure tanks, then no water for #2s. After the first “stinky” experience I now have some jerrycans of water. I pity those with electric pumps to lift waste into a septic system.

    • nick kelly says:

      1800’s England gas- light era, it delivered gas without any electricity involved anywhere. Today it is not feasible to operate a gas distribution system without electricity. Nor is it needed, as winterized systems operate all over the world. As I understand it, the lack of heat was not due to the failure of modern ignition of delivered gas, it was the failure of gas delivery.

    • Hal says:

      I now have a 30 KBTU $269 with new one forbackup at home. Went this route because control board failures for furnace cost $250 and furnace was wearing out. They dont need external ventilation as long as house not hermetically sealed. Going on 4 years now working good small 750sqft house, monthly 75 gas bills in coldest winters.

  15. Mira says:

    “In a summer peaking electricity system .. it would be normal to have – extensive maintenance works .. in winter instead of summer”

    This is mashugana thinking:

    With an abundance of roof top solar panels & storage battery usage by the population .. the potential to feed back into the grid is excellent .. giving the power company much excess electricity .. so to my mind Summer .. when the energy flow is at it’s greatest should be the time that extensive maintenance .. repairs & upgrades happen.
    Winter .. in a crisis .. where is the energy going to come from.

    • Mira says:

      Also .. power company people are not very bright or insightful .. & reticent to act insightfully.
      In Australia our illustrious power company bosses are still feeding off the power plants that our forefathers built .. antiquated .. is a good word here. Reluctant to look beyond the four walls of the office space .. they sit counting their salary rise .. due to increasing regular energy price rises.

      • Mira says:

        Great Article Thank You !!

      • bill tilles says:

        Hi Mira,
        First and foremost, as a Brooklyn resident (I can see Borough Park from my roof) meshuganeh is spelled with an “e”. You’re welcome.
        Second, good point about plant maintenance in summer. Only one problem. Asymmetry of winter vs summer electrical loads. There’s far more demand for power in Tx during the summer, hence the designation, a summer peaking system (unlike those in northern clines). Therefore it is typically safer to remove large portions of the generating fleet for longer term maintenance in winter. In Minnesota for example the situation would be reversed.

        • Kenn says:

          I don’t know Yiddish, so I had to look up meshugeneh, and found it means “a crazy fool”

  16. Mira says:

    Former Texas Governor, Rick Perry says winter weather crisis should not be used as an opportunity for Democrats to advance energy policy.

    See .. yesterdays man .. only concerned with todays lifestyle.

  17. Cobalt Programmer says:

    1. I think right now, people must come together instead of the usual red vs white fights
    2. There must be a federal level investigation on how to remediate the situation even if TX have to adopt federal standards.
    3. Ted Cruz taking a vacation means nothing. If I had money, I would take a vacation in Florida.
    4. I hope FEMA and national guards and military can help them to get back on normal life soon.
    5. Why can’t we just get along now. We can bash each other some other day

    • Harrold says:

      In 2013, after the failures that happened in 2011, the Feds produced a 300+ report on the issues with the Texas grid and what was need to rectify.

      This report was promptly thrown in the trash by Rick Perry.

    • Anthony A. says:

      CP, FEMA is still here in Texas helping out after storm Harvey dropped 53′ of rain and flooded out 1/2 of Houston. It takes them a while to get completed with anything. They will start on this event in 2023 (at the earliest).

  18. Bet says:

    I lived in south Texas for 20 years 1989 to 2009. I always said it ran like a third world country. I voted against deregulation of electricity in I think 2008. But I guessed they passed it. Yep when they mess up Texas goes big. It’s why “ enroned” is a verb. So glad I escaped to back to the NW

  19. SpencerG says:

    Good article… great article even. Beats the silly Windmill vs Fossil Fuel memes I keep seeing on Facebook.

    But the article has serious weaknesses of its own. Mainly in that it frequently uses the ERCOT “expectations” of available power to conceal an apples to oranges comparison.

    The authors claim that Wind Power delivered only a 33% drop in available power (4000 MW available in the current crisis versus anticipated 6000 MW available) while gas, coal, and nuclear combined suffered almost a 50% shortfall in the current emergency (34,000 MW versus 60,000 total MW available).

    But their calculations of wind power’s shortfall in this crisis was only after ERCOT had reduced the windmills expectations for a NORMAL winter by SEVENTY PERCENT!!! 6000 MW available in an installed capacity of 20,000 MW. In fact, by their own estimations, because of the tremendous dropoff in wind power availability in a NORMAL February, the Texas system would have been in crisis right now even if 100 percent of its 60,000 MW gas, coal, and nuclear capacity had stayed online since Texas needed 72,000 MW of peak energy.

    I actually had to laugh at their claims that the Texas electrical system is “fragile” due to its reliance on natural gas… while at the same time trying to debunk attacks on wind power as irrelevant “hippie punching” by conservative politicians. Nonsense… the most important fact in the whole article was that ERCOT runs “light” on its reserves… 8% versus 15% for other systems in the national network. THAT is what makes the system fragile. And for some weird reason the authors put that fact out there as “an aside.”

    Fortunately that fragility is also pretty easy to fix. Going forward, Texas will need more connections to outside grids, more onsite storage at plants of natural gas by X factor (10%, 50%, 100%, whatever) in the winter, covering a percentage of the coal stacks in the winter, insulating the windmills currently being built, and better scheduling of plant downtimes for spring and fall when excess capacity is unlikely to be needed.

    The problem is that is just to maintain the current system and make it capable of handling a week long Arctic blast that occurs once a decade or so. The real question is what to do about reducing CO2 emissions. According to the EIA, in 2018 a combined-cycle natural gas power plant cost $858 million per gigawatt of power produced. But in the West and South that year a gigawatt of wind power cost an average of $1.32 billion to install (without winter protection apparently)… 54% more. If ERCOT and this article’s authors are right about the dropoff in wind power then Texas has to install more than THREE TIMES the number of windmills ($4.39 billion worth) to match the NORMAL seasonal availability/reliability of an $858 million dollar natural gas plant.

    Let those numbers sink in for a minute. No matter how free the wind may be, when one considers that natural gas isn’t exactly expensive these days… those cost numbers require a pretty hard sell.

    • John says:

      I totally agree. The hippie bashing comment in the article is pure nonsense.

      The article is great, other than the fact it ignores the fact that the marginal cost of renewables is astronomically higher than natural gas and coal. Every grid that includes solar and wind generation is less reliable and more expensive by design.

      We’re not even getting into the perverse incentives that drive the construction of solar and wind projects, or the fact that they fail to accomplish any carbon reduction whatsoever.

    • td says:

      The weather in Texas was so bad that in Saskatchewan they would call it February. Three things:

      Wind turbines run fine in cold weather if you have de-icing systems on the blades and mechanicals. Lots of that in Alberta.

      Most of the power station failures can be attributed to problems with exposed water lines and controls. That will be expensive to fix.

      In Texas, much of the pipeline network is not buried. In Canada and Russia, most of the pipes are buried deep enough that the surrounding temperature doesn’t change very fast. The pumping stations and controls are winterized and have backup power. All that will be expensive to fix.

      I wonder just how much broken pipe and pump damage there is and it could take a while to repair, given that skilled workers acan’t be magicked out of nothing.

      • Brant Lee says:

        Well, if someone tells you it’s easier to place waterlines in the ceiling of your house, tell him to stick around for the ten-year freeze. I’ve seen it in Seattle, Texas, most places. Not a good idea. Besides, plastic is too fragile.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi Spencer G,
      When I speak of fragility here, I specitically meant the interdependence of the entire gas and electric grids. I was not singling out gas power generation. Fragility in my view is neither easy nor cheap to fix.
      And secondly there will be no ERCOT interconnection to other grids because the politicians have said quite loudly they don’t want it regardless of the merits of the idea.

      • SpencerG says:

        Hi there Bill. And thank you for responding. I appreciate it when authors engage with their readers.

        The question is whether hardening their own system will be cheaper and easier for Texas than becoming subject to FERC rules. As you say in the article, there will be lots of lessons learned here. Some fixes will be cheap and simple… others not. Obviously Texas has gone too long with a bare bones system that scrimps on winterization. That cannot continue.

        As for hooking up to the outside grids, there is no doubt that Texans take a certain pride in having their own electrical grid. The politicians past positions no doubt reflect that. But there are small connections already to the Eastern and Mexican grids capable of delivering a meager 1.2 GW per day… which begs the question as to what is the point of that little amount. How much bigger can it get (if only in an emergency) before Texas has to be regulated by FERC?

        And let’s not pretend that the other grids have covered themselves in glory here. EVERY state on the borders of Texas has been running rolling blackouts… they just aren’t getting the news coverage that Big Bad Texas is getting. So where was Texas supposed to turn for extra juice?

        The politicians are already scrambling to avoid the blame. They will adjust their past positions in order to survive. Professional politicians are PROFESSIONALS at politics… and rule number one is to keep getting re-elected.

  20. Brad Tifman says:

    Corruption, corruption, corruption.

    What’d I win?!

  21. john serf says:

    1) You failed to list any data on solar installations and their status.
    2) The primary failure was appointing woke morons to the ERCOT board, who apparently do not know how to spell “contingency plan”.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi John Serf,
      You’re correct about solar but in the context of present discussions it’s immaterial.

      • john serf says:

        A web search discloses that solar is ~ 3% of total generating capacity. Small from that perspective, but if contingency reserve is only 8% of 80 GW, then solar is 3/8 or 37.5% of the reserve. Suddenly, what was immaterial becomes imminently material.

        I have heard comments that electrical power was directed preferentially to residential and medical facilities. So I would assume that power was cut to industrial facilities, such as oil and gas production. However, gas production is “just-in-time”, to the extent that if electrical power is cut to pumps / compressors, then the gas cannot be supplied to the generating stations, leading to a domino effect.

        It bothers me to hear the green crowd argue that fossil fuels were the cause of the failure. They were not. The root cause was inadequate contingency planning.

  22. Ozz says:

    An important note is how much money the wind operators made even though they were producing less. One of the apparent features of the Texas system is the ability to raise prices based on demand. Typical to do that when most peak demand for electricity occurs due to extreme temperatures. If that is the case the grid was probably right except look at the missed profits of the electrical generators. The temps here are supposed to finally get above freezing and I can fix a slow water leak in my water system that developed due to the cold.

  23. Escierto says:

    I have lived in Texas for thirty years. None of this surprises me. Texas is a state of Neanderthals run by Neanderthals. Add to this a mentality that thinks they are better than everyone else and a pride in going their own way and you have a recipe for disaster. Texans deserve exactly what they got.

  24. Winston says:

    The KEY problem:

    Why is Texas so much worse off?

    While other states have seen customers lose power, Texas has been hit the hardest, with far more customers losing power for substantially longer.

    One key reason for this is because Texas maintains its own power grid largely in isolation from those of its neighbor states. In North America, most customers are served by two major grids that operate on the same alternating current frequency—one serving the eastern half of the continent (including the US, Canada, and parts of Mexico) and the other serving the western half. However, Texas—along with Quebec—both maintain power grids that are largely separate from these larger networks.

    So, while problems elsewhere in the Midwest were partly buffered by generating capacity elsewhere in the country, Texas was on its own.

    • Trailer Trash says:

      “Why is Texas so much worse off?”

      It is by design. If they could’ve bought power from outside the system then they would not have been able to charge $9000 per megawatt-hour. The Public Utility Commission of Texas ordered that the highest prices be charged:

      “At various times today, energy prices across the system have been as low as approximately $1,200. The Commission believes this outcome is inconsistent with the fundamental design of the ERCOT market. Energy prices should reflect scarcity of the supply.”

      Read the order here: http://www.puc.texas.gov/51617WinterERCOTOrder.pdf

      (Does anyone really believe that important people do not discuss important matters while playing golf?)

    • SpencerG says:

      The problem with that analysis is that ALL of the states surrounding Texas had blackouts of their own… although less publicized. I don’t disagree that Texas needs more backup from the other grids… but in this case it simply wasn’t there even for the states in those grids.

  25. Candyman says:

    Pres. Biden says there is no divide in the country. Obviously he has not read these comments. So much hate, little education as how a grid works or doesn’t perform. We
    The conspiracy ideas of JP having power while residents are in the dark? I know in Boston, the downtown is better prepared, and the system is better built, as the tower owners built infrastructure to support them. My home is less able to withstand ice and wind on power lines, and transformers can more easily blowout, knocking my power out, yet still providing power a block away.
    I believe wolf only need lo ok out his window to see this.
    Let’s have proper discussions. Red or blue, stop the denigrating and begin educating. Learn from each other. One size does not fit all.

  26. David Hall says:

    Sunspot activity is near a minimum, thus the unusually cold weather.

  27. lenert says:

    “If Texas politicians wanted to regulate their electrical grid they would have named it ‘Uterus.'”

    – rando women on twitter.

  28. crazytown says:

    I seriously cannot believe some comments here. When a natural disaster strikes people shouldn’t even think about partisan politics, but here we are with people saying a red state deserves this as if everything is better when you’re blue. California has made some mistakes with their grid in the past but nobody should laugh at the blue people who died in the wildfires. Its absurd, this country is so divided and has such a lack of empathy and drive to help others. Tribal divisions aren’t helpful except for the leaders of the tribes.

    • KGC says:

      And after he truly screwed up California’s electric grid the people of that State elected Gray Davis Governor to thank him for it.

      I’m still laughing.

    • josap says:

      Tribal divisions aren’t helpful except for the leaders of the tribes.

      THIS.

    • MooMoo says:

      Exactly why it needs to be divided. The Rubicon has been crossed… and there can NEVER be any reconciliation any more. Separating the country will save lives.

  29. Tom S. says:

    It’s a power storage problem, not a supply problem. The federal government should be ashamed for not protecting our infrastructure against supply shortages. Investment in a federal electrical system, in storing energy in water, in improving our existing infrastructure…it hasn’t happened. It’s a national security and jobs issue, and it’s one that you would think both sides agree on, yet here we are with this crapola every year when there’s a major storm. We have the technology to prevent this, we have the labor force to implement it, but we have a congress that’s more reactive than proactive. It’ll take a much bigger disaster than this one before we get the kind of energy infrastructure that we need.

    • KGC says:

      And, once again, it was the State of Texas’ removing themselves from that Federal Government protection that acerbated this situation.

      You can’t help folks who don’t want the help.

      • Tom S. says:

        Sadly, it may be too late to do anything. Seems like we did our spending on COVID (to me a parallel situation but on the healthcare side). The ten year is skyrocketing…it may exceed inflation rate today.

      • MooMoo says:

        ….kinda like the Iraqis under Saadam, then, no?

  30. KGC says:

    “There is no reason for optimism if difficult, but science-based decisions are required in highly ideological environments.”

    Possibly the truest, most damning, thing I’ve read in weeks.

  31. Another Scott says:

    One thing that I don’t see discussed here is the specifics of ERCOT’s energy-only market, compared to the separate capacity and energy structures that exist in PJM and ISO-NE. The energy only markets seem to encourage generators to skimp on systems that will add costs to the facilities, such as insulation on pumps, that would make them operable during colder weather.

  32. IdahoPotato says:

    I read somewhere that mass-produced tract homes in Texas have plumbing that is uninsulated. They run through exterior walls to cut costs. So if there is a power cut in freezing temps the plumbing will seize up and create a lot of damage.

    Is it true? Can someone educate me about this?

    • Harrold says:

      Pipes for my kitchen and master bath are located on exterior walls.

      However, the pipes are run to those locations thru the concrete slab my house rests on. The frost line is 12″ in the northern portion of Texas, so the slab should never freeze even with no heat ( theoretically of course! ).

      All of the damaged houses I have seen are 2 story houses where the water lines were run thru the ceiling of the 1st floor.

    • Russell says:

      I have structured plumbing. One line in to a manifold where it is heated and sent out to all areas of the house. Only need to protect the one line which is buried. Older homes have greater risks.

    • Anthony A. says:

      See my post earlier here.

    • SpencerG says:

      A college classmate of mine living in Dallas put up Facebook pics of his jury rigged system for keeping his inline hot water heating unit warm in this current crisis. It was on an outside wall. Apparently many of those systems in Texas are either on the outside wall, in the garage, or in the attics to save on space. The further North you get (even in Texas) the less you see that due to building regulations.

    • josap says:

      It’s true in Az. And most of the pipes for any interior areas are run across the attic then down. No insulation on the pipes.

  33. Richard Greene says:

    Disasters tend to be interpreted with spin in the first week. Eventually the truth comes out.

    There was a similar cold weather event in Texas in early 2011, with 3.2 million people suffering through rolling blackouts. The wind power capacity at the time was about one quarter of today’s percentage.

    A report was published in August 2011 (link below) and I suppose it collected dust on shelves.
    https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/08-16-11-report.pdf

    The Texas energy infrastructure was not “winterized” in 2011, and that problem was not fixed after 2011. From mid-2011 through 2020 that looked like a good decision, to keep electricity rates lower than they would otherwise be. After all, with global warming in progress, how could another 2011 happen again? And then there was February 2021.

    Thanks to population growth, lots of money had to be spent to generate more power in Texas. There was a mandate for more “renewables”, and windmills were the choice. Subsidies and mandates forced that choice. The windmills could have been equipped for unusually cold weather, but that increased costs, and was not done.

    At the moment wind power was desperately needed, roughly half the windmills were frozen, and the other half had low wind speed. One week earlier, wind output at the peak hour of one day reached 58% of all ERCOT energy usage. During the partial blackout of the state, only 5%. Wind power is a highly variable source of energy.

    I have an article, with lots of Texas wind powered electricity output charts, at my science and energy blog:

    https://elonionbloggle.blogspot.com/2021/02/wind-subsidies-help-freeze-texans.html

    • max says:

      Warren Buffett said: “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

  34. Turtle says:

    Some households will have $10,000 bills when normally $300. Some have seen $1,000/day charges being racked up already. What’s Abbott going to do about this, I wonder?

    From what I understand, the power producers failed to winter-proof their equipment when it became clear they needed to after the 2011 storm. Their failure created a massive shortage of supply this time, thus skyrocketing wholesale prices. Consumers with plans having daily variable rates (see Griddy) are *effectively* being gouged right now during a disaster by the exact same people who’s negligence apparently created the problem!

    By the way, my power didn’t go out for one second. ERCOT said we’d share 15 – 40 minute blackouts but something went terribly wrong during some stage of planning because it was not at all executed that way. Some went days without power. It was anything but rolling. Life is not fair but holy cow, man!

    Are heads going to roll or not? We’ll see. Abbott said he receives more campaign contributions from households than corporations. But who does he care to please more? He’d better get this right.

    • Russell says:

      Griddy customers signed up for that risk. They aren’t being gouged. They benefit when times are good and pay for it when they aren’t. I have fixed power like the vast majority of users in the state and it is negotiated down to $0.09/Kwh due to deregulation.

      It’s just like not carrying auto insurance. No cost to you until you get into a wreck but its a calculated risk.

      • Paulo says:

        hmmm,

        My power is produced from a highly regulated power company, think Crown Corporation, and I pay $.09 KWh. Of course there is no profit filched from it.

  35. wkevinw says:

    From what I’ve read, this stretch of cold in these areas of TX has not happened in 100-140 years, depending on how you read the records.

    It is hard to prepare for this. For example, the floods in Houston, Baton Rouge and other places had a similar frequency, literally 1/100 or 1/150 years. They happened a few years ago. Having seen some of this first hand, it would be hard to prepare.

    Having seen the 1989 Loma Prieta quake first hand, with fatalities in SF (Marina), I can also tell you that the lessons are quickly forgotten. In SF they redesigned some roads, but to my knowledge built right back with the same residential construction codes on landfill (where people were killed by the quake).

    Also note that there is a big difference between OK (and the TX panhandle) and a place like Houston. Unless you are familiar with these places and the very large differences in their typical winters, it’s easy to blame. The weather difference between Dallas and Houston is pretty significant. I have close relatives in both places, and Dallas is much more prepared for cold than Houston. Tulsa much more so than Dallas, etc.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      wkevinw,

      I think you’re mistaken about the construction codes in San Francisco. For example, all older buildings with a “soft story” – usually the garage/retail floor at sidewalk level, many of which collapsed and caused the buildings to buckle – have to be seismically retrofitted (which is expensive). And new construction cannot use this type of structure. There are many other changes that were made. Here is more on the soft story retrofitting issue:

      https://sfdbi.org/soft-story-faq

      Whether or not any of this was enough will become clear next time around.

      • SpencerG says:

        “Whether or not any of this was enough will become clear next time around.”

        LOL… to put it mildly!

      • wkevinw says:

        Wolf- I hope you are right!

        I went and looked further, because I thought that liquefaction was one of the main contributors to the problem in the Marina (possibly in addition to the “soft-story” problem). The source I found said it was. I know many years ago civil engineers didn’t have a good way to design against liquefaction. But now, it looks like there are solutions and they have been proven effective. That’s good.

        thanks for the info.

        wkevinw

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, liquefaction was a huge issue in the Marina. The Marina was also full of soft story buildings (garage floors). And they just buckled. You can see the pictures all over the internet of how those garage floors just gave in, and the rest of the building sank down into them.

          I walked by innumerable buildings where they’re retrofitting the soft stories. Quite interesting to see how they do this. They’re putting in horizontal steel I-beams and additional posts, and other retrofits. Takes months.

          The entire downtown area (high rises) is built on Bay mud, what used to be a wet area and has been reclaimed. Every time they excavate a site for a foundation, they find remnants of a sailing ship from the Gold Rush days. Most of these buildings are built on a thick concrete platform with stabilizing pylons going down into the mud. The whole thing floats on top of the mud and doesn’t go down to bedrock, which is very far down.

          For miscalculations on this technology, see the leaning tower of San Francisco (Millennium Tower). But this technology of the floating tower is supposed to hold up well, and has held up well, in earthquakes. We’ll see.

    • Denise says:

      Houston has a had 6 100+ year events since 2015. That one in 100 is 1% chance. It is becoming apparent that ERCOT has not kept up with climate related events since 2009 but they seemed to also not have done a very good job with population growth which would also affect capacity. Texas has always been about the money. Rich people fly away to Cancun, Florida or Montana and they have back up home generators. You can bet that the energy traders were prepared for this event. There was money to be made. And as usual the no control end customer will get saddled with the bill.

  36. CreditGB says:

    Merely a glimpse of the green future friends.
    Nothing to see here, move on….

    Alaskan : “Its not the bitter cold that will kill ya, its not being prepared for it.”

    It is unforgiveable that US utilities are allowed to expose their customers to 3rd world level service. Thanks to the green movement and left wing ideologies, US is no longer the most advanced country on earth.

    • lenert says:

      Thanks to the BIGGAS movement – Business is Great Government and Academia Suck.

    • lordkoos says:

      Right, I’m sure that near-total corporate control of government had nothing to do with it. Do you have an understanding that only a small % of TX electricity comes from wind turbines? This was a failure of the so-called “free market” approach to providing basic utilities.

      • SpencerG says:

        21 percent of ERCOT’s installed capacity is NOT a small amount of wind power. As the authors point out, the EXPECTED variance of the MW available from wind turbines was greater than the reserve supply that the system currently has.

        • josap says:

          So the entire reserve supply was wind-dependent? No supply reserves from gas or coal or ???

          That makes no sense.

      • MooMoo says:

        …is that the same government that allows itself to be controlled by the corporate world? Boy are those government officials and reg. bodies screaming “No No!! Stop!! Don’t control me, dude.”

        If you behave like a ‘ho’, when you’re supposed to be a public ‘servant’…(not a corporate one) who exactly is to blame.???

  37. Wolf – you are a true credit to journalism. Fair, balanced, looking for only the facts. If only you ran a major news network…ah well, I can dream.

    Nice article. Too bad this is just another opportunity for the R and D to continue their insane Hatfield and McCoy feud.

  38. Anthony says:

    Love the new English words you Americans have come up with….winterize, weatherize and the one I’ve seen on telly, burglarize

  39. MonkeyBusiness says:

    If only they had central heating during the Alamo eh?

  40. c1ue says:

    What the authors of the article did not address was whether the enormous focus on windmills in Texas by ERCOT potentially detracted/distracted focus from maintenance of the existing grid.
    Wiki says Texas now has 150 wind farms, 30MW of capacity and 60,000 wind turbines. Every single one of these turbines/wind farms requires significant grid outreach – and this was all built recently.
    I lived in Texas before – it is not unusual at all that there are period of sub-freezing temperatures.
    Yes, a lot of people have moved there so that’s a factor. But a statewide collapse of such magnitude might not be explained by “accident” alone but neglect of a different type than the authors’ propose.

    • lenert says:

      “Squirrel!”

    • josap says:

      Yes, windmills cause all of the disaster.
      I think it is far more complicated.

      • Jdog says:

        No, deregulation caused the disaster. Prior to deregulation, utility companies were limited to a set profit. Any money collected above operating expenses and a set profit had to be refunded to rate payers in the form of lower rates.
        This gave utilities the incentive to spend excess collected funds on maintenance and improvements to prevent them from needing to refund them.
        After deregulation, excess profits were able to be kept, and increased stock values which increased executive compensation tied to stock prices. It transferred monies that would have been used for infrastructure upkeep to big pay days for utility executives…

  41. Swamp Creature says:

    I saw a picture of Austin at night where the rich neigborhoods had power while the poor ones were blacked out. Looks like they took a page out of Sadam Hussein’s playbook. When he was in power in IRAQ he routinely cut off the power in the Sheite neighborhoods and left the Sunni neigborhoods glowing with full power. I wonder how long it will take the MSM to start bringing this to light, and playing the R vs D card or racial justice inequality theories.

  42. Jdog says:

    Having worked decades in the power industry, I can tell you that deregulation of the industry has been a disaster for the rate payers.
    Corporations are entities devoid of all ethics and morals. They could not care less if people die because of their decisions.
    To allow these corporations to have both a monopoly on a necessity like electricity, and then allow them to function without government mandates is simply putting the coyote in charge of the hen house.
    I am all for a free market when it comes to goods and services that are not monopolized, but monopolies must be regulated to prevent the kind of human tragedies we are seeing today.

    • MooMoo says:

      “Corporations are entities devoid of all ethics and morals.”

      ….and politicians are….???

      • c_heale says:

        …and politicians are owned by the corporations!

        • MooMoo says:

          correction…politicians ALLOW themselves to be owned by the politicians…because they crave power. In short, they are NOT public servants….they DO NOT represent the electorate…and have ZERO value.

      • Jdog says:

        No, politicians are just as bad, perhaps worse, the difference is that what lawmakers do attracts more public attention than what happens behind the locked doors of a boardroom.
        As bad as politics are, whatever politicians do that is not in the best interest of the public, can be exploited by rivals in the next election which keeps them a least a little honest.
        Like I said, I am all for a free market, but monopolies are not free markets. And to give them the power to exploit the public by being unregulated is putting way too much power and temptation on the worst kind of people….

    • max says:

      “Corporations are entities devoid of all ethics and morals.”

      if your politicians are sinful your corporate leaders will be also.

      Christianity say we are all sinful — meaning we should not have absolute power — but no one in America or west believe that any more.

      • MooMoo says:

        exactly… the Politicians are supposed to bring these people to heel…not just claim “oh well, I’m totally bought and controlled…what can I do but join in the fun?!”

  43. Txhummingbird says:

    I live in Texas and seeing this nightmare. Be aware the Ercot board members making life and death decisions for Texans DO NOT LIVE in TEXAS. They live in Michigan. Ercot GUARANTEED they were ready for this Siberian weather. Know this a man died Abilene in his recliner and a 12 year old died in his bed in Conroe… what I’m saying… these nonprofit controllers shouldn’t be making these decisions if they don’t LIVE in the state they are affecting. That’s like a person in Florida making decisions for people in Hawaii dealing with a magma flows. They don’t have a clue what the people are facing.

    • Saw their mea culpa last night. “We do what you tell us to do. What do you want us to do?” Let’s forget those huge fees we charge, I am just a guy in a hard hat. Amazing.

    • bill tilles says:

      Hi TXh,
      I looked at the resumes of the ERCOT board members. Rather impressive group of energy experts. In fact exactly who I would want advising me in a crisis. Furthermore perhaps the Michigan resident could advise on cold weather plant maintenance procesures.

  44. Rodney says:

    Same ol same ol…. those playing with Solar radiation Management and HAARP, messing with Nature is never a good idea, but these Satanists think they are superior to Nature or God’s laws,may they soon suffer with out killing our planet..

  45. Carlos Leiro says:

    I want to buy a Tesla in Texas.
    will I have a hot plug?

  46. sunny129 says:

    CANNOT make this up – that hilarious but real!

    “A Texas mayor resigned after seemingly telling residents to fend for themselves in a Facebook post amid a deadly and record-breaking winter storm that left much of the state without power Tuesday.

    As then-mayor of Colorado City, Tim Boyd wrote an insensitive message for people desperate for heat, water and power, saying “only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish.]”

    “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!” he said. “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout.”
    cbs news

  47. Jdog says:

    Bottom line is the US is no longer the 1st world country people deceive themselves into believing it is.
    The people in Texas being hit with several thousand dollar electric bills, could have used that money to install stand by systems in their homes and do some preparation in advance of this disaster, in which case this would be a minor problem and not a major one.
    If you live in a place where weather related, or natural disaster is likely, or even possible, it is incumbent upon you as an individual to make preparations for your own survival in advance of something actually happening.
    If you are counting on local or Federal government to save you, then you are going to be in for an unpleasant surprise.
    If you are not willing to take responsibility for your own survival, you should not expect anyone else to do it for you…..

  48. Swamp Creature says:

    I think I’m going to load up on some more firewood because our utility company Pepco (Potomac Electric) is the worst in the US. We could have the same thing happen as happened in Texan.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The worst in the world is TEPCO, similar sounding but stands for Tokyo Electric Power Company, owner of the Fukushima power plant.

      Somewhere in the top group is our PG&E.

      It seems, once you start looking, there is always someone even worse out there.

    • Swamp Creature says:

      Pepco has infrastructure dating back to the 1930’s. Transformers are so old they can’t find parts. When one part of the power network failed it shifted the load to the others and brought many substations down. Some stayed up and were not affected. Their solution is a mobile apps on your iPHone. In the massive week long outage in 2012 we had to abandon our home and move into a hotel for a week. It worked out pretty well. We used their internet and brought our IBM Selectric Typewriter and a PC. Didn’t miss beat. It turned into a nice staycation. It was makeshift business continuity plan. Everyone should have a plan. Looks like in Texas people didn’t have one.

      I wrote what amounted to a term paper on the whole Pepco 2012 fiasco with photos and documentation. If anyone wants a copy just let me know where I can mail it.

      • Swamp Creature says:

        By the way, my term paper, which I spent at least 60 hours preparing, was sent to all the elected officials and representatives in Maryland. It may of had an effect. Shortly after the 2012 fiasco, Pepco was taken over by Exelon, an Illinois based utility, and all the Pepco managers and senior officials were fired.

        Service has not improved. We haven’t had a major storm here since the 2012 Derachio so we don;t know how the grid will hold up under stress. But we have had a lot of clear sky outages. No clouds in the sky and the power goes out. I have UPS backup on all my machines. If this happened in Germany the power company executives would be in jail.

  49. DanS86 says:

    The home owners(?) didn’t even know to shut off water supply and open faucets to relieve pressure. The Fairy Tale of Texas comes to an end. What happened to Global Warming? Yeah, climate changes.

  50. JGP says:

    The GWPF website has been discussing the impact of grand solar minimums for some years now. Basically, historical records indicate that they are accompanied by lower temperatures globally, with a few exceptions. The number of cold records that have been broken this year around the world is astounding. The site fully expects this to continue and for freezing temperatures to get worse in the coming years. Although AGW has become a sort of religion, it is beginning (well, OK, none of the warming predictions have come true in the last thirty years so maybe not “beginning”) to become clear that its science is crap. But the marketing is brilliant. Texas and everywhere else really needs to develop some honest scepticism about AGW and policies and prediction based on it.

  51. DV says:

    Wow! The green proponents, to whom Wolf belongs, say build more wind farms! More solar.

    What they routinely ignore is that with more and more money driven into renewables less and less money is available for traditional power. So much less that they no longer have enough to invest in routine maintenance, much less for ‘winternization”!

    OK, Texas blackouts can be blamed on ESCOT. What about California blackouts as not far away as last summer?

    Until it is recognized that renewables undermine network reliability and investment in them should be curtailed and their share should be limited to some reasonable level, you will see more and more blackouts across the country.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      DV,

      Your many comments over the years — thank you! — clearly identify where you stand.

      You’re a HUGE proponent of fossil fuels. Fine with me. We cannot live without them. But you have a clear agenda: there MUST NOT BE any competition to fossil fuels. Too bad. There’s a growing amount of competition to fossil fuels, including in the transportation sector (EVs, charged up with electricity from all sources). And that’s good. Competition is good.

      Being in Russia, you’re also against US fracking and US exports of nat gas and oil (though they’re fossil fuels) because they compete with Russia’s exports of nat gas and oil and caused the global price of both to collapse, nat gas from 2010 forward, and oil from mid-2014 forward, which was a painful economic factor for Russia.

      So that’s your agenda that you have painstakingly documented over the years. But I’m American and I don’t buy into your Russian agenda. I like competition – even in energy.

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