Texas Needs to See the Light

Energy Ideas and Issues Texas

New Orleans

You’ve been warned before. I’ve jumped down the deep rathole of trying to understand more about our energy systems and how they impact everything from climate change to democracy, from the grid to rural electric cooperatives.  This is an early warning that we are about to come out with an update on our 2016 study of governance in the RECs, but no spoiler alert yet.  Today, let’s look at the grid again, and how Texas is messing with the rest of the country, and especially its own citizens, largely because of some weird and misplaced political ideology and stubborn refusal to face the facts.

My excuse for revisiting this topic and trying to pull y’all down the hole with me is an op-ed by Michael Webber that ran recently.  I’m a little uncomfortable in disclosing that he is chief technology officer at a venture fund called Energy Impact Partners, so I’m afraid he’s got a horse in this race and might be also making the case for a huge winning stake.  Nonetheless, he is a professor of energy resources at the University of Texas, so that’s something, and, coincidentally, from all my recent research he’s as right as rain on much of the argument he makes about the need for Texas to join the rest of the nation’s power grid.

Ok, you didn’t know, or didn’t remember, that only Texas is not part of a multi-state power grid?  Or, you scratched your head about all of this when 10 million Texans were left without power, some for weeks, last winter when a bitter storm kicked them in the south side, and then went on about your life?  90% of Texas is part of ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which it is not, at least, not reliable, as we have seen.  The rest of the country and the other 10% of Texas, like around El Paso, is connected to the Eastern and Western Interconnections.  That means when something goes down elsewhere, power can be shifted from other sources on the grid to get folks back on line.  When Texas when down, there was no way anyone else could help.

A further irony is that Texas has an excess of wind and solar generation that it doesn’t use, and, worse, can’t sell or share, because it’s, yes, you guessed it, not connected to any of the national grid.  Webber estimates if it were, that extra power capacity could allow Texas to make enough money to get rid of all of its coal and natural gas plants and help other states do the same.  Furthermore, it would lower the price of electricity in the state as well as creating a cleaner and more reliable system.

Any change is hard, but even after last winter’s butt whipping, the powers that be in Texas haven’t moved to update the grid or fix this lack of connectivity.  Supposedly, former governor and energy secretary Rick Perry claims that “Texans would rather endure multi-day blackouts than have federal regulators scrutinizing the state’s grid.”  He’s either lying or delusional.  I know something about Texas and Texans, and no Texan wants to be powerless.

Perry and the Luddites in Austin making the same case are parroting a line that might have meant something before deregulation, but that was then, not now.  Furthermore, as Webber argues, Texas is connected to the rest of the country in every other way, so why not electricity.  Texas also deals with federal regulators around natural gas, gasoline, liquified natural gas, crude oil, and a million other things, so what’s the big diff when it comes to electricity.  It’s one thing to be stubborn when you’re right, but when you’re wrong, it’s just stupid.  Texas needs to turn on the lights a bit brighter and finally look at all of their electric grid and generation more clearly, and then get stepping and make the change.