What happens when you combine an embarrassment of riches with managerial incompetence? You get opportunity squandered and systemic failures together with prevarications and blame-shifting. If only the Electric Reliability Council of Texas could somehow convert the prevarications and blame-shifting of state officials into useful current, citizens could use it to heat their homes. Unfortunately, the electric companies and the state’s elected representatives are now passing the cost of their malfeasance on to customers while the high profile politicians have proven even less reliable than the wind.
Without wisdom, energy riches don’t transmute to power for the people. Texas ranks #1 for total energy production in the United States. It’s #1 in crude oil, #1 in natural gas, and #1 in electricity. It is also ranked #1 in carbon dioxide emissions. As the largest energy-producing and energy-consuming state in the nation, its industrial sector, including its refineries and petrochemical plants, account for half of the energy consumed in the state.
Texas also leads the nation in wind power and produced about 28% of all the electricity generated in the USA, during 2019, from wind alone. Its wind turbines have produced more electricity than both of the state’s nuclear power plants since 2014. In light of these facts, one might wonder why Texas Governor Greg Abbott told one media outlet that his state’s power problems were an indictment of the Green New Deal. The state’s Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, wrote on Facebook that appointees to the state’s Public Utility Commission should be fired and that more coal and oil infrastructure should be built.
It was the Public Utility Commission that, after the ice storm of 2011, recommended several actions to prepare power plants for extreme weather. These recommendations were largely informed by a joint report in August of 2011 by the non-profit North American Reliability Corporation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The report identified 210 power generating units under the jurisdiction of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, that failed during the 2011 ice storm.
When, during a media call, the President and CEO of ERCOT Bill Magness was asked why recommendations from the 2011 report weren’t followed, he claimed he didn’t know which report they were referring to. Feigned ignorance concerning causes for the failures of 1989, 2011, and now 2021 is not masking the intellectual and moral defects of politicians for whom unmitigated selfishness is a point of pride. When authorities advised citizens to boil water they didn’t have, with power they didn’t have it simply underscored the managerial ineptitude.
Upon closer examination it was revealed that these politicians, who are now tilting at windmills, failed to acknowledge their penny wise – pound foolish approach to managing the critical infrastructure of Texas. The reason windmills work more reliably in places like Antarctica, Canada, Norway, and Denmark is because planners in those regions exercise a scarce commodity known as forethought. Properly designed wind turbines include appropriate lubricants, air conditioning, and heating. It would appear the state of denial didn’t plan for climate change.
The wind is always blowing somewhere. That is why a continental energy grid is more resilient than one limited to a single state. The decision by Texas politicians, to go it alone, has resulted in some citizens paying with their lives while others were endangered unnecessarily. The state that refused to either benefit from or support the national energy grid is now receiving emergency assistance from the same nation.
Years ago, Walter Gretzky taught his son Wayne, “Skate to where the puck is going to be!” As major manufacturers are planning to convert their entire range of product offerings and roll out electric cars exclusively, as efficiencies of lighting systems, appliances, storage systems, and generators continue to increase, Commissioner Miller and Governor Abbott are working hard to sustain the last gasp of an outmoded economy. Texas needs leaders that are instead working smart towards the next economy.
The future will, hopefully, leave integrity challenged politicians and other retardant forces in the dust. The promise of grid dynamics will extend the day by utilizing rooftop photovoltaics from coast to coast. It will take advantage of a widely dispersed array of wind turbines together with devices that can resonate with smaller convection currents. It will incorporate vehicle to grid innovations whereby the most efficient parts of the fleet can help to power the grid once their batteries are topped off.
The Texas experience should serve to accelerate the kind of interconnectivity that will insure no single point of failure can cause wide-spread outages. Cord cutters should take note. The potential to sell excess energy to the grid while, at the same time reducing one’s own dependence on the grid can help to pay for any and all energy efficiencies that can be adopted on a homestead scale. While cutting the public umbilical may seem like the thing to do, generating as much energy as possible at home while maintaining all the advantages of wide area grid system may be a better solution in the long run.