No Minister

Et tu Texas?

with 25 comments

In recent years Texas has done very well economically, showing solid growth which has, in turn, attracted millions to immigrate there from other parts of the USA, like the benighted Progressive state of California. Texas emerged from the GFC faster and in better shape than almost any other state in the union, and its job growth was a major part of the reason for the steady reduction in the US’s unemployment rate after 2009.

One of the many attractions was that Texas did not appear to worship Gaia and as a result had low electricity prices and a reliable power system.

Unfortunately it turns out that Texas has been pushing down the same path as California in building Unreliable Energy, particularly wind farms, which now constitute 23% of electrical capacity in the state, with Natural-gas-fired power plants at 40% of Texas’s electricity, coal at 18% and nuclear at 11%. And so the inevitable has happened as a massive cold snap, the worst in decades, has hit Texas.

On the demand side Texas, like California, has its usual electrical peak in Summer because in the USA Winter warmth is almost exclusively provided via gas-fired central heating. But the cold froze up the logistics of gas production and delivery for homes (not power stations) so electricity was it, causing a massive increase in power consumption. At the same time the cold snap also froze those Texas windmills, producing a gap between supply and demand.

Then, because the grid had been rendered unstable by the loss of renewables power, it began tripping off reliable base-load power stations that were still operating, increasing the gap still further. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) estimated that almost 34,000 megawatts of electricity was forced off the system. On average, a single megawatt can power about 500 homes. As a result they also reported that the spot price for electricity in Texas hit a stunning $9000 per MegaWatt-hour. Even in the summer months, $100 per MW-hr would be high. The only solution to stop the whole thing collapsing was rolling blackouts. Those baseload stations, whether gas, coal or nuclear, are not designed to stop and start on a dime. They can take days to be re-started.

But all of this was a short-term problem. The long-term problem is that Texas just did not have the base-load capacity required to fill the supply gap that always happens with renewable energy, as well as providing the excess capacity to keep the grid stable. The reason for that lack of base-load capacity, the root cause of the Texas blackouts, is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar energy over reliable energy.

In the last 4-5 years, Texas lost a net of 3,000 megawatts of thermal out of a total installed capacity 73,000 megawatts today. That was because operators couldn’t see a return on investment due to being undercut by wind and solar which is cheap not because wind and sun are free but because:

  1. It’s subsidized (at both state and federal levels).
  2. It doesn’t have to pay for the costs of grid reliability by purchasing battery farms or contracting with gas peaker plants to produce power when needed.

This subsidized wind and solar power have, as planned, pushed reliable thermal operators out of business or prevented new generation from being built as operators can’t make money in the market. This reduced the capacity margin. In 2009, coal-fired plants generated nearly 37 percent of the state’s electricity (now 18%) while wind provided about 6 percent (now 23). In the same period, Texas energy consumption rose by 20 percent. Just last week, the Republican Governor Greg Abbott proudly accepted something called the Wind Leadership Award, given with gratitude by Tri Global Energy, a company getting rich from those green energy subsidies.

Paradoxically these “wind and sun are free” power plants also produce higher power prices:

Because intermittent wind and solar can always go near zero – as we saw recently in TX – they don’t replace the cost of reliable power plants, they add to the cost of reliable power plants. This is why the more wind and solar grids use, the higher their electricity prices. To lessen the price increases from “unreliables” governments try to get away with as few reliable power plants online as they can get away with. TX is no exception. The Public Utilities Commission of TX has called their grid’s margin for error (“reserve margin”) “very scary.”

And here’s the real kicker: at the same time that pressure is on for 100% renewable electricity, the demand for electricity is increasing as more devices are created or converted to use it. Elon Musk has recently warned that even in good times, any push to electric cars would double electric demand worldwide. None other than the CEO of Toyota agreed with Musk. No grid anywhere is ready for that. California’s can’t even really handle its current load well but it’s pushing to ban gas vehicles. That’s idiotic.

And that’s just the cars. As this article points out the gas that’s burned in the USA represents a fantastic amount of energy:

In January 2019, U.S. natural gas demand set a record of 145 billion cubic feet per day. That record will be smashed during this blizzard, and daily volumes will exceed 150 Bcf. That is an enormous amount of energy. In fact, on the coldest days of winter, the amount of energy delivered by the gas grid is roughly three times as great as the energy consumed during the hottest days of the summer.

And as California has experienced in recent years, coping in summer now with significant amounts of renewable energy has resulted in blackouts, brownouts and grid crashes. Doubling the demand and more, while also pushing for 100% renewable would simply mean a system that would collapse often.

During peak cold events like this one, the gas grid delivers about 80 Bcf/d to homes and businesses. In energy equivalent terms, that’s roughly 83 trillion Btu, or the energy output of about 1 terawatt of electric generation capacity for 24 hours. Put another way, to equal the 80 Bcf/d of gas delivered during cold snaps, the U.S. would need an electric grid as large as all existing generation in the country, which is currently about 1.2 terawatts.

So another doubling. This is just not doable as a GHG emissions-free target short of a huge increase in nuclear power. And of course that’s just the USA: think of China, India, Asia, or Africa, which are on the same economic growth path that the West went through in the 20th century.

As an aside the electrification of everything has already had an ironic impact in the case of Texas in this cold snap, in that the natural gas pipeline operators, in trying to appease the Greens, have steadily replaced fuel-fired pumps that run on the gas in the pipe, (therefore are failsafe so long as the pipe has something in it and is intact) with electrically powered booster pumps. The gas only freezes at cryogenic temperatures, and the machinery has plenty of heat source in the pipe. Thus was an ultra-reliable and essential energy delivery system that would always continue to operate (short of physical destruction) turned it into yet another fragile system dependent on multiple outside elements. When any of those elements fail so does the natural gas delivery.

Still, even as they freeze there will be Texans who can get a grim laugh from the following.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 20, 2021 at 10:00 am

25 Responses

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  1. Noel

    February 20, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    • O Mi God…. so the photo is of the de-icing of a Swedish wind turbine.

      And? Perhaps the Texans should use that method to unfreeze theirs.

      Notably the “fact checker” didn’t have anything to say about the rest of the facts. You should probably have used the NYT, Noel, although their “fact” of 7% Wind Power turned out to be a not-fact, as usual, and a far more important one than a photo.

      Tom Hunter

      February 20, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    • “Fact Checks™” are so amusing Noel

      I love how when some progressive idea is shown to have feet of clay the Fact Checkers come out to try and spin away the damage

      Let us look at your “Fact Check” in detail. Noel

      Fact check: Meme of wind turbine being de-iced includes 2015 image from Sweden

      Of course the text of the post never claims the photo was taken in Texas 2020, the poster is making a joke, having fun at the Green lobby’s expense.

      The claim: Wind power companies are using helicopters and chemical spray to de-ice wind turbines

      No that claim has not been made – this is the classic straw man

      Millions of Texans are without power after a winter storm brought unprecedented temperatures to the region this week. Many social media users have inaccurately blamed wind turbines.

      Is this correct? On the evidence thus far available the power avaialable from wind turbines almost entirely collapsed then as the more traditional power generation sources ramped up to fill the gap some of them failed also.

      Anyway this bold claim is a complete non seqitur in the context of the text actually contained within the post.

      One such post is mischaracterizing an old photo of a Swiss windmill de-icing procedure to question the sustainability of wind power

      “A helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels onto a wind turbine made with fossil fuels during an ice storm is awesome,” reads an image that was posted to Instagram Feb. 16..

      Actually the post is making fun of the fact that fossil fuels are being deployed in an attempt to restore renewables to back into service in harsh conditions.

      I’ll give you a “fact check” about wind farms – when it is claimed a wind farm has a capacity of x megawatts that is its maximum output in optimum conditions but over the course of its operational life said windfarm will be lucky to produce 30% of that. Whereas a thermal plant will acheive somewhere in the low 90%+ range of its rated output while nuclear approaches 100% being in the high 90%+ range


      February 20, 2021 at 4:07 pm

  2. Noel, not just that, there is a lot more Tom is ignoring.

    The continental US has 3 power grids, East, West and Texas. Texas is not connected to the other two, so cannot draw power from outside the state when the need arises.

    And renewables aren’t the problem, the problem is Texans belief that it would be 92 in the shade forever, so failed to winterise their electricity infrastructure.

    ERCOT said on Tuesday that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources.

    On top of that, while Texas has ramped up wind energy in recent years, the state still only relies on wind power for about 25% of its total electricity, according to ERCOT data.

    “It’s not like we were relying on it to ride us through this event,” Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, told the AP. “Nor would it have been able to save us even if it were operating at 100% capacity right now. We just don’t have enough of it.”

    Tom lives in an adversarial world where he must be right or the evidence is wrong, sad really.

    Maybe he can join Ted Cruz at Cancun, or Heidi at the Ritz-Carlton while the plebs eat frozen brioche.

    Roj Blake

    February 20, 2021 at 4:03 pm

  3. This seems a lot like Tom’s covid posts. On that subject he was utterly immune to any argument counter to his position.

    I have to assume Tom is a natural contrarian of a conservative bent. In that case arguing with him is a waste of time. After all, Tom does lots of research (though of a very particular type) for his posts, and therefore he can’t be possibly wrong.


    February 20, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    • This seems a lot like Wayne’s response to Tom’s covid posts. On that subject he was utterly immune to any argument counter to his quasi religious belief in the official narrative from civil servants rather than working scientists whose knowledge and common sense does not confer political advantage nor make for sexy headlines

      The thing about “renewables” Dr Mapp is that they don’t produce electricity according to the requirements of the electrical grid, its customers needs and its stability but in response to the whims of the Goddess Gaia

      And managing an electrical grid is no mean feat, the output has to match the demand and has to get from where it is generated to where it is consumed along transmission lines with finite carrying capacities

      So when a generator goes offline other generators in other places have to pick up the slack and as they do their transmission lines have to carry more load. And if the lines from them to where the electricity is needed exceed the load that they can carry safety mechanisms trip them out and that generator goes offline too. All of which leads to a cascade effect as the grid starts to collapse. There have been many famous examples of electrical grid collapse through the years – famous one in 1965 was a shutdown of electricity supplies in the North Eastern USA and Canada triggered by a small Canadian power station going offline, through human error as I recall,

      If politicians kept out and left the whole thing to engineers you would never include power sources whose power output you have no control over into such a system because you need to maintain spare capacity in the whole system that can take up the slack when Gaia doesn’t want to cooperate, which is fricken expensive and negates the whole point of renewables and also triggers events like these, though not as dramatic which are now quite common in California and starting to occur in NSW


      February 20, 2021 at 8:50 pm

  4. But wait, there’s more.

    Now you hear it everywhere in this state. People are talking and understanding what our leaders’ laissez faire disregard for oversight has done to us. Those beloved words “free market” have left us cold, without water, in the dark. The energy capital of America is a laughingstock, and deservedly so.

    Who knew that our own leaders could destroy us?

    The enemy is within. It’s not California values. It’s not the federal government. It sure isn’t windmills.


    Blame former 14-year-long Gov. Rick Perry, who the other day said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.”

    Perry, with his stream of pro-industry appointees to the Public Utility Commission, was ringleader of the gang that fights for a hands-off attitude.

    Blame Abbott, forever to be known as the governor who couldn’t keep the lights on. Like so many areas where we’re behind in our state, he never made it a priority to update our busted electricity system, from the grid all the way to the consumer end users.

    The Texas economic miracle that Abbott touts has little to do with his leadership. It has to do with the good fortune that we live on land with trillions of dollars’ worth of precious liquid gold, oil and gas resources buried beneath.

    Blame, of course, ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, because if you’re going to pay your chief executive Bill Magness an annual compensation of $883,000 to run the state grid, he better be the Jackie Robinson of the electricity world. And if you believe his latest story about how we were “seconds” from a full-scale blackout, I have a few days of an unused Ted Cruz vacation package I’m happy to sell you. Magness waited until the fourth day to bring this up.

    Roj Blake

    February 20, 2021 at 8:21 pm

  5. I have just read Bowalley Rd on the Chris Trotters vies on the demise of Radio New Zealand. I note that Tom was the first commenter. Tom says he hasn’t seen the TV1 or TV3 news for 20 years. He hasn’t listened to RNZ for 5 years. Presumably he doesn’t read either Stuff or the Herald. So he has no knowledge of New Zealand from MSM, that is from any conventional reporting perspective.

    Does Tom have the same approach for the US? Eschew all forms of MSM. Because if that is what he does, I am not surprised he has such unusual views. Presumably everything he sees and reads comes from highly partisan perspectives. Always pushing lines, never reporting of facts, except those that suit a partisan narrative.

    We saw that with Tom’s views on the “stolen” election, on covid, and now on the energy crisis in Texas.


    February 21, 2021 at 5:56 am

    • You don’t think TV One News, Stuff, the BBC etc are also highly partisan Dr Mapp? They are as bad as or worse than Pravda in Soviet times and little more than Establishment mouthpieces

      In human societies there are the “In Crowd” and the outsiders. . Starts in school and continues in all areanas of life. Members of the “In Crowd” do not want to rock the boat. I remember a fellow I knew who had a large collection of Grateful Dead LPs which surprised me, he didn’t seem a typical “Deadhead”. When I asked him if he was he wryly said “it was de rigueur to listen to Grateful Dead when I was at University and to sneer at ABBA”. I laughed and never forgot it.

      In public life this manifests as the Establishment – you unerringly support and defend the establishment line and studioisly ignore any evidence which might contradict it – it is too uncomfortable for you to do this I suspect, though to your credit you are reading these posts of Toms so there is an element of inquisativeness in your make up

      I have always been an outsider, began my working life as an apprentice, went to sea for a few years, went to university later than most, older than most and eventually got a post graduate degree in Engineering which is not what the cool people do – Engineers are nerds™ look at any movie or TV show, lawyers and Doctors are sexy, Engineers if they feature they are oddballs, e.g. Brains in the Thunderbirds.

      A very intersting event occurred in the 1820s when the Liverpool-Manchester Railway was proposed and a Parliamentary enqury grilled George Stephensen, a Tyneside miners son who was the chief engineer for the proposed project. Today Tyneside natives are called Geordies after this man. But the MPs made mincemeat of him in this enquiry and the Act of Parliament required to build this Railway failed. If you were to dramatise this today using the actual transcripts and knowing the eventual outcome the MPs concerned look like stuck up prigs

      The company then fired George Stephensen and hired George and John Rennie who were upper middle class with the correct accent and scooling. They could do the networking to get the Act passed, after which they were replaced by George who was rehired and got the job done and most of what he built is still in use today which is a testament to his genius

      It is quite clear what happened with this failure of the Texan power supply, though a public enquiry will be required to document the fine details

      And that is the Cold snap resulted in a huge increase in demand for electricity which coincided with a massive drop in the supply available from wind sources. Natural gas is the most responsive method of electricity generation to large fluctations in demand and it did pick up the slack and despite encountering some problems It was producing far more power than is normal throughout the crisis, the coal and nuclear elements more or less produced the same as usual.

      However problems with grid stability did introduce some problems for these power stations so while in principle there was enough generation capacity to meet the demands, it was not possible to safely route the power to where the demand was resulting in brownouts and blackouts


      February 21, 2021 at 7:42 am

      • Andrei, I think your second and third paragraph are bang on the money.
        I suspect Wayne is a product of the ‘rugby, racing & beer’ community that was so prevalent thru NZ in the 1960’s, 70’s, etc


        February 22, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    • It speaks volumes that you have any trust of any of those sources, Wayne. I would have thought being a government minister would have schooled you better, but I guess some people never click.


      February 21, 2021 at 8:18 am

  6. @ Wayne, if garnering actual news about New Zealand requires listening to RNZ and the two main free to air TV channels then it is now clear how you come to your often daft opinions.
    The old meme “Garbage in Garbage out”, is in play.


    February 21, 2021 at 6:54 am

  7. Gravedodger,

    Along with the other conspiracists here, you apparently completely ignore all of the MSM. Hence your way out ideas.

    I read widely, and don’t just confine myself to TV1 and TV3. As I am sure you know. It was just another one of your usual insult lines.

    I also follow BBC, CNN, Fox, Sky in Aus, the Daily Telegraph, The Economist, The Spectator among many others. Plus deeper analysis from leading journals, such as Foreign Affairs, and CSIS material.

    Now of course these are all wacky left wing publications, so naturally I tend to have opinions shared by the great majority of shepple.

    Since you don’t watch TV1 you will have missed Chris Bishop on Q & A. Tear yourself away from QAnon, and have a look at it.


    February 21, 2021 at 8:56 am

    • “Now of course these are all wacky left wing publications, so naturally I tend to have opinions shared by the great majority of shepple.

      I know you were trying to be sarcastic, but actually… yes.

      And you think QAnon is a real thing. It’s not. It’s a 4chan prank. Which you would know if you didn’t consume all that garbage.


      February 21, 2021 at 9:31 am

  8. The MidWest a couple of days ago in actual generation, rather than the “capacity” that is always talked up by renewables supporters.

    Wonder what will replace all that coal if gas is now also out of the picture?

    Tom Hunter

    February 21, 2021 at 10:27 am

    • Tom, can I lend you a map?

      When I was in school Texas was no where near a part of the mid west.

      Roj Blake

      February 21, 2021 at 11:11 am

    • Yawn. Deliberately missing the point because you have no answer to it. So here’s Texas.

      Same story, except that, as my post already noted, they’re more into gas than coal than the MidWest. The point remains that most of the coal/gas/nuclear remained up and running – while Wind power dropped almost to zero, which leads me to finally respond to the idiocy you posted earlier from “spectrumlocalnews”:

      “It’s not like we were relying on it to ride us through this event,” Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, told the AP. “Nor would it have been able to save us even if it were operating at 100% capacity right now. We just don’t have enough of it.”

      The point he’s avoiding is that wind failed almost 100% in this case, versus gas that failed perhaps 30% and coal/nuclear that failed even less, and yet he (and you) want more of the type of power generation, wind, that is guaranteed to fail 100% from time-to-time. Bad enough that 25% of Texas power now comes from such an unreliable source, but people like Rhodes want it to be higher.

      That’s not sustainable. In fact it’s insane.

      Tom Hunter

      February 21, 2021 at 11:53 am

    • No, didn’t miss the point, Tom, just elided over it.
      [TOM: Elided = deceptive!]

      There is a difference between midwest states and Texas, isn’t there?
      [TOM: In terms of the point I was making about the reliance on fossil fuels during an emergency, the only difference, as I’ve already pointed out to you, is that the MidWest relied mainly on coal while Texas relied mainly on gas]

      That’s right, the midwest states are all part of the Western Interconnector, so can draw power from each other. Unlike Texas, that goes it alone…
      [TOM: You really just don’t know what you’re talking about on this subject, probably because it’s outside the boundaries of stepping the boards with The Bard.
      Texas’s grid is controlled by the state, but is not “alone” in the sense you implied of not being connected. Of course they’re connected, since engineers always want backups. In this case they could not draw power from other states because they had no margin either.]

      … and would rather see people freeze to death than allow regulation of energy infrastructure.
      [TOM: Fortunately your previous sentence was ignorantly wrong so your subsequent moral conclusion is worthless. Also, it should be noted that California’s electricity grid and generation is regulated up the wazoo, and yet they’re having fuckups like this that kill people on a far more regular basis than Texas.]

      You are also omitting, or unaware that it wasn’t just electricity generation that failed Texans. A little over 40% of the State uses gas to heat their homes. The failure of the gas infrastructure didn’t just reduce electrical output. It denied people gas to heat their homes, boil their water, cook their meals.
      [TOM: More evidence that you’re too lazy and contemptuous to actually read the post before hurling stupid accusations. I made this point about the domestic gas problems in the 4th paragraph.]

      ERCOT* said on Tuesday that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources.

      So, 2/3 of the lost generation was not due to renewables.
      [TOM: Rolls eyes. And if renewables had been 50% or more of the grid instead of low twenties the proportion would have been even higher than 1/3 since they failed at far worse rates than fossil fuel stations]

      *The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers — representing about 90 per cent of the state’s electric load.
      [TOM: Gosh, thanks for that information for those people who did not click on the link I provided to the ERCOT website]

      And if you’re wondering why I put my responses directly into your comment, I’ll explain why in a separate post.

      Roj Blake

      February 21, 2021 at 3:23 pm

  9. And what the result will actually be….

    Tom Hunter

    February 21, 2021 at 10:29 am

    • East Austin is the gentrified part of town where all the white hipsters live. Play that tiny violin for me.


      February 21, 2021 at 2:54 pm

  10. Tom
    In your 11:11 post, you should have started the graph at the start of February. That shows the wind generation took a big dive on the 8th. That was when the wind turbine blades were icing up and the machines switched off from the vibration. It wasn’t very cold but high humidity. About a 5GW drop. The gas turbines were then run hard for 6 days, until the gas pressures started going down with all the domestic power use. GTs were then being switched off. It didn’t help that a nuke tripped from the pressure transmitter lines on two of its three feed pumps, dropping off 1350MW. But the issue can all be traced to two things. The first is Texan’s don’t winterise their plants (none of the nukes have turbine halls!) and Texas does have reserve capacity.

    Chris Morris

    February 21, 2021 at 5:30 pm

  11. Chris that should read Texas doesn’t have reserve capacity!! 🙂 Hence the issues

    Good article on this reserve capacity in WUWT Whats Up with that from an electrical engineer in Texas


    February 21, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    • Yes Rossco, you are correct. I missed the n’t.

      Chris Morris

      February 21, 2021 at 7:51 pm

  12. It now seems that a major part of the blame is the EPA, as they refused to allow the thermal power stations to run at full load.
    That puts a very different complexion on the story.

    Chris Morris

    February 23, 2021 at 3:22 pm

  13. An interesting article about a similar problem during the big New England Freeze of 1989. The difference is that the NE event was around gas rather than heat.

    With 1989 gas production down dramatically and demand exploding, the high-pressure gas system could not supply enough gas to meet demand. This resulted in decreasing line pressures in the high-pressure supply system, lowering the gas utilities’ inlet gas pressure.

    The utility’s inlet pressures were so low, and dropping, that soon the distribution system pressures would be below atmospheric pressure.

    Oxygen in natural pipelines is incredibly dangerous. Whole city blocks could be destroyed in an air/gas explosion.

    To maintain safe gas pressures, the operators wanted to shed load with localized gas shutoffs. Since all non-critical gas loads had already been shutoff, only critical loads were left. This included houses and hospitals. To save the gas grid, the operators had to cutoff gas to a very large number of customers.

    Whose gas to shut off?

    And as with Texas households trying to turn on the power to keep warm, the NE gas failure would have led to a power blackout as that demand exploded.

    all this relates to the short-term deaths. Longer-term deaths from a gas shutoff were incalculable. Why?

    Houses that lose heat either due to a gas shutoff or a blackout would quickly fall below freezing, bursting their water pipes. Their basements would flood, getting water into the furnace and possibly the connecting gas lines. The water would then freeze.

    Before the gas system could restart, every furnace and gas line (water in gas lines is very bad) would need to be manually cleaned and inspected. The frozen basements might not thaw until spring.

    The operators estimated that large parts of the gas system would not be operational until May. One shudders to think about the long-term impact of that.

    The joys of living in a continental climate system.

    Tom Hunter

    February 23, 2021 at 8:06 pm

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