Texas Power Situation

Updated on March 25, 2021 in General Stuff
16 on February 15, 2021

Rob, you’re in the greater DFW area, correct? What are you experiencing in terms of electric power?

My local utility just announced that we may be subject to rolling blackouts overnight.

The engineer in me is outraged by all this. At least up here, this cold snap is not really all that unusual. Sure, this is about as cold as it gets, but it is as cold as it gets!

Back in my utility days, the culture of the company was something like “We aren’t flashy, we aren’t doing anything fancy, but dammit there is no way we’re ever going to let our customers lose power!” That was essentially an impossibility. 

Sure, if a storm knocks down a line somewhere, there will be a disruption. But the idea of having customers go out of service because of a lack of generation capacity? Impossible!

I’m as close as I can get to being infuriated. All this is brought on by a generation of power systems politics that has made it way harder to build reliable power plants than unreliable. 

And the result? Today, in America (at one time considered a First World country), 100x more people will freeze to death than died in Fukushima. 

Disgusting.

 
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0 on February 15, 2021

You know, I immediately thought of you and this very topic when I started to see news of spiking natural gas prices and shutdowns of Ford plants in Kansas City and other things due to this spurt of global cooling. Be fascinated in anything else you want to say about it.

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2 on February 15, 2021

It’s all pretty stupid.

I’m sure you encountered a lot of “just in time” inventory stuff in your truck industry days.

Not a bad idea when you are making durable goods. A potentially disastrous idea when you are making non-storable, life-support-critical electric power. 

Time was, electric power meant coal and nuclear with a little of this or that (nat gas/diesel) thrown in for load balancing.

Thing about coal and nuclear is that they have fuel on site. In the case of nuclear, lots of fuel. At least a year’s worth. In the case of coal, at least a month’s worth. Probably more. 

(My utility in Green Bay ran a coal plant for years that could only receive fuel via lake boat. Every winter the bay would freeze over, so the plant had to stock up during the fall and early winter to have enough fuel to make it until the bay thawed in the spring.)

Some might look at that and see wasted inventory carrying costs. I look at it and see robustness. The entire supply chain for that plant (BTW, decommissioned a few years ago due to EPA) could be shut off for months at a time and it would never skip a beat.

Now, we’ve decided that natural gas is the way to power the country. And that’s fine. Fracking has given us lots of gas. But the problem is gas is essentially non-storable. Sure, there’s a little storage here and there, but fundamentally, gas gets consumed at the same rate it is produced. 

And that’s a problem, when suddenly winter weather hits in the major gas producing regions of the country, and supply gets interrupted. Now gas pipeline operators have to make a decision: Do we cut off the electric plant? Or do we cut off 250,000 homeowners?

Solar and wind? We’re seeing a perfectly clear example today of why that’s a dumb idea. At least it’s dumb to rely on it. If you want to use it under ideal conditions to displace generation from coal plants, have at it. But that is very different from saying we don’t need the coal plant.

Fundamentally, my reaction is bemused detachment. Plenty of us have been warning for years that there would come a day when reality would punch society in the mouth and teach us a lesson for our foolishness. Today is one of those days.

But sadly, the Really Smart People won’t learn a thing. They will shrug off and ignore the hundreds of weather related deaths that are happening at this very moment, and continue to bleat about the glories of windmills.

on February 16, 2021

It’s all pretty stupid….

Thing about coal and nuclear is that they have fuel on site. In the case of nuclear, lots of fuel. At least a year’s worth. In the case of coal, at least a month’s worth. Probably more….

Solar and wind? We’re seeing a perfectly clear example today of why that’s a dumb idea. At least it’s dumb to rely on it. If you want to use it under ideal conditions to displace generation from coal plants, have at it. But that is very different .

From Fauxmaha

I am told that—regarding Texas’ electrical generating capacity—a quick search will produce record of the Federal EPA orders (Hi Peter!) that required TX to shut down its lignite coal-fired generating plants. Moreover, TX reportedly has an over 200-year supply of relatively low-sulfur coal. Their plants could burn locally-mined coal, and use particulate scrubbers to remove the ash particles. The exhaust evidently never left the boundaries of the state in any measurable quantity, but that didn’t stop the EPA from ordering their shutdown. They had a lot of generating capacity, up to that point.

I’m also told that many flights are delayed and grounded—which will have an insane second order effect across the country. They could have handled things better, but my sense is that they had help from the Gov’t that was “there to help.”  I’ve also heard that wind is compromised by frozen turbines. Good times, good times.

 

on February 16, 2021

You really don’t want to get me started again on my nauseating “goverment here to help” rants.

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1 on February 15, 2021

Yeah, all the “new” politically correct energy stuff always had a “walking across a mile wide lake that’s on average 4 feet deep” sense to me. Thanks for the exposition.

on February 16, 2021

Perfect analogy.

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0 on February 16, 2021

It’s also just occured to me why electric vehicles will never truly get more then a percentage point or two of market share.

But then I’ve known that for a long time.

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2 on February 16, 2021

One way to look at this goes like this:

30 years ago, there was a lot of slack in the system. Not only lots of capacity, but capacity that was managed in a way that furthered the reliability and robustness of the system.

We’ve spent those decades squeezing that robustness out of the system. A little here. A little there. None of those decisions, taken alone, did that much harm. Pols could stand up and talk about all the good they did, and the harm (loss of robustness) was invisible.

Until it wasn’t. Today.

California has already gone through this. But between the “that’s just California” factor and the relatively agreeable climate, no one really cared.

But now its Texas. This isn’t supposed to happen in Texas.

The real crime here is the opacity. If the country wants to spend money for lower pollution, that’s a perfectly good priority. But we’re never asked “would you exchange 2x electric prices for cleaner air?” The Congress never has that debate. We never confront the costs of cleaner air honestly.

Instead, we pass vague laws with no consideration of the costs, then let regulators whittle away.

I’ll let Peter take it from here…

on February 16, 2021
Instead, we pass vague laws with no consideration of the costs, then let regulators whittle away.

I’ll let Peter take it from here… From Fauxmaha

I thought of rehashing my career again for this but then yesterday a guy I admire wrote an interesting piece that kind of gives the foundation for it all. Full disclosure- I’ve corresponded with this guy previously and we’ve talked about EPA v. Massachusetts. He’s indicated he’ll eventually get around to doing a piece on that, too.

Anyways, here’s an exposition of the hinge point:

https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2021/02/a_laymans_guide_to_penumbral_reasoning.html

That’s the start of how we got here. And I’ve got plenty of war stories and scars from trying in vain to fight it.

The shit part is that innocent people are suffering and nothing infuriates me more. The good part is now you can see what the obscure details look like in real time.

Hubris, it’s what’s for breakfast.

on February 17, 2021

My report from ground zero:

Everything is really okay chez moi, considering the conditions, though the periodic blackouts are slightly inconvenient and nothing to get hysterical about.

They seem to turn on the power to my ‘hood for a couple of hours around mealtimes, then off again for 5 or 6 hours. I never bought a back up generator, because in 30 years here, we have never lost power for more than a half hour or so. I guess I need to get one, or at least some kind of DC power supply I can keep charged and run lights with in an emergency. We may get another crisis in 30 years.

My wife cooks on the gas powered fireplace, which has highly efficient fake logs that get hot and stay hot. Also, our hot water runs on gas, which has been unaffected.

Everything will settle down by Saturday. But we are getting a new storm tonight with snow, freezing rain, AND sleet!

I am trying to discontinue criticizing, and that includes public officials and power companies surprised by all this and under fire by the public who act like we are all dying.

If you want a totally unique and possibly unwelcome observation, I say that we Southeners, and maybe all Americans, need to quit bitching about weather. I am not at all in denial about climate change. But I cannot imagine my father’s generation, never mind the founding fathers, getting excited about a cold spell lasting for … what? … 5 days? This will be over by Saturday. People in the Dakotas endure wind chills of 50 below every year. I don’t hear them bitching. And then Texans bitch about the heat come August! (Hello, it’s summertime.)

You have to understand that my wife survived the Chinese cultural revolution deep in the Chinese countryside, this in the 60s. And she stayed there for 10 hard years, enduring floods and famine before being allowed back into Nanjing. Her father was a political prisoner afterwards. For 7 more years. My fellow Texans, you do not know what tough is. My wife is utterly unfazed by this “crisis.” She has been walking 5 miles in the ice every day to the store and back and thinks nothing of it. I’m serious. We don’t really need anything, but she is extremely energetic. If she doesn’t get in at least 5 miles of running or, in this case, walking through the snow and ice, she goes stir crazy. She comes back from the store with two bags of food and says something like “Walmart was closed, so I had to walk to Sprouts. Sorry it took so long.”

“Uh, that’s quite alright, dear. Did you bring me some cookies?”

She weighs 95 pounds. I weigh … more than that.

I will soon post an interesting essay by Ben Franklin I just read, about these Indians who declined his offer to sponsor some of their young men at American universities, because prior experience had turned out young braves who, when returning to the wigwams, were found to be slow, soft, unable to find their way around in the woods, and good for nothing. Can you imagine if they had had trans studies or sociology in those days and the braves had returned to their tribe holding forth about gender being a social construct? No offense here … I studied liberal arts myself.

But seriously, what the storm is revealing about our character worries me more than the slips and falls and pileups on the freeway.

Yours truly,

Rob

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0 on February 17, 2021

Very interesting take, Rob.

Tech makes our lives easier –> Society becomes softer. 

I’ve long had the inkling that maybe the Amish are on to something. But where does one draw the line? That’s the hard question in this.

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0 on February 17, 2021

I draw the line at plugging in a guitar. Simple, really.

😀

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0 on February 17, 2021

That’s funny, right there.

Some years ago, I gave that very question a lot of thought and came up with “draw the line at having a computer on my motorcycle”. Fundamentally the same line as yours, just applied to a different domain.

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0 on February 17, 2021

I draw the line at not plugging in a guitar. I’m a died in the wool heathen.

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0 on February 17, 2021

Update from Ice Station Zebra:

It’s currently 27º outside, going down to 19º tonight. Power has been on all day w/no interruptions. In most years, that would be a fairly big deal. Compared to the last 3 days, this feels likes Margaritaville.

Perpetually sad Beto O’Rourke is on TV saying Texas is a failed state.  19th century Comanches would have said, “What is a ‘state’?”  

I probably would not have made it as a Comanche, truth be known, but a guy can fantasize.

 

 

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