Cold Truth: The Texas Freeze is a Catastrophe of the Free Market

Yves here. The collateral damage of the Texas power grid power failures is getting worse and worse. Extensive burst pipes now mean that 14 million (no typo) are without potable water. From the Wall Street Journal:

More than 14 million people in Texas are without safe drinking water, as the fallout of a severe winter storm exacts a historic toll.

Cities including Austin, Houston and San Antonio are under boil-water notices until Monday. Some residents are bringing in shovelfuls of snow to flush their toilets.

The harsh weather has crippled Texas’s energy grid, leaving more than four millions residents without electricity during the peak of the blackouts, many of them remaining without heat in subfreezing conditions for days on end. The cold snap has also caused a wave of burst water pipes, which led to a loss of water pressure and a shortage….

Huge swaths of residents without clean water don’t have the electricity needed to boil it amid the continuing outages. Many others have pipes that are dry.

Kevin W linked to a Fox news report, Beleaguered Texas hospitals with no water evacuate patients amid winter storm power outages:

After a deadly blast of winter weather overwhelmed the electrical grid and left millions of Texans without power, hospitals in the state are also facing the additional stress of water shortages, crowded emergency rooms and even being forced to evacuate patients….

In Austin, hospitals dealt with a loss in water pressure and heat.

St. David’s South Austin Medical Center said Wednesday night that it had lost water pressure from the City of Austin. Since water feeds the facility’s boiler, the hospital was also losing heat.

Hospital officials were working to evacuate some patients to other area facilities and said they were distributing bottles and jugs of water to patients and employees. Officials added that they were working with the city to secure portable toilets…

In southwest Austin, officials with Ascension Seton Southwest Hospital said they too were facing intermittent issues with water pressure, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The hospital was rescheduling elective surgeries to preserve bed capacity and personnel as a result.

At Houston Methodist, two of its community hospitals did not have running water but still treated patients, with most non-emergency surgeries and procedures canceled for Thursday and possibly Friday, spokeswoman Gale Smith told the Associated Press.

Emergency rooms were crowded “due to patients being unable to meet their medical needs at home without electricity,” Smith said. She added that pipes had burst in Methodist’s hospitals but were being repaired as they happened….

FEMA sent generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in Texas, along with thousands of blankets and ready-to-eat meals, officials said.

In an “urgent call to action,” the Texas Restaurant Association said hospitals in the state were “in serious need of food for their staff and patients” and said it was working to coordinate food donations.

Jamie Galbraith explains why this mess was a predictable result of unwarranted faith in free market ideology. Safety and redundancy are costs that profit-maximizers seek to avoid.

By James K. Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government and Business Relations, University of Texas at Austin. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Lenin, who was a better economist than Rick Perry, once defined communism as “soviet power plus electrification of the whole country.” Competing with Stalin, the New Deal built dams and strung power lines in America’s backcountry. Lyndon Johnson, then a young congressman, got Roosevelt to help build the Mansfield Dam, which brought public power to the Texas hill country, and another, the Tom Miller dam, which brought it to the city of Austin.

Times changed. Texas grew and the cult of the free market took control of the state’s government. Economists lit the way forward. Electricity is the ultimate standard product, every jolt exactly like every other. Texas had a self-enclosed grid, cut off from interstate commerce and so is exempt from federal regulations. What better place to prove the virtues of a competitive, deregulated system?

Under New Deal-style regulations, electric utilities got a rate-of-return on their investment, governed by a utility commission that set and stabilized prices. It was (in principle) enough to cover construction and maintenance and a fair profit, not so much as to amount to monopoly profits; utilities were a stable but dull business, municipal socialism. Economists complained: there was an incentive, they said, for such utilities to over-invest. The bigger their operations, the higher their total costs, the more they could extract from the rate-setters.

What to do? Economists proposed a free market: let generating companies compete to deliver power to the consumer through the common electrical grid. Freely chosen contracts would govern the terms and the price. Competition would assure bare-bones, lean-and-mean efficiency, and low, low prices most of the time, reflecting the cost of fuel plus the smallest possible profit margin. The role of the state would be minimal – just to manage the common grid, through which power flows from the producer to the consumer. In times of shortage, prices might rise, but then the market would decide; those who did not wish to pay could always flip their switches off.

It was a perfect textbook setup, with supply on one side, demand on the other, and a neutral manager in between. True, there were a few loose ends. One is that demand for electricity is what economists call inelastic: it doesn’t respond much to price, but it does respond to changes in the weather, and at such times, of heat or cold, the demand becomes even more inelastic.

Another detail was that in an ordinary market, there can be some play in the relationship between supply and demand. If even a fishmonger does not sell his catch, he can, at the end of the day, cut his price – or even freeze the haddock for the following day. Electricity isn’t like that. Supply has to exactly equal demand every single minute of every single day. If it doesn’t, the entire system can fail.

This system, therefore, had three vulnerabilities. First, it created an incentive for cut-throat competition, to provide power in the cheapest possible way, which meant with machinery, wells, meters, pipes, and also windmills that were not insulated against extreme cold – a rarity but not unknown, even in Texas. Second, it left prices free to fluctuate. Third, it assured that when prices rose the most, that would be at exactly those moments when the demand for power was the greatest.

In 2002, under Governor Rick Perry, Texas deregulated its electricity system. After a few years, the electrical free market, managed by a non-profit called ERCOT, was fully-established. Some seventy or so providers eventually sprung up. While a few cities – including Austin – kept their public power, they were nevertheless tied to the state system.

The market system could, and did, work out most of the time. Prices rose and fell, and customers who didn’t sign long-term contracts faced some risk. One provider, called Griddy, had a special model: for $9.99 a month you could get your power at whatever the wholesale price was on any given day. That was cheap! Most of the time.

The problem with “most of the time” is that people need electric power all of the time. And Texas’s leaders knew as of 2011, at least, when the state went through a short, severe freeze, that the system was radically unstable in extreme weather. But they did nothing. To do something, they would have had to regulate the system. And they didn’t want to regulate the system, because the providers, a rich source of campaign funding, didn’t want to be regulated and to have to spend on weatherization that was not needed – most of the time. In 2020, even voluntary inspections were suspended, due to Covid-19.

Enter the deep freeze of 2021. Demand went up. Supply went down. Natural gas froze up at the wells, in the pipes, and at the generating plants. Unweatherized windmills also went off-line, a small part of the story. Since Texas is disconnected from the rest of the country, no reserves could be imported, and given the cold everywhere, there would have been none available anyway. There came a point, on Sunday, February 14 or the next day, when demand so outstripped supply that the entire Texas grid came within minutes of a collapse that, we are told, would have taken months to repair.

As this happened, the price mechanism failed completely. Wholesale prices rose a hundred-fold – but retail prices, under contract, did not, except for the unlucky customers of Griddy, who got socked with bills for thousands of dollars each day. ERCOT was therefore forced to cut power, which might have been tolerable, had it happened on a rolling basis across neighborhoods throughout the state. But this was impossible: you can’t cut power to hospitals, fire stations, and other critical facilities, or for that matter to high-rise downtown apartments reliant on elevators. So lights stayed on in some areas, and they stayed off – for days on end – in others. Selective socialism, one might call it.

When the lights go off and the heat goes down, water freezes and that was the next phase of the calamity. For when water freezes, pipes burst, and when pipes burst the water supply cannot keep up with the demand. So across Texas, water pressure is falling, as I type these words. Hospitals without water cannot generate steam, and therefore heat; and some of them are being evacuated right now. Meanwhile, ice is bearing down on the power lines.

For most of us, it’s a waiting game. We know the power will come back soon, just as it is no longer so desperately needed. We don’t know how long before water supplies are fully restored. Food is a matter of how well-prepared you were beforehand. Anyone without ready cash, anyone who relied on official information, anyone who just didn’t get out before the storm – all those anyones have a problem.

Rick Perry has reassured us that as Texans we’re prepared to sacrifice ourselves to avoid the curse of socialism. But it’s too late now. In the aftermath of this debacle, we will return to New Deal-style municipal socialism, or this disaster of power, water, and gas will happen again. Socialism is government, in technical matters, by engineers and others who know their stuff and not by ideologues who do not. Compared to Texas right now, it’s not such a bad prospect. In the USSR, despite all its other flaws and the Russian cold, the power and the heat did stay on. Even in the worst of the post-Soviet free-market collapse the Moscow metro, a triumph of municipal socialism, never stopped.

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150 comments

    1. vlade

      Well, the vote counting machine makes sued. Can the renewable generators sue? Since it was clearly aimed at killing their business..

      Reply
    2. timbers

      Libertarian sites (Mish) are splaining to us the reason for the energy crisis in Texas is because frozen wind mills that were put up for green energy because people believe in global warming. Follow up article saying if you don’t believe everything about global warming you’re will be called mean names of a social identity nature.

      Reply
      1. a different chris

        “everything” — what is it with the conservative mind? Everything is presented as absolute. I do believe “everything”. I also believe (hope in fact) that I could be wrong and certainly know people I respect that believe something well short of “everything”.

        But they believe it in general.

        Sorry they get their feelings hurt, that happens a lot to idiots* they should be used to it by now.

        *remember my definition of idiot is a smart person that does dumb things

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          original meaning of “idiot”, per Ancient Greek:”one who doesn’t participate in the life and running of the Polis”.
          “Polis” is loosely “society”, although it meant specifically the City States of the times.
          so i suppose “Idiot” would also include those who believe that “There is no such thing as Society”.

          the crazy thing is, from my feral anthropologist perspective, way out here…is that the same people who parrot those sorts of reaganisms and thatcherisms, are the very folks who believe the most in Community, as a Platonic Form, if not as the nitty gritty of caring for one’s neighbor, even if he’s an ass.
          so to further a lietmotif i’ve decided to adopt and flog incessantly, outside influence…from fox to Facebook…our mediated relationship to the world outside our door…is in many ways the root of the problem, in re: unit cohesion, at all scales.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          “Absolutising” and “binarizing” everything is just a cynical gambit by conservative brain-war operatives, to goad and lure their targets into fighting on the conservatives’ own brain-war battlefield.

          Understanding that fact might enable their targets to craft creative and lateral and destabilizing counter-offensive brainwar strategies and tactics.

          Reply
          1. Steve S

            Corruption is corruption. Per the thesis in this article, can we suppose California should not have had electric power problems because the utilities are regulated by the state? That doesn’t compute. Look at the corruption exposed in Illinois by Excelon / ComEd rigging Springfield regulators to double charge consumers for nuclear power related costs. Captured regulators are a rule in any long-standing system: soviet, capitalist, socialist, monarchist, etc.

            Reply
      2. km

        They got wind farms in Antarctica, North Dakota even. I don’t know about down there, Holmes, but the ones in the Dakotas work just fine during the winter.

        For those not familiar, North Dakota gets hella cold, yo.

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          can’t find it right now, but there were opportunities, both at the state and federal level, to “winterise” not only those windmills, but the natgas lines and wells and instruments and valves that froze and actually caused this mess.
          those opportunities fell victim to “we can’t afford it!” and to “that’s soshulizm!”…and “government picking sides!”
          it’s an own goal on a grand scale.
          good news is that Rush is in Hell, and ted Cruz has likely jumped the shark.
          I expect Abbot to be primaried, too…but we’ll prolly just get someone worse.
          the Radio Preacher, as near as i can tell, has been running dark during all this(Dan Patrick)….avoiding cameras and microphones.

          Reply
        2. lordkoos

          We have scores of wind turbines here in central WA and none of them have ever failed because of low temperatures, which occasionally reach below zero in the winter. Texas was simply too cheap to pay for the additional cost to protect turbines from the cold.

          Reply
        3. bob

          It’s usually ice that causes the most problems with electricity. The 1998 ice storm talked about here a few days ago by lambert is a good example-

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1998_North_American_ice_storm

          The weight of the ice changes all of the calculations on loads. That kind of ice can add 10 times the weight that was there originally, if not more. The 1998 ice storm was extreme in that some lines were coated with more than 4″ of ice.

          That storm did lead to a lot of infrastructure being rebuilt with better safety margins for ice coverage.

          Here’s a picture of what were giant steel towers that supported transmission lines. It looks like the were crushed from above-

          https://www.inmr.com/looking-back-on-the-great-ice-storm-of-1998/

          http://news.hydroquebec.com/en/press-releases/1313/twenty-years-ago-quebec-was-battered-by-an-ice-storm/

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            Yes but the Antarctic windmills don’t fail, because from Texas the are upside down.

            That’s a preemptive Republican Texas Government Response.

            Reply
        1. MDW

          Well, not entirely true. Texas lost 30GW of thermal power because of equipment failure, and 16GW of wind power. All in all, Texas lost 40-50% of installed generation capacity because the gen equipment failed in the cold..
          Yes, the wind turbines were not ‘winterized’ mainly because this sort of weather had been unseen in Texas before. This will have to be remedied.
          More problematic will be thermal gen – rules were written after the 2011 (also Feb.) cold-ageddon to make them do winter weatherization. And they do do it – the problem is that the cold was so cold that whatever they did simply was not enough.

          Reply
          1. Emho80

            That is not correct. According to Wolfstreet, TX has 20 GW of installed wind capacity. ERCOT expected to have 6 GW of wind power, only 4 GW were available.
            Please read the article.

            Reply
    3. The Historian

      Hopefully Texans can think through this. Minnesota uses about as much wind energy as Texas does – around 15% -, yet their grid doesn’t fail because of cold weather.

      Reply
      1. td

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

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

        – 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 can’t be magicked out of nothing.

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          cousin in houston…usually a roofer/tree guy…is on the job as a pipe finder for his plumber buddies.
          nowhere near enough pipe on the shelf to handle this problem.
          he found 2000 linear feet of that flexy pvc stuff in el paso…for double the usual price, day before yesterday…unknown when the hotshot driver can get through to houston.
          brother in kingwood, and stepmom in clear lake(north and south of houston, resp.) have power finally, but the water is low pressure, and brown out of the tap.
          experience with hurricanes means you don’t even wash your hands with that, due to all the pollution omnipresent in soil and water and air around there.
          (largely unnoticed by media after hurricanes, is all the skin diseases)
          everywhere south and east of me got more snow and ice yesterday and last night…but it’s warming up at last.
          This is in no way “Over”…the fallout will likely last for months…and people will continue to die because of it.

          way out here in NW texas hill country…town has water that you’re supposed to boil for now.
          mom…who wouldn’t allow her water to be shut off until the pipes started exploding under the house…will be without water indefinitely…plumbers are booked up already.
          on my place(and in her garden, barnyard and chicken house…all of this off the same well…but 3 different valves/lines), i have a busted pipe in my greenhouse….and it’s almost 45 in there right now, due to sun being out……so i can fix that easily here in a bit…then roam around inspecting and turning faucets, checking pipes…and by this afternoon, i’ll have water again.
          because i shut off and drained all the lines on thursday morning before all this started.

          we’ve suffered through it with bottled water and melted snow for dishes(melted on the woodstove), went without bathing, and letting laundry pile up incredibly…but we’ll be back to normal by tomorrow at the latest.

          i also have a strategic reserve of pipe and fittings on hand, ready to go to fix any faucet that broke anyway.

          something to be said for forethought and willingness to make short term sacrifice…and i’m known to many as a radical left socialist guy,lol.

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            Amen to the “flexible” nature of “radical left socialist” thinking deployed. Sometimes, the definition of the “community” to be defended and nurtured must shrink in order to be maintained effectively.
            From my days in construction, I too learned to keep a small supply of critical parts and supplies on hand. All the technical skill in the world avails us nothing without the requisite materials with which to work.
            What I do object to is being forced to endure long term sacrifice in order to support the outrageous lifestyles of the wealthy and powerful. America has reached the point of no return in socio-economic terms. Another year of this will be decisive.
            I predict that President Harris will “have to” suspend the Constitution for National Security reasons in 2023. Formal SHTF ensues.

            Reply
            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              In a country this big, there must be at least several ten million intelligent people.
              What if all those intelligent people begin thinking about real-world actionable ways to begin evolving and practicing their own regionalocal survival economies and cultures and sub-societies? How much of their bio-physical life and survival activities could they migrate over into their emerging and evolving Free UnMarket CounterEconomies? And away from the Establishment Forced-Market Moneyconomy?

              Could they begin to attrit and degrade the Money-Upward part of the Forced Market Moneyconomy enough to begin shrink-wrapping the Moneyconomy itself around the heads and faces of the upper classes? Enough to begin cutting off their financial air supply?

              What if several ten million intelligent people were to at least begin thinking and then acting in such terms?

              Reply
          2. Wukchumni

            I see Abbott has done away with a Texas rule forbidding out of state plumbers, and aside from paying them too much, what attractant would fellows from afar in a trade still very fairly reimbursed playing the pipe game @ home, be enticed to up and leave their lucrative businesses?

            Reply
            1. ambrit

              You underestimate the “less than stellar” rates of pay that non-commercial, and even the lower tier house plumbers get today. Plumbing as a trade has been neo-liberalized “to the max.” People who are facing high debt loads, or perhaps evictions for non-payment of rents due to lack of work during the pandemic will see a golden opportunity to make some ‘extra’ cash to use in retiring outstanding debts. Some will use the funds to establish a financial ‘cushion’ of a sort.
              The general rule of trades is that, absent a strong union presence, ‘out of town’ work is the way to make the “big bucks.” I have done this and reduced expenses to the lowest possible by living out of a van on such jobs, using park sanitary facilities, and cooking “on the cheap” on grills and the like. I’ve been part of small “hobo jungles” of like minded workers on larger jobs.
              Secondly, you make a category error in imagining the ‘average’ plumber as being a sole proprietorship business owner. Various and sundry “legal” barriers to entry into the “official” trades business status are a standard part of being a tredesdroid. Where I live, I found out pretty quickly that the city had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the trades shop owners to limit the number of shops in the metropolis. Also of note is the initial financial investment needed to legally establish one’s self as a business. Quarterly tax reports don’t just write themselves. Worker’s Compensation has to be dealt with, and state and local taxes, plus some required equipment for safety and the like.
              The average plumber is an employee. Here, the ‘business’ relationship between employers and employees is almost minimal. Either can dissolve the work relationship at will and without cause. Believe me, the employers I have dealt with, with one notable exception, who was a direct, hands on owner worker, will cut you loose in a heartbeat.
              There is no fabled “Sense of Feudal Trans Obligation” to be found in today’s “Best of All Possible Economic Worlds.”
              We are solidly enmeshed in a Hobbesian Dystopia.

              Reply
              1. Wukchumni

                Sounds like a bad pipe dream where you get up and the bed is flooded, but you aren’t even in Waco.

                I know little of the trades, and thanks for the skinny~

                Reply
                1. ambrit

                  Sorry to harsh your buzz.
                  You got out of numismatics eventually because, if I remember correctly, the ‘trade’ was dying. Something similar happened to plumbing. It got so that you could, “give them a saw and a tape rule and poof, they’re a Plumber.” The ‘value’ of skilled labour actually went down in inflation adjusted terms. Meanwhile, the cost of living kept going up, even the “official” cost of living.
                  Eventually, this deflationary dynamic will come for everyone who ‘works’ for a living.
                  Another aspect of the employer/employee relationship is that not everyone has the skills set nor personality traits needed to succeed in business. Our esteemed hostess cites the figure of, I believe, that four out of five new businesses go the ‘Way of the Dinosaurs’ within two years? Today, I’ll give odds that the ratio is even worse.
                  Now, if I had been in Waco on that fell day, I would have wet my pants, no pipes needed.
                  Stay safe up there in the celestial realm!

                  Reply
          3. Ian Ollmann

            Do they not read the story of the three little pigs in Texas? Perhaps the straw house lobby is well funded? Of all the things to invest in and make rock solid, among the top is your house.

            Reply
    4. bluedogg

      Capitalism at its finest more deregulation that’s what happens when you send idiots into office that are already on the payroll of K street and every other streets across America where money flows, and of course big business was behind this just they have been behind all the crisis in the country after all as Boeing would tell you profit and stock buy back comes before service or safty.!!

      Reply
  1. rob

    I wonder how those former silicon valley tech companies are feeling now about moving to texas.
    Sounds like elon musk might think again before he moves to a dysfunctional state like texas.

    This is another one of those ” now who is living in a sh#thole country? ”
    I wonder if those “free market morons” ,that the neoliberals in texas seem to listen to like it was gospel, will even blink at a royal screw up like this?

    Reply
    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      They will not. The “free market” can only be failed, it cannot fail. It’s not an economic concept at this point, it’s a cult.

      Now the Silicon Valley elite may be a bit more critical. They actually have businesses that rely on reliable electricity.

      Reply
    2. Mikel

      They’ll probably build their own grids and have huge generators.
      They are working from home alot now anyway.
      Remember the Cali drought and Oprah’s tankers of water?

      Reply
  2. John A

    “In the aftermath of this debacle, we will return to New Deal-style municipal socialism, or this disaster of power, water, and gas will happen again.”

    My guess is they won’t return to municipal socialism, lobby groups will prevent that. Same as healthcare. The US is too far gone down that road.

    Reply
    1. notabanker

      This was exactly my thought. They may even double down, milk the government to do the upgrade investments, grift off of that and then sock it to consumers. They’ll bet it won’t happen again, and it will, the grid will fail again, and the Texas sized finger pointing session will start in earnest, with of course, zero accountability for anyone. It’s the American way.

      The larger point here is that nothing will get fixed, nothing will change. It’s all very interesting to see the root causes of these failures, but US capitalism is beyond redemption, it’s just too far gone. TPTB are all in.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Maybe Austin and maybe other near-unanimously-blue enclaves and islands may try to set up their own micro-social micro-grids, getting power from as purely locally as possible. And generating what they can within their own borders. And maybe even making their houses and etc. as super-efficient as houses in Finland and Hokkaido and etc. are.

        Reply
    2. pdxjoan

      Feel free to pay that $3000 electric bill, as soon as you finish paying off your $25,000 in surprise medical billing. Let freedom ring! (sarcasm)

      Reply
  3. Wukchumni

    This is nearly the situation as i’ve previously described in the 1976 Guatemala earthquake which was shallow and broke buried pipes bringing water, and in the aftermath of the temblor, nobody could access fresh water.

    The scenario in Texas is a bit different in that it seems to be mostly above ground pipes, and not so much the underground pipes affected.

    Its kind of akin to a dike with tens of thousands of little holes draining out the water, and where does 325 million gallons of water go after it leaks out, freezes and then thaws out this weekend when things warm up?

    Tens of thousands of Austin residents remained without water service Thursday as city officials struggled to restore basic services amid cascading crises wrought by the extended freeze.

    Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said it was unclear exactly how many Austinites were still without water service but said it was “many tens of thousands.”

    “It is a large portion of our customer base,” Meszaros said of those without water service Thursday.

    “Tens of thousands” of leaks in the system have wreaked havoc on Austin’s water supply, Meszaros said. That has been compounded by an untold number of burst pipes in homes.

    Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Austin Water saw 325 million gallons leak out of the system. Austinites typically use about 100 million gallons a day.

    “That is an incredible amount of water and nothing I’ve ever seen before at that rate,” Meszaros said, “So that’s what we’re managing is to not return to that state of affairs, where 100 million gallons of water could leak out of our system in one night.”

    https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2021/02/18/austin-boil-water-notice-continues-but-treatment-plants-online/6799267002/

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      One wonders if the Austin municipal water authority can carry water to the people in its service area on tankers running fixed routes, stopping every so often for set groups of people to fill up their water quota rations for the day.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        Form where will those Tankers materialize?

        You can not re-purpose Petrol (Gas) Tankers to carry water.
        1. Water is too heavy
        2. The Gasoline leaves a nasty taste
        3. I believe Gasoline is considered bad when imbibed.

        Reply
  4. leadenise

    I found out today that Austin and Travis county declared a disaster on the 14th. The state wide disaster was called on the 12th. Now, I don’t watch the local news or get a newspaper. I probably missed any announcements made via these channels. But I do have a smart phone and get amber and weather alerts. So why didn’t we get texts letting us know we were in a bad situation? I’m including the Austin web site for security and disaster so you can see what the city/county plan is:

    https://www.austintexas.gov/department/homeland-security-and-emergency-management

    Reply
    1. The Historian

      I don’t know about Texas, but in my state, you have to sign up with the agencies to get alerts, they don’t come to you automatically.

      Reply
      1. lordkoos

        FEMA could bring in blankets, food, water etc etc just as they would after any disaster.

        However, Democrats don’t seem that interested in winning the hearts and minds of Americans.

        Reply
        1. Harrold

          FEMA has already sent generators, blankets, water, and diesel fuel to Texas.

          This started after the emergency declaration from the White House on Monday.

          Lt Gov Dan Patrick is sad that it appears the state legislature will now not be able to take up the issue of Secession.

          Reply
          1. Amfortas the hippie

            where are the loquacious rentboys when you need them?
            Radio Preacher was all but silent during al;l this.
            https://twitter.com/DanPatrick?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

            let that Moth%$^#erf&*(ker cross the road in front of me.
            somebody eat that guy.
            abbot was a more or less decent ‘conservative” before he became governor under that guy(in Texas, per the Constitution, Lieutenant Governor(“LiteGov”) has much more power than the Governor.)
            would have been in a dark hole even without him, of course, given the lifehating darkness that is modern “conservativism”, but still.
            it’s a continuum of darkness.

            Reply
  5. The Rev Kev

    Looking at the films clips coming out of Texas, you can see that they were not prepared for what hit them. Looking at my own region in Oz, I can imagine the same sort of chaos hitting here if we got a blast of cold out of Antarctica. We wouldn’t be ready for it. Our buildings would not be designed to cope with it. But here is the thing. Institutions should be ready for them as they have the time, money and resources to research past history to see what is possible – if they want to. Back in 1936 it looks like the United States experienced something familiar-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1936_North_American_cold_wave

    Of course this was followed by the 1936 North American heat wave, one of the most severe heat waves in the modern history in the same year, but that is another story. My point in this ramble is this. With the climate changing, we can expect to see more and more events like this occurring – and more frequently. If people can afford it and make the space, they are going to have to start some preparations like a food reserve, a water reserve, a way to cook that food if both power & water go out. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme like ordering a gross of MREs but I have the awful feeling that what we are seeing is the beginnings of the new norm.

    But getting back to this post, our neoliberal institutions are just not up to the job nor are our neocon leaders. They will literally look at opportunities to monetize your fear and suffering. If the story of Texas is not enough of a warning about the consequences of that, then I do not know what is. Unless you start seeing some FDR-level investments in infrastructure and the like, then you can assume that like the people in Texas, you will be on your own.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      We’re due for an epic rain/snowpack one of these winters in California of the 1861-62 variety leaving the Central Valley as one large lake, which might blow out our fresh water delivery system and kill the majority of mature fruit & nut trees.

      These events happen about every 200 years, and really what could you do about it in order to prepare, you can’t move orchards & rivers to higher ground.

      It is on nobody’s radar, because the pattern of floods over the past few thousand years happened when we weren’t here, might as well have not occurred, eh?

      Reply
      1. Rudolf

        After hurricane Katrina, the University of California assessed the structural integrity of the levees that protect the towns, ag lands and the California acquaduct from flooding/collapse in the Central Valley. These levees were built >100 years ago. They found a system so debased that it would take $billions to upgrade and strengthen. To date, nothing has been done. California, like Texas and most of the rest of the country is “governed “ by idiots.

        Reply
    2. The Historian

      “Unless you start seeing some FDR-level investments in infrastructure and the like, then you can assume that like the people in Texas, you will be on your own.”

      Completely agree! So now I wonder how Texans likes all those libertarian and libertarian leaning politicians they’ve elected!

      Reply
      1. polar donkey

        The water system here in Memphis is starting to buckle. 250 water mains have broken plus lots of frozen pipes. Fortunately, we didn’t have a blackout. We are under a boil water order. Water pressure is down, reservoir level is low. Been lots of house fires because people having to use space heaters. Fire department has been run ragged.

        Reply
      2. PS

        Reminds me of the faux headline, American paying $10,000/day for respirator just glad he’s not living in a socialist hell like Norway

        Reply
      3. chuck roast

        Let’s remember that engineers are pretty conservative and linear lot. These are the people we will rely on to propose and design infrastructure for the new weather future of extreme events. They typically design their hard infrastructure for 100-year events. They will not consider “soft” infrastructure because there is very little design and engineering required. They are like the rest of us. They need jobs and money. No Eco-planners need apply. Have you noticed that the 100-year weather events are occurring more frequently in our lifetimes…and none of us are living to be 300-400 years old last time I looked. The civil engineers will be the last ones to get their act together.

        Reply
        1. Keith Newman

          Gotta love those 100 year events! We had two of them in 3 years where I live. Flooding in 2017 and 2019 down the Ottawa river. I can’t be away from home in April any more.

          Reply
    3. Amfortas the hippie

      “Unless you start seeing some FDR-level investments in infrastructure and the like, then you can assume that like the people in Texas, you will be on your own”

      that’s what the goptea are already yelling about.
      wandering at random on texas twitter while i’m up for the graveyard shift as Firekeeper(done with that crap, now,lol)…the People of Texas aren’t having any of it.
      again, random sampling…still.
      this is so obviously a result of drowning government in a bathtub that there’s bound to be political consequences.
      city officials/pols in Texas are a different breed than the state level morons…and know that their actions have immediate and often personal consequences for them…as evidenced by the covid mess, where mayors, etc clashed with Abbot over masks and closures.
      even way out here, a right wing nutjob city council woman ran on getting a city/county owned solar farm…sewer socialism at it’s finest.(covid acrimony got in the way of that)
      so it remains to be seen how this plays out in Texas politics.
      the free market uber alles crowd is on their back foot….what remains to be seen is if there’s enough countervailing force…whether Texdems or county and city pols(nonpartisan more often than not)…to counter them.
      This mess isn’t the same as the Covid Mess…this is perfectly visible to everyone.

      Reply
      1. Calypso Facto

        Up here in Lesser Texas (OK), where the local gas/oil minigarchs have to rein in their worst excesses just a bit due to the increased power of the tribes and things never got quite as deregulated as in Texas, I am hearing much the same. We have a lot of local examples of successful rural sewer socialism (like the NE OK fiber internet cooperatives with the fastest internet in the state) so there is generally less free market handwaveyness when it comes to basic utilities. “We don’t have much but at least our grid didn’t collapse like Texas” is basically the prevailing sentiment.

        Reply
  6. John Emerson

    Yesterday I saw a technically very astute guy explain at great length and in great detail that the Texas power catastrophe has nothing to do with politics and is just the result of technical
    problems. He objected to the political finger pointing blame game and wanted to keep politics out of it. He seemed blind to the fact that the tech problems were the outcome of political choices. I believe he also talked about how this is a uniquely rare event (though it happens every ten years inTX.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’ve dealt a lot in my professional life with electric grid issues, and one thing that has always struck me is that a fully functioning grid is the classic example of a system which equally involves pure engineering, high quality accounting and control, and good strategic management overview in such a complex way that few people really have a technically sound overview of how the system operates as a whole. I’ve lost count the number of time I’ve seen highly skilled engineers trying to overthink an issue that is fundamentally political, or economists trying to pretend technical issues can be waved away with ‘assume a can opener’ type thinking, or money people unable to get around the very long time scales required for investment. The deregulation of many systems has made things much, much worse.

      So unfortunately, there is a lot of magical thinking that can be applied to functioning grid systems. Somehow, they usually work in most countries most of the time, mostly because the consequences of black or brown outs are just too severe, so politicians generally learn not to interfere too much with the professionals. But when an imbalance occurs, such as (for example), some economists fancy new theory is applied to deregulation, the consequences can be catastrophic as they run through a system. It does seem to me that the US grid is coming to a tipping point where terrible decision making over the past few decades may be about to undo a century or more’s solid investment and management.

      Reply
    2. Jeff

      Every 10 years? Dallas just recorded is 2nd coldest day since temperatures were tracked and recorded. This ain’t no 10 year cold front.

      Reply
      1. Barking Cat

        I’ve lived in Dallas since 1950. This is the second memorable winter event in that time line. The other occurred in 1983-1984. That event was interminable and much worse. I don’t recollect any power outages. This event has lasted about a week, with an unusual run of cold days and nights, about four inches of snow, and daytime highs in the teens and twenties. We set a record low -2. As always, I blame Milton Friedman.

        Although my power was off and on for about three days, many adjacent neighborhoods never went dark. The extreme weather is kind of interesting but it causes unavoidable problems. Like broken pipes, etc. Despite all the excuses by everyone involved, I suspect most of the problem was due to forward contracts that didn’t anticipate the event.

        It would have been nice to type in an area code and find out when our electricity was expected to go off and on. Perhaps, if nothing else, the leisurely state legislature can find a way to coordinate things on the grid and get timely information to their customers. Who am I kidding? [I never thought I was going to have so much fun in my old age. The awesome *craziness of everything* is coming much sooner than I expected.]

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          ya lucky codger!

          [I never thought I was going to have so much fun in my old age. The awesome *craziness of everything* is coming much sooner than I expected.]

          Reply
          1. Scott1

            Yeah, like I might make it to the end of the world.
            Food chain breakdowns and poisonings have reduced animal populations as humans proliferate. The end of the world has to be more interesting than its beginning, don’t you think? I keep thinking you really wouldn’t know you were there for the beginning of the world. Let’s build some gods and since we know they exist to entertain themselves more than care much about what we think since they are really just statues, let’s create ethics for our purposes.
            Bad electric systems are clearly unethical. Bad water systems are as well unethical. We have reasons to expect best practices.
            Meantime we are doing a great job of populating Mars with our best robots. If there were small dumb Martians they might find a robot to worship. Damned right our engineers have a right to be giddy. If you hang out with mechanics and engineers you have a better chance of surviving. Of course however they help agriculture succeed in feeding us all will continue to matter. The Russians of the USSR had a big thing about tractors. So did the Americans for that matter.
            I am surprised that there are not electric tanks and tractors common in our lives already. Robots to keep us company as we die alone from Covid or some other disease won’t kill a robot as it stands in for an empathetic presence are as worthy of TV, televised rage for not existing as the failure of the electric grid.
            I was a movie electrician even to the status of chief electrician responsible for providing to the set crews all the electricity they required. Everything I did was temporary. We would move around a lot. I tied in to live feeds in tall buildings or schools or sent my best boy looking for fat wires going into houses up the street. A few guys from Hollywood would be able to find power for Texas is my fond belief.
            Americans do not need anything but their own known philosophy pragmatism, since Americans demonstrated an eclectic ability to balance one belief with another when we were given an FDR New Deal Nation that sent surviving soldiers to college. As soon as the US pays off, writes off education debts and pays for strategic educations like engineers, get at the least, there will be some reduction in the dystopia we will build through privatization.

            Reply
      2. Stephen Gardner

        Similar problems on a smaller scale happened 10 years ago. We were warned then. Our political class kept hewing to the neoliberal line so when we had a longer and deeper freeze bad things happened. I was here in Dallas in 2011 and am still here.

        People with an ideological axe to grind are up to the same ol’ tricks but I sense a good deal of pushback this time. The damage to the economy is unacceptable to the business community. The scale of the destruction is hard for people outside the state to imagine.

        Reply
    1. upstater

      If Texas had more connections with either the Eastern or Western US grids, it is possible the shortfalls in TX would have exacerbated supply problems in bordering states, as all were in a deep freeze. There were rolling outage in New Orleans and elsewhere.

      Reply
    2. MDW

      Texas (ERCOT) does have some DC Ties (about 5, now), but power could not come through because it was apparently needed in the neighboring states.

      Reply
    3. Ian Ollmann

      The interconnects are nowhere near enough to deal with the shortfall. Non-renewables (including nuclear) fell short by 30 GW. A “few GW” ain’t gonna cut it.

      This is all just another reason why we need a national high voltage super grid that can carry electricity across the country efficiently. As we get more and more renewable content or it snows in Texas, this will allow regionalities to diversify their energy risks across the entire country. Its sunny in California this week, and I am sure we’d be happy to send some green GW to heat Texas homes at much cheaper than $1k / MBtu that the Oklahoma natural gas exchange was charging. We might even let it go at half price!*

      All this requires the national stick-in-the-mud party to stop objecting to green infrastructure and progress to the next stage of loss acceptance beyond reality denial, of course. It’s a long road.

      *We still might have an axe to grind over the Houston based Enron caused California energy crisis.

      Reply
  7. a different chris

    It’s funny because everybody in America drives a vehicle with 2, 3, 5x or more horsepower* than they generally need.

    But if you have a truck that has to haul a trailer every once in a while, you need a lot of extra hp. You need way, way more than “cruise” hp to get onto the freeway just with the family hauler.

    Texans, well everybody who isn’t a neo-lib politician, understand this. I bet, Amfortas can maybe back me up on this, that if you got 10 of the most blow-hard conservatives you would find 9 of them would think there should be a lot of politically-agreed upon margin in the power system for just these events. It would certainly be true among all the conservatives in my Alabama-part-of-Pennsylvania circle.

    They may blanch at the word “politician”, but if you construct it as “some board of knowledgeable people” they would say heck yeah. “I can’t run a business when basic inputs can’t be reliably secured” they would say, and they would see this as a basic input. And in fact they have boards like that in Texas — the problem is the people on them.

    So almost nobody wants this done this way except for Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and the people who want to make money off other’s most basic needs. But look over there, AOC!!!

    Jeebus.

    *You only need about 20hp to cruise at highway speed. Not in some super-aero car, but in that vehicle sitting in your driveway. This surprises a lot of people.

    https://zfacts.com/horsepower-to-go-65mph/

    Reply
  8. Another Scott

    I’m glad that people are finally starting to shift the blame to deregulation. But it wasn’t that long ago that Texas’ electricity market was held as the model compared to traditionally regulated vertically integrated monopolies or the deregulated markets that exist in the Northeast. For example, in January, Virginia legislators introduced a bill, the Virginia Energy Reform Act, which would force the utilities to divest retail sales and generation, deregulation by another name.

    https://www.utilitydive.com/news/bipartisan-bill-aims-to-end-dominions-distribution-monopoly-in-virginia/569977/

    The group behind the effort, a coalition of libertarian and wind and solar groups prefers the ERCOT model over those that exist elsewhere. The money quote:

    “The region of Texas covered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wholesale market is an excellent model for both retail and wholesale competitive electricity markets. Texas moved to competitive markets in the ERCOT region in the early 2000s. The markets have reduced energy bills, enhanced consumer choice, and spurred innovation.”

    https://www.virginiaenergyreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/VERC-Full-Platform-.pdf

    Reply
  9. Egidijus

    In post-Soviet Moscow and most of Russia, yes, it hasn’t collapsed. However, in post-Soviet Ukraine and George, which both have been industrial powers just after Soviet Russian in that USSR, huge shortages of electricity became a regular deal before it was overtaken by market deregulation. So go figure. Maybe this liberalization of utilities was a cure for their corruption in the grids than actually worked (yay!) and led to a constant supply of electricity etc. as is now. Most often I’m very skeptical of all such praises on socialism and the USSR when I read about them as, contrary to authors, I lived there and thank you very much then.

    Reply
    1. J7915

      Re the soviet infrastructure. Talked to a man, an oily from Tulsa, in ComputerWorld, yea in the dark ages of PCs. He was shopping for some components and also “foreign language” keyboards.

      I inquired about the eletric power for oil drilling rigs in Siberia, that is where he was working, and why he did not get power backups. He said that the eletrical grid was never a problem, it was rock solid, year round.
      Siberia etc.

      Reply
  10. LawnDart

    One of the main benefits to having a grid that is powered and run by the state is that it removes most of the dependency on other organizations or entities for power. While it is a lot of work to ensure that the electricity in Texas is reliable and constant, the pressure to deliver that energy across boarders or into other states disappears.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20161230160737/https://www.electricchoice.com/blog/texas-energy-power-grid-101/

    Via the Waybackmachine, as electricchoice edited their site today.

    Note: at least the boarders are safe.

    Reply
    1. Harrold

      Most major companies in Texas have generators. They receive cheaper electric rates if they allow themselves to be removed from the grid during times of high demand.

      The money saved is often greater than the cost of buying/maintaining a generator.

      Every building over 5 stories most likely has generator.

      Reply
  11. oledeadmeat

    A few observations as someone now who my fifties who grew up in San Antonio, went off to college and career and moved back to San Antonio 20+ years ago.

    1- This is not even unusual weather or the outer limit of expected weather. Weather this time of year in San Antonio typically requires a choice between going out in shirt sleeves or wearing a light coat.
    We have never before in living memory had 6 inches of snow in San Antonio or have it snow continuously all day, as it did yesterday. It is an extreme weather event, and it is hammering other states, even those places such are Oregon where one might expect snow in February.

    2- Is it a surprise that the nuclear power plant was not prepared? Yes, it should have been. That natural gas sources froze up -a bit more of a surprise. That wind turbines froze? Again, a surprise. Some lessons to learn there, and given the broad degree of outrage, I expect Texas will adjust to prevent this from happening again.

    3- Texas is making a concerted push to move to renewables: wind and solar power. As a consequence, since deregulation, many coal power plants have been decommissioned (baseline power that was not available and from a fuel source that would not freeze). So a power source we could have had available no longer was because we are migrating to renewables.

    But renewable energy is not baseline power. The article correctly points out that demand is inelastic. Renewables, unfortunately, are not capable of meeting inelastic demand in their present state. When the wind is not blowing, when the sun is not shining, renewables are just ugly landscaping.

    (Note also that under deregulation, Texas has become a leading source of wind power. In, 2001, wind was 3% of Texas power. The conservative free market oriented legislature devoted billions to building it up, and by 2016, it was 20% of Texas power, a trend that has only gone up since).

    To make the case that the de-regulated market in Texas is a failure, you need more than a once a century weather event.

    And moreover, you can’t judge yet whether it is a failure or not, because we all have to wait and see how Texas responds to it.

    For my part, I would favor more nuclear power, as 1- it is generally reliable baseline power and the fuel is not subject to brief interruptions (freezing gas sources) 2- it is how France has managed to keep its carbon emissions very low for decades and 3- modern designs are far superior in almost every respect to the antiquated plants we currently have throughout the country.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      “To make the case that the de-regulated market in Texas is a failure, you need more than a once a century weather event.”

      Just wait a few years, this kind of weather will no doubt happen again. We are living in a time when climate change will continue to make weather more erratic. BTW this polar vortex being pushed into the south was predicted back in January but did anyone prepare for it?

      https://www.severe-weather.eu/global-weather/polar-vortex-collapse-winter-weather-europe-united-states-2021-fa/

      As far as judging whether or not it was a failure, how can anyone assert that 14,000,000 people without electricity and potable water is some kind of success?

      Reply
      1. oledeadmeat

        Your comment assumes a heavily regulated market would have dramatically different results in the immediate aftermath of such an extreme weather event. I doubt such an assumption is justified. Budgetary pressures always push against preparation for extreme weather events.

        Technician: “Sir, we need to spend X number of dollars because sometime in the next hundred years Y could happen”
        Politician: “I’m supposed to tell my voters we are going to do this instead of Projects A, B and C which will get me re-elected next year. Get real.”

        (This dynamic plays no matter which party is in charge).

        Some the comments over on WolfStreet’s article are interesting, as is the article itself:

        https://wolfstreet.com/2021/02/18/whos-to-blame-for-the-texas-power-crisis/

        ERCOT ran with a lower power reserve level, 8%, than some other utilities plan for. Yet they had a power budget for the winter that was more than sufficient for the actual need. This is the time of year, where they do system maintenance because they don’t generally experience events like this one.

        What was not done was sufficient winterization, as one commenter there put it, a “failure of experience”

        We don’t get weather like that often in Texas, just as I would suppose northern Maine would not be prepared for an extreme heat emergency.

        As of now, the grid is back up, remaining power failures are attributable to equipment failure from the extreme weather. There will be economic consequences and people have suffered and died just as happens from any other extreme weather event, like say, a hurricaine.

        What was demonstrated was that the system was not resilient in the face of a weather event it had not experienced in a century. I expect they will harden the system up. Could it have been handled better? Yes. Could things be much worse? Also yes.

        Reply
        1. lordkoos

          Power has now been restored in TX by a significant amount? I hadn’t heard that but good news if true as people will be able to boil their water now.

          Reply
          1. oledeadmeat

            In San Antonio, the police have been helping distribute food to shut-ins. The water utility has said that the water bill will at most be no higher than last month, no questions asked. So if your pipes burst in San Antonio, at least you won’t get hammered, plus they setup water distribution for areas where they are putting out the boil advisory. Pretty much everyone has power here now. Only real shortages at the moment are gasoline, milk and eggs, and they all seem to be catching up.

            Reply
        2. MDW

          From a 30yr+ veteran in the Texas power industry: as much as I like prof. JG, he’s a bit off in this piece.
          The weather was simply too extreme, not experienced in TX in the last what … maybe 100yrs.
          There was a similar occurrence in 2011; after that, thermal power plants were made to do winter weatherization, since about a quarter (550 plant units) could not start and rolling outages were implemented for about 2 days. (In TX, the bias – for obvious reasons – is to prepare for heat, not cold, since it does not get that cold there.)
          Wind turbines could have been prepared, but were not. Not sure it would have made that much difference, since twice as much thermal generation also froze. Worse, nat-gas well-heads froze, and gas could not be supplied. Then water systems also started to experience problems (low pressure), so water was shut off.
          I believe that this is a much bigger problem than just dereg (which, btw, happened under W and not Perry – the law passed in 1999 (Senate Bill 7); after 3yrs of prep, it went live in 2002).
          Taken together, close to 50GW of installed gen could not operate because of equipment failure.
          Imagine having a system, in which 50GW of capacity sits idle – until that one time, every 10yrs – when it is needed. That is not a sensible approach.
          The issue is that with climate change, more and more extreme events will happen (have we forgotten California last summer?) – and we will have to rethink many aspects of of the world we’ve organized so far (at least in the US).
          (A friend in Russia could not understand why we’d have no power, with only -15C. She said … but it is so much colder here (-27C) and we have power and water.)
          There will be lots of analysis, finger-pointing, and heads rolling. We’ll see in about a year where all the chips fall.
          And just to stress – ERCOT has no control over generation; it oversees the transmission system. When gen failed to materialize (Sunday night), staff had to start asking utilities to lower demand. The grid must remain balanced (supply=demand every split second), lest it begins to fail – e.g., frequency starts dropping, which damages equipment (both T and gen), and then you’re really in trouble.
          The commenter 115kV makes some good points about NERC.

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            frequency starts dropping, which damages equipment (both T and gen),

            Not so sure about that. Need more specific information.

            However, the classic load management technique is rolling blackouts. Is that possible in Texas, if not why not?

            I moved to Texas in 1979. That winter had record lows, about 12 deg Fahrenheit.

            Reply
        3. Harrold

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

          You were able to watch the game on television because the electricity for the majority of the city of Arlington was diverted to Jerry’s World.

          Reply
        4. Ian Ollmann

          > Your comment assumes a heavily regulated market would have dramatically different results…

          Yes. That would be substantiated by the fact that all the other places nearby that were also hit by the same storm but on a more regulated federally supervised grid, including El Paso, did not have these problems to anywhere near the degree of Texas.

          > What was not done was sufficient winterization, as one commenter there put it, a “failure of experience”

          They did it in other places, because regulation, and the power largely stayed up because larger power reserves were required, because regulation.

          Your facts are just broken and your narrative twisted to shape a political point of view.

          Reply
        5. Harold

          My relatives live in Marshall, Texas, in the Piney Woods, which decided to go with the Louisiana grid and they have not been affected. Likewise Arkansas accepted the federal recommendations to winterize and buy snow ploughs and they have not been affected, so far as I know.

          They handled the (predictable, and much predicted) weather event and Texas didn’t.

          Reply
        6. GeorgeNYC

          “Regulation” is such an ambiguous term. I think that is why it is so easy to demonize. I guess the level of regulation could run from simply setting excess capacity guidelines to specifically stating what kind of insulation material is necessary for each pipe and wire. I think the idea is that some regulator is setting a floor below which everyone cannot go without some clear justification. I think the externalities of a pure market approach should be painfully clear. That does not mean that we need fully redundant capacity but given the events in 2011 a regulator may have been able to impose some across the board requirements that would have allowed the market to function while still protecting the public. That is the thing that is really annoying. Markets are truly efficient. However they cannot price in certain externalities and therefore quite naturally perform a “race to the bottom”. I guess a good test would be to compare how other jurisdictions have fared under similar “100 year” events.

          Reply
    2. George

      just don’t build them on an active fault line (Fukushima) or let your techs attempt a poorly planned experiment (Chernobyl) or experience loss of coolant and partial core meltdown due to operator errors and technical flaws (Three Mile island) or let your waste pile up at power plant storage facilities ( unlike France)

      and yes, burning coal emits a stew of damaging substances, including sulfur dioxide—a major cause of acid rain—and mercury. And they gush as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as America’s cars, trucks, buses, and planes combined.

      Tesla and others make Power walls intended to store excess roof top generated solar energy. I know it is expensive to purchase initially but the ultimate advantage of energy independence from disconnecting from a grid tied parasite utility is immeasurable. Futuristic utility providers, IMO, are missing the boat in not furnishing, servicing and leasing to their customers these renewable alternatives. Eventually people disconnecting from public power grids for reasons of exactly what has occurred in Texas is inevitable.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        Properly insulate. With all the houses built in Texas over the last 30 years, I’d expect the code to call for super-insulated hones, to mitigate in both winder and summer, and reduce the electric load from the newer houses.

        Reply
      1. MDW

        Yes, a marvel. Beautiful artistically/aesthetically and ever so efficient. Built in the 1930s (at least the first stations).

        Reply
  12. Wukchumni

    The issue now is potable water, how do you provide it in an equitable manner for say 10 million Texans who have none or are relying upon sketchy suppliers?

    Human beans lived w/o electricity & oil for 69,000+ years of our existence on this good orb, but not water.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      “Human beans lived w/o electricity & oil for 69,000+ years of our existence on this good orb, but not water.”
      Are we sure about that?

      Reply
  13. ex-PFC Chuck

    One of the most fascinating people in the history of the electric utility industry in the USA was Samuel Insull. To the vanishingly small extent his name is recognized today it is as the poster boy for the electric utility trusts of the 1920s that imploded so spectacularly late in that decade. His biographer Forest McDonald, writing sixty years ago, makes the case this was a bad rap. What came through to me while reading the book, though, was that Insull was to the EU industry as Steve Jobs was to personal computers – he was not a technology innovator himself but was a business genius when it came to envisioning the potential of the inventions of others and how they could be exploited for profitable business.

    According to McDonald Insull was the person who in the 1890s first publicly advocated the notion privately owned electric utility companies should be vertically integrated monopolies serving explicitly defined geographical areas and that their rates should be regulated by government entities to assure a fair, but nonexploitive rate of return. This was the man who came to the USA from Great Britain at about age 20 with the intention of getting a job with Thomas Edison, which he did, quickly becoming his indispensable administrative assistant. When Edison’s Wall Street financiers tapped him to become the first head of the company they stood up to exploit the great inventor’s electrical technology, now known as General Electric. For reasons I don’t recall Insull became dissatisfied with that position and decamped to Chicago where he assembled numerous small companies with redundant distribution lines into what became Commonwealth Edison Company. His advocacy infuriated other electric utility entrepreneurs and their financial backers but eventually the common sense of it, especially before the technology for managing interconnection with multiple other utility companies existed, came to receive wide public support.

    A couple of interesting side notes. First, Insull is one of two people I’ve read about whose career first took off because he knew and used shorthand. The other was, of all people, Fulgencio Batista, the on-again, off-again leader of Cuba from about 1930 until he was deposed by Castro in the late ‘50s.

    Back in the early 1990s I was in the offices of one of my electric utility clients and noticed a cartoon pinned up on the System Operations department bulletin board. It showed two guys with long, scraggly hair and beards, dressed in skins, carrying clubs and shivering over a fire on the ground. One was saying, “Everything was fine until they started deregulating the electric utilities.”

    Reply
  14. I have lived in your future

    I don’t know if the free market is the culprit.
    Any complex system has single points of failure that are catastrophic.
    Our grid, the water supply, the food supply, the modern economy, you name it are unbelievably complex with very few people knowing how it works in the big picture.
    Imagine a solar magnetic wave like we had in the beginning of the century that blew telegraph wires in Quebec, our electronic gadgets will be instantly useless , I leave it to your imagination as to the societal effects of such instant destruction of communication channels. And it’s within realms of reality.
    There is something to be said about how villages propped up in medieval Europe around the church with the agricultural industry around making them self reliant on main basics they needed on themselves.
    Decentralization would provide a lot of resilience and fix many issues.
    I worry when I see that more and more food sold in the US is processed in China. We need to simplify life and give up some efficiency for more resilience.

    Reply
    1. Mikel

      There’s technical and there’s complex. How much of this “complexity” is due to having to drive higher profit margins for a few?

      Reply
    2. Amfortas the hippie

      i’m taking this opportunity to lobby hard with mom and stepdad(who have the $$) to go crazy with autarky.
      i want solar and wind on this place, and gutters and tanks on all the buildings that as yet have none.
      i’ll also be installing my cast iron handpump(from Lehmanns) in the windmill well(5 foot diameter hole, covered=plenty of room for another pipe)
      i’ve also always wanted bulk kerosene and diesel…and more lanterns…we love lanterns, now,lol.
      my part of the place was already well on the way to being food, water, heat independent…and that fact became glaring over the last week.
      and, remarkably, wife and boys on socmed while the power was on were inadvertently spreading my legendarium throughout the county,lol…so maybe that will play in the political discussions to come, regarding “how do we not do THAT again?”.

      Reply
  15. Mikel

    How bad can the prices get in TX?
    From Newsweek:

    “Royce Pierce, a 38-year-old contractor and Texas resident owes power company, Griddy, $8,162.73 for his electricity use in February. The total was a steep increase compared with his bill for his two-story home last month, which was $387.79….”

    Oh….

    Reply
    1. MDW

      Griddy’s model is built on wholesale prices being passed through to customers. The problem is that they are real-time (RT) prices – by definition subject to wide swings. Griddy had a problem in the summer of 2019, when RT prices rose suddenly – from the usual $25-25/MWh to $9,000/MWh. Some shock to consumers!
      Griddy just failed to make a payment to ERCOT – so maybe this will take them out of the market.

      Reply
  16. Guy Hooper

    Many of the comments of “this Texas problem is not a market failure “ are gliding past Yves main point that markets require profits and profits don’t like safety and redundancy. The Texas failure is very much like the 737 Max failure where safety and redundancy went out the window because “profits”. Windmills could have worked if they had been equipped for cold weather. Natural gas, coal, and nuclear ALL FAILED due to lack of winterization. The free market obsession does not work for public health, vaccines, education and a host of other examples. It most certainly does not work for scientific research that gave us mobile phones, the web, fracking (ugh), and MRNA vaccines. Obviously regulated markets can work really but the idea that markets on autopilot are the answer is counter factual.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      I wonder what they do with that money? Texas is ranked among the the lowest 10 states for public education (judged by 8th grade reading ability).

      Reply
      1. MDW

        They build buildings at the University of Texas. There are some restrictions on that money – e.g., it cannot be used to lower tuition.

        Reply
      2. Harrold

        Texas schools have a moment of silence every morning after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance where students can reflect upon the crappy education they are receiving.

        Reply
  17. Ep3

    “ The role of the state would be minimal – just to manage the common grid, through which power flows from the producer to the consumer.”

    But why should the state still be involved? So the state has to maintain the lines, the poles, all the physical infrastructure stuff. While private business can be a middle man, taking a skim off the top.

    Reply
  18. Wukchumni

    I remember way back around the turn of the century when usury rules applied and we the ratepayers in the state got fried to the tune of say $30 billion by Enron, it seemed like all the money in the world, and really the landmark case of using a fungible human need as the bulwark of bamboozle, but all we took was a paper cut of near Seinfeld hurt, but recovered.

    The drama yet to unfold for Texas as a result of a ‘rates to the bottom’ flim flam and cheapening out on hardening equipment to developed world equivalents because you had to cut corners to be able to compete, because markets… is unimaginable.

    Reply
  19. njbr

    ….But ERCOT’s biggest miss came in preparing for outages at what it thought were “firm” resources — gas, coal, and nuclear. Those outages topped 30 GW [out of 67GW of demand}, more than double ERCOT’s worst-case scenario. Just one of those gigawatts came from a temporary outage at a nuclear unit. Most of the rest came from gas.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of individual gas power plants broke down. Most outages came because delivery systems failed to supply gas to those plants at the consistent pressures that they need.

    These failures highlight the unique vulnerabilities of relying so heavily on natural gas for power. Only gas electricity relies on a continuous supply of a fossil fuel delivered from hundreds of miles away. And that fuel is also needed for heat. So when an Arctic blast drives up demand and drives down supply of heat and electricity at the same time, power plants languish in line while homes and hospitals get the heating fuel they need.

    https://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/what-so-many-of-the-misleading-narratives-about-texas-miss

    Reply
  20. 115 kV

    There came a point, on Sunday, February 14 or the next day, when demand so outstripped supply that the entire Texas grid came within minutes of a collapse that, we are told, would have taken months to repair.

    This quote apparently came from a politician and was reported by CNN. This is overly dramatic hyperventilating.

    We should be clear about what happened… as huge amounts of fossil and nuclear generation came off line as demand went up, existing facilities (lines, transformers, breakers, etc) would have failed if no action was taken. Every facility on a transmission grid has load, thermal, frequency (60 hz) and other operational ratings. These are all hard-and-fast limits. Generally, if these limits are exceeded, the equipment itself will automatically “trip” off line due to its integral protective equipment, just like a circuit breaker in your house. The problem arises in a Texas-like situation that the automatic trips of equipment can, within seconds, become a system wide blackout, similar to the 2003 Northeast blackout. Everything goes down and restarting is a very difficult matter. Note that in 2003, many utilities adjacent to the affected area manually disconnected to avoid the cascading blackout.

    Given the situation, the ERCOT control center operators did exactly what they were supposed to do… there are operational plans to sequentially take things down. They started flipping switches, so to speak, very, very fast.

    But the claim that a blackout would have required months to restore is almost certainly far-fetched. Yes, if nothing was done it certainly is possible that protection systems many have failed and transformers blew up or started on fire. But IIRC, that didn’t happen in 2003 or in general other major blackouts (there are a few exceptions).

    We also need to make an important distinction here — ERCOT is not subject to federal regulation by FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because it is not interstate. FERC regulation is avoided applies primarily to Texas’s market design and operation, rates, FERC-specific prescriptive reliability requirements, etc.

    However, all the utilities in Texas are subject to reliability regulation by NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. ERCOT and all utilities in Texas will do what NERC tells them to do. NERC was established in the 1960s after the 1966 NYC blackout and was a voluntary organization. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 anointed NERC as the mandatory “Electric Reliability Organization” for the United States; Canada signed MOUs agreeing to NERC oversight. It has authority over the “Bulk Electric System” (BES) which includes all large generators (10 MW?) and all transmission at or above 100 kV.

    NERC has imposed very strict operating criteria for electric transmission. Very strict. It completely changed transmission operations, maintenance and planning. I do not know how much regulation NERC has imposed on generation.

    I suppose if one were interested, you could spend quite a bit of time in the weeds looking at NERC technical reports from the February 2011 Texas incident such as this document. Indeed, ERCOT gets kudos in the 2011 report above regarding frequency response and load shedding.

    IMO, the failure here is primarily at the NERC-level. It has the authority to set standards for the entire North American BES. There were lessons to be learned in 2011 regarding the vulnerability of generation in very cold weather, but they were not taken, and not just in Texas!. These facilities were not “hardened” to withstand cold weather after the 2011 debacle.

    Perhaps the big boys (KKR, TPG, Goldman) that took TXU private and formed Energy Future Holdings with TXU’s generation were able to prevent regulatory requirements on generation. EFH went bankrupt, spectacularly in in 2014.

    The failure is poor regulation — at both the ERCOT, but especially at the NERC-level. Heads should roll…

    Reply
  21. Dick Swenson

    Sorry, I haven’t finished reading all the comments. I wonder if anyone has asked the Texans who think that their state is so great why they now want FEMA help. If they want no part of the Federal Government, great. As someone wrote in a Canadian newspapers more than 30 yars ago, “let ’em freeze in the dark.”

    I really don’t mean that, but the mental condition (cognitive dissonance) that enables someone to refuse simple social behavioural norms when it is ideologically uncomfortable, i.e., I won’t cooperate because it is against my political beliefs, but now expects help with a condition that arose because of those beliefs really confuses me.

    Thank you Professor Galbraith.

    Reply
  22. Dick Swenson

    I think Professor Galbraith meant “joule” instead of “jolt.” Joule is the metric equivalent for “watt.” It is a unit of power.

    Reply
      1. Dick Swenson

        You are nearly correct, but I was absolutely wrong. Joule is the unit of energy, but in SI (aka metric to all intents and purposes) watt = joule/second is the unit of power, so the amount of power distributed over time is measured in watt-hours.

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          Joules were coins issued by the Nation of Celestial Space, which also minted Ergs.

          The Nation of Celestial Space (also known as Celestia) is a micronation created by Evergreen Park, Illinois, resident James Thomas Mangan. Celestia comprised the entirety of “outer space”, which Mangan laid claim to on behalf of humanity to ensure that no one country might establish a political hegemony there. As “Founder and First Representative”, he registered this acquisition with the Recorder of Deeds and Titles of Cook County on January 1, 1949. At its foundation Celestia claimed to have 19 members, among them Mangan’s daughter Ruth; a decade later a booklet published by the group claimed that membership had grown to 19,057.

          James Thomas Mangan’s descendants include his son, James C. Mangan (deceased), his daughter Ruth Mangan Stump, “Princess of the Nation of Celestial Space” (deceased), and three grandsons, Glen Stump, “Duke of Mars”, Dean Stump, “Duke of Selenia ” and “First Representative of The Nation of Celestial Space, and Todd Stump, “Duke of the Milky Way”. Their are also three sons of Glen Stump, Edward Stump “Duke of Sirius”, Dan Stump “Duke of Polaris” and Luke Stump “Duke of Alpha Centauri”

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_of_Celestial_Space

          Reply
  23. Jeremy Grimm

    I believe the impacts of deregulation described in the post are not peculiar to Texas, though Texas may present an extreme case.
    “On August 14, 2003, shortly after 2 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees and shut down—a fault, as it’s known in the power industry. The line had softened under the heat of the high current coursing through it. Normally, the problem would have tripped an alarm in the control room of FirstEnergy Corporation, an Ohio-based utility company, but the alarm system failed.” … [“The 2003 Northeast Blackout–Five Years Later”, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/2003-blackout-five-years-later/ ]
    I doubt the Grid is much improved from 2003, and even if it were, the extreme weather events and disasters, great fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes that test the Grid seem more frequent and stronger.

    “In the aftermath of this debacle, we will return to New Deal-style municipal socialism, or this disaster of power, water, and gas will happen again.”
    The proud testimonial from former mayor Tim Boyd speaks with unusual frankness about how Government, and Big Money regard their responsibility to the Populace. I expect disasters like “this disaster of power, water, and gas will happen again” and will happen more and more often and not just in Texas.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I remember that blackout up here in Michigan. When we heard that it was over several states at once, some people began wondering . . . ” terrorists? al Qaeda?” I remember saying, based on pure uninformed intuition, something like . . . ” it can’t be al Qaeda. al Qaeda isn’t that good. It must be a squirrel bit the wrong wire or something equally stupid.”

      Reply
      1. RMO

        There was a bit on the show “Drop The Dead Donkey” about energy markets. The Thatcherite conservative reporter was extolling the virtues and benefits that free market choice in electricity would bring and one of the other reporters sarcastically agreed by going on about “Yes, if I don’t like the rates offered by the local company all I have to do is phone around, find a rate I like better somewhere else, dig down under my house, tunnel the twenty or thirty miles to that company, splice in some cable, crawls back through the tunnel to my house, spooling out miles of cable behind me, connect to my house breaker box and I’m done! Piece of piss!” I thought it was a funny way of making the point of just how little relation to a “free market” can exist in things like utilities – the government has to use law to force the owners of the power grid (or water, telcom etc) access to all the potential users of that grid and regulate how this is priced. At which point you might as well just have the whole thing publicly owned to begin with.

        Reply
  24. chuck roast

    Great post and comments. It wasn’t long ago that Jamie was taking serious heat for praising Saint Joe. Clearly the boy has not lost his chops. Good example of why NC is my go-to blog.

    Reply
  25. drumlin woodchuckles

    Those few towns and cities in Texas which still have their own municipal power companies might want to design for themselves their very own municipally owned or at least controlled micro-grids, just big enough to supply the few towns and cities just mentioned. And then air-gap themselves from the rest of electro-Texas.

    The Texan majority will have to decide if they wish to be Suicide-Cult MAGAnons or not. If not, then they will have to wage and win a zero sum cold-war of attrition against the Jonestown Conservanons who currently rule their state – if they wish to survive in the future.

    Reply
  26. Blue Pilgrim

    Lack of regulation in capitalism is not a bug, but a feature. Neo-liberalism, fascism, corruption, and reflexive, self-consuming colonialism and exploitation, and collapse from within, are simply and predictably in the end stages of it.

    If one does an analysis in terms of cybernetics and control systems, or systems engineering thinking, it gets pretty obvious that capitalism is unsustainable (socially, politically, and economically), and doomed to a ‘bad end’. What could one expect from something based on sociopathic greed, deception, monopoly, and imperialism?

    It’s not like so many have not been talking about and explaining this for so many decades — centuries even.

    Reply
    1. responseTwo

      Yes, and the people with the most wealth will be the ones that walk away from it unscathed. Alan Greenspan is a good example. The hell he put thousands of people though with the invisible hand and its collapse, and now he has a taxpayer-funded lifetime pension and top-shelf health insurance, paid for by the very people he shafted. He did admit he was wrong.

      My guess, most of the oligarchs will blame it on whatever they can find to blame it on, probably pick up some more wealth off the collapse of the whole thing.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Lack of regulation in capitalism is not a force-of-nature Act-of-God feature. It is a very carefully engineered and legislated feature designed and applied over the last few decades by the Anti-New-Deal Coalition.

      That is why “ordered capitalism under law” did not de-regulate itself. That is why it required the sustained human intervention of many thousands of Anti-New-Deal Reactionaries to legislate and rulewrite and engineer that de-regulation back into place after the New Deal Coalitionaries had legislated and rulewritten and engineered regulation into place to begin with.

      Reply
  27. Clark Landwehr

    1. Electrical grids are examples of bow-tie architecture. All bow-tie structures are vulnerable to cascading failure. Its a feature not a bug. As in Ohio, so in Texas.
    2. Keeping as house 75 degrees when it is 105 degrees outside you are overcoming a 30 degree gradient. That is what the Texas energy system is designed for.
    3. Keeping a house at 70 degrees when it is 10 degrees outside requires overcoming a 60 degree gradient. The Texas energy system is not designed for that.
    4. You can design a car to withstand any accident, but no one could afford to drive. You can design an electrical grid to withstand any potential weather anomaly, but no society could afford it.
    5. The winter storm in Texas was absolutely unprecedented. Every county in Texas was simultaneously under a winter storm warning.
    Stop looking for some human agency to blame. We are all in uncharted territory.

    Reply
    1. 115 kV

      You are correct that the current problem in Texas was initiated by an unprecedented weather event.

      However, February 2011 provided ample warning of what “could” happen. It was a shot across the bow of ERCOT and NERC. That event caused 7000 MW of loadshedding in ERCOT. Because electric supply failures impacted pipeline shipments of natural gas to the Southwest, wide spread outages occurred there as well.

      Deja vu is a b****.

      It is incorrect to characterize this past week as an unforeseeable event. February 2011 was an indication of how bad something can get. The reserve margin simply was not there. Even worse, the “lessons learned” apparently didn’t include electric generation or natural gas supply resilience for days of subfreezing temperature.

      Reply
    2. Harold

      Neighboring states and towns that opted not to join the Ercot grid were not affected because they followed standards designed to prepare them for unexpected cold weather. It looks like Ercot chose not to because they disdained prudent regulation. This was a pennywise-pound-foolish economic choice, not an act of fate.

      Reply
    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      If all the houses in Texas had been built to Northern Finland standards of super-insulation, would keeping them at 70 while it was 10 out have been so hard?

      Reply
    4. Brett

      I am in Austin and without heat right now as my neighborhood waits for a propane refill of its communal holding tank (2nd time this week). Last night it went down below freezing and our house was 50 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when the sun came up. So the gradient delta is more like 30 degrees not 60 degrees that you asserted.

      Reply
  28. Gregory Etchason

    Galt’s Gulch got lights out and a Deep Freeze. All inelastic commodities should be “nationalized” putting them on par with DoD. Then the Government spends whatever is required to expand and maintain the commodity. And yes if you think MMT is bullshit then raise taxes on the rich. Whatever it would take.

    Reply
      1. Gregory Etchason

        Galt’s Gulch was the fantasy retreat in Atlas Shrugged. All the so called rich correct people gave up on the larger society and moved to Galt’s Gulch.

        Heidi Cruz “let them eat snow”

        Keith?

        Reply
  29. Tom Bradford

    At the core is the decision as to how serious an event do you need to harden for – a 100 year event, a 200 year event, a 500 year event? Private, profit-making companies aren’t going to want to spend to harden for even a 100 year event so it is up to the public/politicians to decide upon and impose the degree of ‘fail-safe’ they want, and to bear the cost of it.

    Here in New Zealand the Alpine fault goes with a >7.0 quake every 291 years on average, and the last one was in 1717! Yet that’s an average of intervals of 140 – 510 years. The chance of such a ‘quake happening within the next 50 years is (so they claim) 1 in 3. Yet most of NZ’s building regulations and infrastructure is based on it happening next week, a major extra expense yet generally accepted as necessary. And there is also continual planning by local authorities, Civil Defence &tc to deal with the aftermath.

    Texas’ problems seem to be not only that the public/politicians decided that what’s happening now was too unlikely event to bear the cost of preparing for (and I can’t say how unreasonable a decision that was, tho’ it looks to me there was a lot of finger-crossing going on) but that the second part of the picture – planning for an extreme event you’ve chosen not to pay up front to protect against – was also lacking.

    (When one of the cables across Cook Strait that carries power from the South to the North Island developed problems a while back the Govt. paid one major industrial user, an aluminium smelter, to shut down production to free up power for the great unwashed. But that’s a matter of priorities.)

    Reply
  30. Dave in Austin

    As a charter member of the Austin Millionaires Sleeping in their Cars club, I have a few comments:

    My ex-girlfriend living in Great Neck LI, NY pointed out that after hurricane Sandy hit NYC she was without electricity for 14 days. Four days here in Austin… why is this event being treated like the end of the world?

    And “14 million without water” is a misnomer. Burst pipes in my condo building just west of the U. of Texas have caused a water shut off. Disaster? No, but very inconvenient. I have to go to a friend’s for a shower and I now have 6 1-gallon milk bottles full of water. I Can run to the next building and fill them. I lived through three hurricanes in RI and this is about the same level of inconvenience. Roughly 50% of Austin residents have water coming out of the tap.

    Amazingly enough the street people living in tents on the highway medians simply burrowed deeper under the pile of covers; they will do almost anything to avoid going to the shelters, which they consider dangerous. I took some pictures I’m willing to share if anyone is interested.

    Technically there were two separate issues; first was the significant reduction in electrical output, second was the decisions made here by Austin Electric to allocate the remaining electricity in unfair and opaque ways.

    Here are the reasons for the reduction in power output.

    1) The national gas pipeline system (not controlled by Texas) was overloaded and the deliveries to Texas were cut. The pipeline pressures dropped and the jet engine-derived turbines shut down. Since the problem was over a vast region the usual (and dangerous) “We can always call on neighboring utilities for trucks and men” system failed. The restart of the generators in the coldest temperatures ever recorded took time because the engine cores had to be heated and the gas compressors had to be unfrozen. Memphis and Arkansas had the same problems as Texas.

    2) The federal government (during Bush and Obama) for the first time authorized the sale of Texas/American natural gas to Mexico because the nationalized and looted Pemex monopoly was drilling no new wells, Mexico was out of electricity and social disruptions might follow. So essentially 50% of the gas produced between Austin and Mexico is no longer available for local use because it is fueling 15-25 electric generating plants in Mexico (I don’t have the exact number). And lets not forget that nice, fat almost-totally-complete 2 billion dollar Canada-toTexas/Louisiana gas pipeline which has been stopped at the last minute from being completed. All projections for the last four years assumed that this pipeline would be complete and operating- so blame the federal judiciary for that blunder. Finally gas is very cheap right now but traditionally utilities have tried to keep a very diversified fleet of plants. Cheap gas and the push for renewables unbalanced the operating fleet and allowed a “one type of failure” situation.

    3) Most Texans supported the initiative to increase the share of wind and solar power and the elimination of the baseload coal/lignite plants and most nuclear plants. I know some of the electrical planners at the state level and they thought this was a risky decision being driven by a sophisticated advertising campaign. Baseload plants are huge and run 24/7. They are expensive to build, cheap to operate and basically never fail. The lignite and nuclear plants were not only taken off-line they were not mothballed, they were demolished, which saved a small amount of money. The decision though was largely driven by the solar and wind people, who wanted to make sure that the old baseload plants could never compete with them again.
    4) I’ve heard different stories about why so many of the wind turbines failed. The reasons range from lubricants that lost viscosity at the out-of-range cold temperatures to operating issues that led to ice build-up on the blades. I don’t have anything more to share on that.

    But contrary to the NYT and MSNBC this is not the end of the world, it is just a speedbump that lasted for five days, nothing like the devastation in NOLA or what could happen if The Big One hits California or a hurricane comes up the Houston ship channel on a full moon high tide. And blaming the Republicans for it is as crazy as blaming the Democrats for the NYC 14 day Sandy power outage. Public policy decisions are too important to be treated like this.

    Reply
    1. TominAZ

      ALL of that filthy crap from Canada was going to be refined in the never cleaned up facilities in TX and LA for EXPORT to other countries. And you cannot send out of state gas through a frozen TX piping system to frozen TX facilities.

      Reply
    2. Gman

      It’s great for you that you live in the central part of town (pretty much the only part of town that did not have widespread or complete water outages) and that you had options. It wasn’t like that for everyone.

      it was way worse up here in North Austin where everyone’s water was out for days and there was no easy place to get it. It was really really difficult for people with kids or elderly people they had to take care of and many other specific situations.

      Just because it was a “speed bump” for a big tough guy like you doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad for other people.

      Reply
  31. Lambert Strether

    > Roughly 50% of Austin residents have water coming out of the tap.

    I’m not sure that statistic is quite as encouraging as you think it is.

    As for “blaming the Republicans for it”, Texas power was deregulated under in 2002 under Rick Perry (Republican governor from 2000–2015). Greg Abbott followed hm (Republican 2015-). That’s nearly a twenty year run of Republicans. Ditto the Leg. The Houston Chronicle writes:

    Texas’ secessionist inclinations have at least one modern outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48 states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection — and Texas…. Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the feds.

    As readers know, I try to avoid blaming parties when systems are at fault. In this case, I don’t see anything wrong with blaming Republicans for a system they controlled and shaped to their own design.

    Reply
    1. Jeff

      That’s a fair point. It’s why I blamed California Democrats for the lack of oversight of PG&E and SCE that started the fires over the last few years. As awful as Republicans are, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth in the golden state, esp the coastal areas.

      And also the pathetic condition of public grade schools in California.

      Reply
  32. Randy G

    My only shock regarding the Texas weather debacle is that no one has thought to blame Putin & Russia. Yet.

    Maybe Putin conspired to divert Siberian weather to Texas… and then hacked the grid.

    Paging Rachel Maddow….and Adam Schiff….

    Reply
    1. gman

      As Texans we don’t need to blame the Russians. We have decades of Republican mismanagement we can blame for this pretty clearly.

      Reply

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