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Relying more on wind and solar, Texas power grid shows signs of strain


Daily Caller News Foundation

Officials at Texas grid manager ERCOT notified customers Monday that the grid could be strained to meet demand on Tuesday and Wednesday due to a shortage of dispatchable reserve capacity. It is the sort of notice from the agency that Texas citizens have become accustomed to receiving in the heat of August and September, but seeing it in mid-April came as a bit of a shock to the system.

Not that it’s unprecedented, of course. It was just three years ago, on April 13, 2021 when ERCOT surprised everyone with a conservation request due to similar grid conditions on what was one of the mildest days of that year. That warning was not quite as big a surprise since it came just two months after the grid’s near-total meltdown during Winter Storm Uri, in which ERCOT was forced to resort to rolling blackouts and millions of Texas suffered through power outages lasting three to four days.

Even having lived through all of that, seeing the grid already suffering tight conditions on an April day in which high temperatures across most of the state are expected to hover in the mid-80s will inevitably cause Texans to wonder what will happen on August days when the entire state sees highs well above 100 degrees? Such conditions reigned throughout most of last August, during which voluntary conservation requests from ERCOT seemed almost a daily occurrence.

To be fair to ERCOT officials, they’re just managing the lousy hand they’ve been dealt thanks to more than a decade of neglect by the state’s power generators and regulators. Those parties all received ample warning of the looming crisis on the Texas grid in February 2011, when a severe winter storm forced previous ERCOT management to resort to rolling blackouts to avoid a grid failure.

But neither regulators nor legislators nor the big power-generation companies chose to act to ensure grid reliability in the wake of that event by investing in the building of a fleet of new thermal generation facilities. Instead, they chose to keep flooding the grid with more and more intermittent wind and solar capacity that often takes years to be integrated into the grid.  That neglect over a full decade almost resulted in abject catastrophe in February 2021, when the impacts of Uri came within mere minutes of causing a full grid collapse that would have taken months to recover from.

That near mass-death event finally forced policymakers to act, resulting in a near-full turnover in the ERCOT board and management and a complete restructuring of the Public Utilities Commission by Gov. Greg Abbott. Major reforms to the grid itself were enacted by the state legislature in both 2021 and 2023, but here we are nevertheless, in the mild month of April, with ERCOT feeling the need yet again to issue a warning that until recent years we would not have seen in any month other than August or September.

ERCOT attributes the tight conditions in part to the fact that dozens of generation plants are undergoing regularly scheduled periodic maintenance during what is traditionally a slow month for demand, and that makes sense. Still, the need to issue this warning is an indicator of inadequate reserve capacity and poor planning by everyone involved.

Another contributing factor is the fact that Texas is a great place to live and to do business, resulting in constantly rising demand that generators struggle to adequately service. The latest statistics indicate that an average of 1,200 people move to Texas on a daily basis, a number that stood at around 500 per day just 12 years ago. That population growth, combined with the state’s relatively affordable real estate, a business-friendly tax system, and high incentivization for installation of plant and equipment have made it a growth hub for all manner of high-technology and traditional industrial applications.

Servicing all that growth requires corresponding growth in power generation. More importantly, it requires constant growth in reliable, 24/7 power generation that is less profitable to build given all the federal subsidies for renewables.

It’s a real conundrum, and ERCOT has the job of trying to integrate it all into a reliable grid. Not an easy job, and the stakes grow bigger every day.

David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation

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