As Texans grapple with terrible winter weather, power outages affecting more than 4 million households, a pandemic, and a botched vaccine launch, the question naturally arises: Do leaders know what they’re doing?
by Ross Ramsey
Feb 17, 2021: 14 PM.
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Between the winter blackouts, a random introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, and the general government response to the pandemic last year, the subject of the current legislature and the next electoral cycle should be simple. </ It's still freezing outside and millions of households in Texas have been without power for more than 24 hours. It's dangerous and annoying. The similarities between failure and outrage don't stop with the spelling.
The legitimate anger when the people hired to protect us fail to protect us are creating harsh politics – as it should be. This is one of the reasons you see the political herd working as hard on guilt and shame right now as it is on the widespread supply outages to the state during that catastrophic winter storm.
Or about the introduction of vaccines. Or the meandering, confused reactions to the pandemic itself, which began just under a year ago. It is all fuel for reasonable doubt about the ability of the Texas state government to solve big problems.
The winter power disaster does not have the novelty of the pandemic. Texas hasn’t seen a pandemic in a century. It’s only been a decade since a long freeze cut the state’s electricity service.
A winter storm in 2011 – not as big as the one we’re in right now – resulted in blackouts, 3.2 of them Millions of electrical customers were affected. A federal investigation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp. revealed some familiar-sounding problems with the state’s handling of a multi-day frost.
Then, as now, Texas utilities and the Electric Reliability Council – the state’s electric utility – expected the power supply needed to increase demand. « They all had reasonable reserve margins based on the expected availability of the generator, » the report said. « However, these reserves proved insufficient for the extraordinary amount of capacity that was lost during the event due to travel, derating and starting errors. »
In the worst case, about a third of the generation was unavailable. « These extensive generator failures overwhelmed ERCOT’s reserves, which ultimately fell below the level of safe operation. »
And take a look at this part: « Had ERCOT not acted immediately to shed the load, it would most likely have widespread , suffered uncontrolled blackouts during the entire ERCOT connection. ”
Here we are again. Demand rose as expected given the cold weather. But the amount of electricity generated also fell – well below what was projected and what was not needed.
As a result, demand exceeded supply, « rolling blackouts » were ordered, and more than 4 million households in Texas lost electricity which put people in sometimes dangerous conditions to be managed by state elected officials and regulators.
It appears that wind and solar power produced more electricity this week than was expected, but this time of year this is a relatively small part of the expected national generation. The generation from gas and coal-fired power plants was far below expectations, which led to a decline in supply with increasing demand. How much of this is bad design – a case where the system should be redesigned – and how much operator error there was has yet to be clarified.
House spokesman Dade Phelan wants two committees – Energy Resources and State Affairs – Hold hearings on February 25th to help Texans understand what went wrong and how we can prevent these conditions from occurring again.
« We need to cut the clue and hear directly from stakeholders, what factors have contributed to keeping generation low at a time when families need it most, what our state can do to address these problems, and what steps regulators and network operators are taking to protect our power grid ” he said in a press release on Tuesday.
A little later, Governor Greg Abbott used a statement of emergency warrant – a possible ability to raise the profile of something to get lawmakers’ attention – to put your finger on ERCOT.
« The Texas Electric Reliability Council has been far from reliable for the past 48 hours, » said he. « ERCOT’s review of preparations and decisions is an emergency so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions. »
Later, on Houston’s KTRK-TV, Abbott said , the leaders of ERCOT should resign. « This was a total failure for ERCOT, » he said.
And it might turn out to be correct, but his information is incomplete at this point. What if lawmakers tie the dots between the current emergency and the emergencies that happened a week ago when it was 70 degrees outside? What if their inquiries put someone else in the hot seat?
Texans could reach out to the people who were chosen and hired to protect the rest of us from life-threatening disasters, be it disease, weather or the hostile people. Political strength and popularity come from competence.
February 15, 2021
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