Texas Power Outages Stretch Into Third Day, Millions are Still Without Electricity

Mish

As of Wednesday morning, 2.7 million Texans remained without electric power despite record demand.

What is Happening in Texas?

Pockets of Texas entered their Third Straight Day of Widespread Power Outages amid an extended winter storm.

An unusual Arctic blast spread across Texas on Monday and Tuesday from the tip of the Panhandle all the way to the Rio Grande Valley. Residents of large swaths of the state experienced two straight days of single-digit temperatures.

The widespread cold weather led to record-breaking demand for electricity. On Sunday night into Monday morning, frigid conditions hobbled dozens of power plants. This led the state’s grid operator to declare its most serious state of emergency at about 1:30 a.m. Monday.

The grid operator has faced twin problems: frozen power plants and not enough natural gas to run all needed power plants.  

Texas operates its own power grid, making it the only one that isn’t under federal jurisdiction. Texas likes it that way and has taken sometimes dramatic steps to ensure its grid is overseen in Austin, not Washington.

Natural-gas-fired power plants generated 40% of Texas’s electricity in 2020, according to Ercot, the largest single source. Wind turbines were second at 23%, followed by coal at 18% and nuclear at 11%.

Deep Freeze Persists

Unfortunately, Texas Power Outages to Drag Into Third Day as Deep Freeze Persists.

The power crisis came as a far-reaching winter storm brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to swaths of the U.S., with dangerously cold wind chills from Arctic air expected to linger over the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley through midweek, the National Weather Service said.

Anger at the state’s power-grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or Ercot, flashed throughout the state on Tuesday, with many local officials criticizing the lack of information on when the power might come back.

The crisis began in the early hours of Monday when a series of power plants shut down in rapid succession, prompting Ercot to initially call for rolling blackouts and then institute longer, widespread outages.

A number of wind turbines in West Texas shut down because of excessive icing, but the loss of sizable amounts of generation from natural gas, coal and nuclear plants pushed the grid into an emergency. Unlike similar power generators in other parts of the U.S., many Texas wind farms and power plants aren’t insulated and designed to perform in extremely cold temperatures, which rarely occur in much of the state.

Troy Fraser, a retired Texas state senator who chaired a committee that had oversight of the Texas grid for 16 years until 2017, said it was possible to create a more resilient electricity system, but it would be costly.

What are people willing to pay for? Do they want their electric bills to double to build in adequate reserves?” he asked. “I’m sitting here without power in my house and it’s an inconvenience, and it’s an inconvenience I will live with rather than have my power prices double.”

Has Happened Before

Texas power outages have happened twice before but on a much smaller scale in both intensity and duration.

  • In 2011, a February cold spell led to a spike in demand for natural gas and problems with the gas gathering-and-pipeline systems. The issues lasted about six hours and the grid had to cut off four gigawatts of electricity to customers.
  • In 2014, another cold snap in January forced nearly 10 gigawatts of power generation offline because of freezing conditions.

“A decade ago, almost to the day, we had a similar event, so we had 10 years to implement solutions to prevent this from happening and it looks like we didn’t do it,” said Michael Webber, a mechanical-engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin and chief science officer for French power company Engie SA . “The question is, will we learn the lesson this time?

What are People Willing to Pay For?

That's the key question, not alleged lessons. The Texas grid is optimized for summer heat capacity.

Ask people today what they are willing to pay for and you will get a different answer than you would have two weeks ago.

And you would get a still different answer in July.

Ultimate Irony

The ultimate irony in this Texas escapade is everyone expecting Texas to prepare for a massive cold wave in the midst of escalating panic over global warming.

Wait a second. I forgot that CO2 causes record cold, record heat, floods, drought, fleas, ticks, baldness, and rodent attacks.

Apologies offered for anything I missed.

Mish

Comments (132)
No. 1-41
Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

Texas grid is not optimized for growth they are getting. We will find that out this summer. What happens if a cat 5 hurricane shuts down the refineries offshore in late summer ?The bottom line is Texas does not have the infrastructure for the growth they invited. They are unprepared because they don't know what good governance is. Too much focus on low taxes and low regulations. Multiple refineries have blown up over the last few years due to lax regulations. More of that will happen in coming years. Expect what you see now to be the norm come winter and hurricane season.

Sechel
Sechel

AS was posted earlier, Texas cut themsleves off from the national grid. They refused to buy carbon heated blades for their wind farms and have lost far more energy due to thermal sources tha renewable ones. Texas has chosen cheap energy over reliable energy. And Texas utilities are not required to reserve power unlike other states. This is why Texas didn't link to the national power grid as the Federal government pushes states to do just that.

Lance Manly
Lance Manly

"The ultimate irony in this Texas escapade is everyone expecting Texas to prepare for a massive cold wave in the midst of escalating panic over global warming."

Not sure, AGW will cause extreme weather, that includes cold waves as the polar vortex is perturbated by enhanced weather systems.

Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

Mish - you are fooled by the term global warming. The correct term is climate change. We will see extremes like this all the time and these will become normalized events. I thought you were smarter than this.

Eddie_T
Eddie_T

Climate change is responsible for polar storms like this one. That should be acknowledged. Expect more, but not necessarily often.

My family has been exceedingly lucky. We’ve now lost power twice (once today) and we’ve lost water service once for several hours (also today).

I lost three days of work, and my employees have been without power and water both, for much longer periods, days, some of them.

Grocery stores have been closed and have had lines when they were open. I have been able to drive around in my 4WD truck, although I haven’t been out today.

Neither solar nor wind would have replaced grid power for us in this one. I have a couple of generators at the ranch, but I’ll admit to being blindsided by this one....I did not expect it. I suppose I will buy a new and better gennie after this one...and stockpile some fuel for it. that would make the best sense. And keep a bit more wood on hand...the fireplace has been a great asset this week.

Mr. Purple
Mr. Purple

It is to be expected that Texas would experience a few hiccups on the road to independence. Rugged individualism will carry the day. Adapt or die.

One-armed Economist
One-armed Economist

The Home of Enron where Sen Phil Gramm's wife kept the futures market from regulating there. Check her stinky trail.
Also, just LIKE how TX is LAST in the nation for Nursing Home Care (and Mental Health) the elderly and disadvantages can NOT COUNT ON ANYTHING. "THE WEAK WILL DIE" THE MAYOR SAYS. Texas mayor tells residents to fend for themselves during power outage: ‘Only the strong will survive’

One-armed Economist
One-armed Economist

Check the stinky trail of Sen Phil Gramm's wife who as head of (FTC I think it was) stopped electric regulation in TX. You get Enron and things like this from that.
Just like how TS IS LAST IN THE NATION IN NURSING HOME CARE (AND Mental Health) the elderly and poor "The Weak will Die" as this GOP TX Mayor says!

Eddie_T
Eddie_T

We had a worse storm in December of 1929...this part of Texas got more than a foot of snow....and just to north of us in Hillsboro, they got 26 inches, the official all-time record for snowfall in the state.

We got roughly a foot of snow in 1984 when we lived in the Hill Country just north of San Antonio.....and most of south Texas was blanketed in that one.

Blue Northers are part of life in Texas.....I’ve experienced many of them...but this one was made much worse by the power outages, which were way worse than any in my adult life. I try to be prepared for unforeseen emergencies, but this one caught me off-guard.

Sechel
Sechel

I'm disappointed in your previous piece about wind farms not working in the winter while ignoring Texas farms decided against carbon or heated blades. Wind farms are used successfully in much colder climates than Texas and yet you glossed over that and declared the solution unworkable. Did I miss something? Just as I read your piece similar discussions were all over conservative media

Doug78
Doug78

I have nuclear powered electricity and never had the power cut. Not a good time to have a Tesla in Texas.

Sechel
Sechel

Rick Perry said Texans are fine with rolling blackouts so long as it avoids Federal involvement. I don't believe that. This has been an unmitigated disaster. Texas never integrated with the national electric grid, winterized the power grid , built up spare capacity. So there was no spare natural gas. Nuclear controls froze, windmill blades froze. And the idiots in charge decided to blame the green new deal. This isn't a failure of renewable fuels, it was a planning failure period!

Sechel
Sechel

Oh we're back to cold weather disproves climate change again?

Eddie_T
Eddie_T

ERCOT has done a decent job on my watch. This was a perfect storm, and such things cannot be completely avoided unless consumers are willing to pay a lot more for electricity.

In over 25 years in this house, I can count the power outages on the fingers of one hand.....usually it’s hot weather that taxes the Texas grid, which is very well-maintained btw, compared to many parts of the country.

Esclaro
Esclaro

I hope Texans are in a rage over this mismanagement of their electric grid. The blame rests with the cripple in Austin.

Frilton Miedman
Frilton Miedman

The advent of Artic vortices is caused by the Artic polar jet stream weakening due to lower temp differentials between upper/lower air layers, which then releases these vortices to move south.

The lowest air layers are now warmer due to less snow, darker ground & sea absorbs sun warming that air.

So yes, this is global warming - causing climate change.

shamrock
shamrock

Where's fema?

oee
oee

where is the TX miracle? where are the new Billionaires in TX that were supposed to be its salvation? Where is Elon Musk? where are the new Texans? are they helping? TX is a sham of a state. yes, few are doing well, but the rest are doing badly. 17 % uninsured rate vs. 7 % in CA ; Houston has the highest mortality rate among woman given birth.
i have sherafunde for this episode.

ToInfinityandBeyond
ToInfinityandBeyond

Can one of you climate change naysayers please tell me whether you don’t believe the evidence that the average global high temperature has been on the rise for the past 100 years or so or whether you just don’t buy the fact that the cause is man made? Or is it that you do believe the evidence that average global high temperature is rising but don’t believe that we can do anything to slow or stop it from increasing? This is somewhat unrelated but I do remember a college Control Theory lecture from the early 1970s discussing the greenhouse effect and whether it might lead to global warming or a global cool down.

njbr
njbr

The lack of winter preparedness has long been an issue for ERCOT's power system. About 10 years ago, a bitter cold snap caused over 3.2 million ERCOT customers to lose power during Super Bowl week. A 350-page federal report on the outages (PDF) found that the power generators' winterization procedures were "either inadequate or were not adequately followed."

When asked on Wednesday why ERCOT hasn't mandated more winterization to prevent outages, ERCOT's senior director of system operations Dan Woodfin said it was not required.

"I guess the role of ERCOT is not necessarily to mandate those kind of things," he said.

Woodfin said the company's annual spot checks to ensure generators are following best practice winterization plans were done virtually this year due to the pandemic.
Compounding the issue is that Texas's electric system of ERCOT is isolated from the rest of the country, partly as a way to avoid federal regulation. So it cannot simply import power from elsewhere to make up for the shortage.

njbr
njbr

Some outrageous utility bills....wth is "Griddy?"

....“I paid $450 for one day. I was in shock,” Scott-Amos told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “It made no sense because we have a gas heater, a gas fireplace, and we have been keeping the temperature around the house at 65 degrees. With that amount of money, and the labeled amount of usage Griddy said was used—we would have to be lighting up the whole neighborhood.”...

....Royce Pierce, a 38-year-old contractor, is one of those Griddy customers who received a notice from the power company to abandon his service—a message he admitted to The Daily Beast he thought was “overly precautionary” as the winter storm loomed.

Now, his bill has skyrocketed over $7,000 in the last two days, he said. As of Wednesday, Pierce owes Griddy $8,162.73 for the month of February—a shocking price considering the bill for his two-story house was $387.70 just last month. Last February, Pierce said he only paid $330....

AnotherJoe
AnotherJoe

@Mish

So funny that the first time you wrote about this your headline was about green energy and now that it has been shown that it is the gas a other type of power generation not a word on the headline. So let me write it for you:

"Power outage mostly due to failures at gas and nuclear plants. Wind farms while affected (due to poor planning from Texas) were not the main cause. Long live green energy!"

There fix it for you.

BTW another reason is that Texas (being Texas) decided to have their own grid to avoid federal government regulation. Too funny

SoCaliforniaStan
SoCaliforniaStan

"Wait a second. I forgot that CO2 causes record cold, record heat, floods, drought," Yes! You're starting to get it! Scientists have been saying for years that we will see more extreme events as the climate changes, with warming in the aggregate. Record cold and record heat is in keeping with projections. Both drought and floods are in keeping with projections. Glad to see you're beginning to catch on, Wish.

ToInfinityandBeyond
ToInfinityandBeyond

If what I read is true it was a conscious decision by Texas authorities to not pay the extra cost of making their utility grid “freeze proof” in order to lower monthly utility bills. Hate to say it but you gets what you pay for.

oee
oee

CA life expectancy is 81.2 ; TX is 79.1 so the healthcare is buying...heatlh. also, the covid 19 death rate per 100000 is higher in TX than CA. Also, Houston has the highest mortality rate of mothers giving birth in North America. higher than, LA, SF, Sand Diego or any other big city in CA. thus, the access to health insurance is helping in people getting...healthcare.

PecuniaNonOlet
PecuniaNonOlet

It is interesting that the texas governor, a die hard republican, threw ercot under the bus and demanded the ceo of the private nonprofit resign over the whole fiasco. Gov Abbot will now use his government power to conduct an investigation into the situation. Sounds a whole lot like a democrat doesnt he?

I have been offline for two days, no water or power but getting them back today. The richest country in the world and more and more it feels like a third world country.

Bam_Man
Bam_Man

If only you paid more in taxes, this wouldn't be happening.

LawrenceBird
LawrenceBird

Mish if Texas taxpayers/consumers do not want to pay to 'winterize' their energy systems then they should be required to pay back every penny of federal emergency assistance they are taking. Why should anyone outside of Texas have to pay for their self created problems?

Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

Here is Mish in a nutshell:

  1. describe problems and their causes
  2. Solutions are not tenable because they all impinge on libertarian ideologies
  3. Blame government always even when the private sector is at fault
  4. Systemic risk should not be managed and the whole system should be allowed to collapse even if it means lives.

There is no fundamental difference between Republcans and libertarians. Both are basically for no solutions in the end and let the individual bear all the burdens of whatever happens even if it no fault of their own.

Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

So looks like the whole grid was minutes from going dark even according to power company CEO until they decided to implement rolling blackouts. There seems to be very little impetus on the part of anyone to do more to prevent future events like this. Don't mess with Texas !

Casual_Observer
Casual_Observer

The 2.7M is a lie based on the map of where power was out. The largest metro areas were impacted. There is no way just less than 10% of population doesn't have power today.

Raj Kumar
Raj Kumar

Doesn't the US have a national electricity grid?

Sechel
Sechel

Much more balanced post than the one days earlier entitled "Hello Clean Energy Advocates, What Do We Do When the Wind Turbines are All Frozen?" where you seemingly blamed this all on wind turbines with the quote "The wholesale price of electricity spikes 10,000% in a Texas power outage. Among other problems, the wind turbines are all frozen" which wasn't just any sentence but the lead intro to the piece.

Now we know that that the failures of the wind turbines could have easily been planned for by utilizing heated carbon blades. worse the failues were disproportionatley the result of thermal power.

PostCambrian
PostCambrian

It is called "climate change", not global warming and it has been for a long time. Yes the overall trend is to get warmer but it changes the weather patterns so it can get colder than normal at times, hotter than normal, drier than normal, wetter than normal, etc.

It really doesn't cost much to allow pipelines and power plants to function in the cold weather. It will cost more to retrofit than to initially build it that way but the overall cost is minimal. Usually it just involves heat tracing of pipelines to prevent freezing and this only has to be done in particular locations above ground (below ground it usually won't freeze in Texas). I have designed oilfields in North Dakota and winterization is standard practice (and the ground freezes down several feet there).

njbr
njbr

I call BS on the idea that no-one in authority in Texas knew it was going to be this bad.

On 2/11/21, the Feds declared a "disaster" based on an impending storm. This was the Feds, which generally do not declare premptive disasters.

There had to be some Texas government demands that preceeded that declaration, based on predictions of the direness of something that had not yet happened.

And it wasn't predicted snow or ice--the feds have no plows to plow the snow or stockpiles of salt to melt the ice. It wasn't based on the possibility of people having the inconvenience of snow days. It had to do with fundamental human concerns where basic failures of services were predicted.

And given the speed at which things in government happen, that awareness would have been at least 3 or 4 days prior to that declaration.

So, the Texas authorities has a good idear it would be this bad 2 weeks ago.

njbr
njbr

The federal disaster declaration...

....Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that an emergency exists in the State of Texas and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from a severe winter storm beginning on February 11, 2021, and continuing.

The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 254 Texas counties.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures for mass care and sheltering and direct federal assistance will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.

Sechel
Sechel

The Federal government is bailing out Texas now, as they should but this shoul not be a blank check. Texas should be required to enact the reforms to ensure this doesn't happey again. It's crap that Texas can underinvest in its energy infrastructure and just wait fo the Feds to come to the rescue

JoeJohnson
JoeJohnson

Climate change extremism is a religion and most of us are not converting.

Roadrunner12
Roadrunner12

"Tom Seng, director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce at the University of Tulsa, summed up the utilities' perspective in that context: "Up until now, it's been an issue of, 'Well, we don't think that's worth it to ratepayers for what might be a very infrequent weather event.'"


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