A teaching moment from Texas

Posted on 02-19-2021


It’s no surprise that Texas’s electric power crisis ended up as a piece of political theater as millions go without power.

The blame game is underway with fingers pointed at the grid operator and the state’s massive wind power presence.

Getting less attention from political leaders were struggling natural gas-fired power plants, and a system ill-equipped to deal with arctic weather that is normally confined to the panhandle.

Meanwhile, millions in the Lone Star State remain without power and, in some cases, water.

Years ago, Texas decided to go it alone and operate its own power grid under the  Electric Reliability Council of Texas. 

ERCT operates with market forces in place that keep electric power within its borders. Outside connections are minimal.

Wind power companies flocked to the wide-open spaces and now generate a fifth of their power. Texas was held up as an example of how green energy would flourish in a market-driven environment.

Sadly, cold weather measures were lacking.  Worse yet, no incentives were in place for reserve power sources that could be quickly deployed.

When storms swept through the state, a sizable amount of capacity was offline due to the typical pattern of lower winter demand.

By contrast, our corner of the grid world is more tightly governed by PJM.

Delaware Valley-based PJM  quietly works with members like Delmarva Power to balance out the challenges that come as the mix of power shifts away from coal. The  task is made easier because wind and solar power account for about five percent of the state’s total energy mix.

Longtime wind power critic David  Stevenson of the Glasgow-based  Caesar Rodney Institute recently wrote that one of the lessons we can learn from Texas is to avoid relying too much on wind power and solar.

Stevenson claims that recently signed legislation calls for Delaware to get 40 percent of its power from wind and other renewable sources by 2035, up from 25 percent by 2025, which puts the state in peril.

So far, PJM has not sounded any alarms about the shift toward renewable sources. The grid operator has time to make adjustments.

But before we go too far in bashing  Texas, there is no guarantee that the region can avoid a grid-crashing weather event in the form of a storm or an extreme hot spell.

President Biden has been talking up spending large sums on a more resilient grid. The situation in Texas may bolster his argument.

At a minimum, the Delaware Public Service Commission should keep a close eye on the  lessons that come out of this mess- Doug Rainey, chief content officer.