Texas power grid failure

  • #1
jim mcnamara
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https://www.nbcnews.com/science/env...energy-grid-unprepared-climate-change-rcna289

The link above is an opinion piece that discusses the possible lessons from the experience in Texas.

FYI: This was a textbook system wide grid failure, caused by off the charts low temperatures over an extended period. Our friend the Polar Vortex is the cause.

I do not think this recent disaster is blameless, Texas had a previous nasty experience with grid problems. Caused by another member of the Polar Vortex family.

This is not a new, totally unexpected event - in February 2011 NM Gas had an emergency shutdown because of a Texas rolling blackout due to low temps.

This is a complete report:
http://www.nmprc.state.nm.us/utilities/docs/2011-12-21_Final_Report_NMPRC.pdf

In short, what happened in 2011 in Texas, happened again there on a larger scale. And mostly to Texans with much greater impacts. New problems arose, like water system failures.

New Mexico did learn something from the first disaster. It was essentially unaffected. Not so, Texas.

Texas gets a zero score on this one, because it is a more dangerous repeat of 2011. With really worse results. Maybe Texas will get the message.
I hope so, the people there deserve better.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Averagesupernova
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Maybe Texas will get the message.
I hope so, the people there deserve better.
That could be argued. The people of Texas have made Texas what it is. Who else would have? Not saying that every last resident of Texas deserves to suffer with it but sometimes people are only capable of learning the hard way.
 
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  • #3
Astronuc
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I have friends and family living in Texas. Two people living in a metropolitan area 10 miles apart have had very different experience. One had no electricity for 24 hours while the other had only a momentary loss of power but otherwise had not experience a blackout. So even in the same metro area, the blackouts are not uniformly distributed. The experiencing a blackout has been warned of rolling blackouts (4 hours with power, 4 hours without), while the other has not.
 
  • #4
Leo Liu
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What are the causes of this massive-scale power outage? Is it because the grid in Texas is not prepared for the cold weather?

Edit: Just found the answer on a newly written wiki article.

Causes
Further information: Energy in Texas
The winter storm caused record low temperatures at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport of −2 °F (−19 °C) on February 16, the coldest in North Texas in 72 years.[22] Power equipment in Texas was not winterized, leaving it vulnerable to extended periods of cold weather.[23][24] Texas Governor Greg Abbott and some other politicians initially blamed renewable energy sources for the power outages, citing frozen wind turbines as an example of their unreliability.[25] However, renewable energy accounts for only 23% of Texas power output;[26] moreover, equipment for other energy sources such as natural gas pipelines bursting from the cold were more responsible.[25] Viral images of a helicopter de-icing a Texas wind turbine were actually an image from Sweden taken in 2015.[26] Governor Abbott later acknowledged that every source of power, not just renewable ones, had failed.[25] Five times more natural gas than wind power had been lost.[27] When power was cut, it disabled some compressors that push gas through pipelines, knocking out further gas plants due to lack of supply.[28]

During the 2011 Groundhog Day blizzard, Texas had faced similar power outages due to frozen power equipment, after which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported that more winterizing of power infrastructure was necessary.[24] ERCOT said that some generators since then implemented new winter "best practices," but these were on a voluntary basis and mandatory regulation had not been established
 
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  • #6
vela
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The Atlantic published an article on the failure.
 
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  • #7
epenguin
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This is being discussed in detail on the engineering forum.

Consensus seems to be this is the price that Texas pays for being a Lone Star state.

As far as I could understand the rest of the US is much more networked electrically as it is Europe. But then neither of these are 100% secure either.Perhaps someone could tell us this I'm not sure I understood right, it seems to be said that there are no wide electrical power distribution grid systems that don't in extreme conditions shut down completely and are hard and take time (days) to get going again. This is rather hard to understand and accept (I mean one would have thought that in extreme conditions the available supply could still be maintained for some regions for some hours per day and switched to other regions for some hours until the reserve generators come online) and if it is true I think we should be told.

Apart from that I just happened to read very recently that apparently someone a bit famous said that if he owned Texas and Hell he would rent out Texas and reside in his other property.
 
  • #8
Astronuc
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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Friday cut Griddy Energy’s access to the state’s power network, according to a Reuters report.

The council, the operator of the state’s major power grid, ended, because of nonpayment, Griddy’s ability to operate in the Texas electricity market, according to a Bloomberg report that referred to a market notice. Griddy has been the recipient of complaints of high bills during last week’s period of low temperatures, ice and snow.

The council moved Griddy’s customers to other utilities.

Retail power providers who do not pay invoices within 72 hours can have customers reassigned to other companies, according to the Bloomberg report.
https://www.yahoo.com/news/texas-electric-grid-council-ends-044307250.html

I heard more discussions yesterday about the economic impact and ramifications. While some customers, e.g., Griddy's, received high bills ($1000s for February), most folks who have flat rate plans did not receive such high bills - yet. Apparently, power companies did have to pay high prices for power, so eventually, it is expected that rate payers will see electricity rates increase in order to recover the purchase of power during that week in February!
 
  • #9
Office_Shredder
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So if you used Griddy and you were able to pay your bill, you paid for the high electricity rates last week, then got force moved to a flat rate utility that will jack up the price and make you pay for the high rates again. Nice system.
 
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  • #10
Astronuc
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flat rate utility that will jack up the price and make you pay for the high rates again.
The high rates are not like those that Griddy charged during the blackout period. I took a look at some rates from fixed plans and found that they are about the national average or slightly higher, but not significantly higher. The lower rates are usually part of a variable price plan, which is what Griddy was offering. One could pay below market price, some or much of the time, but then have a day or a few days paying 10s of time the low rate. One event, such as a blackout in the middle of winter, or an exceptionally hot day or days during the summer, could erase any savings, and in fact cost 10 to 100 times typical usage.

https://www.saveonenergy.com/electricity-rates/texas/
The average price for electricity in Texas in 2020 is 11.86 cents per kilowatt hour (¢/kWh). There are plans for Texas residents on SaveOnEnergy with rates as low as 5.5 ¢/kWh.

https://www.texaselectricityratings.com/texas-electricity
The average household's monthly electricity usage in Texas was 1,014 kWh in December, 2020.

https://www.puc.texas.gov/industry/electric/rates/RESrate.aspx

https://www.energybot.com/texas-energy.html
(Last updated February 2021)
The average Texas electricity rate is 8.91¢/kWh (22% lower than the national average)
The average Texas residential electricity rate is 11.79 ¢/kWh (7% lower than the national average).
The average Texas commercial electricity rate is 7.9 ¢/kWh (24% lower than the national average).
Texas leads the nation in electricity generation from wind.
Texas ranks fifth in the nation in electricity generation from solar.
I don't know if those numbers include the blackout period.

Meanwhile -
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texas's largest and oldest electric power cooperative on Monday filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court in Houston, citing a disputed $1.8 billion bill from the state's grid operator.

Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc is one of dozens of electricity providers facing enormous charges stemming from a severe cold snap last month. The fallout threatens utilities and power marketers who collectively face billions of dollars in blackout-related charges, executives said.

. . . Brazos and others that committed to provide power to the grid and could not, were required to buy replacement power at high rates and cover other firms' unpaid fees.

The state's grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), on Friday said $2.1 billion in initial bills went unpaid, underscoring the financial stress on utilities and power marketers. More providers likely will reject the bills in coming days, executives said.
. . .
ERCOT triggered the squeeze when it pushed up spot-market rates to $9,000 per megawatt hour (mwh) over more than four days and levied huge fees for services. The service fees were 500 times the usual rate, according to industry executives.
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/texas-electricity-firm-files-bankruptcy-064724456.html

A relative informed me that a next door neighbor's home experienced ruptured pipes in the attack, which resulted in severe water damage to the interior (or their $3 million home). A lot of drywall (sheet rock, plaster board, gypsum board) has to be removed and replaced. The neighborhood was without power for more than a total of 40 hours (first about 24 hours followed by intermittent service e.g., 4 hours on, 4 hours off) - enough so that waterlines froze.
 
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  • #11
Office_Shredder
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Astronuc, I think the point was more that flat rate utilities might have lost a bunch of money, so going forward will have to charge more to make it back up.
 
  • #12
Astronuc
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Astronuc, I think the point was more that flat rate utilities might have lost a bunch of money, so going forward will have to charge more to make it back up.
True, but consumers or their electricity providers also have to pay up, unless the courts, or state legislature, decides otherwise. Businesses normally don't operate to lose money, so someone has to pay for others poor decisions, or in the case of Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc, declare bankruptcy.
 
  • #13
Office_Shredder
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True, but consumers or their electricity providers also have to pay up, unless the courts, or state legislature, decides otherwise. Businesses normally don't operate to lose money, so someone has to pay for others poor decisions, or in the case of Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc, declare bankruptcy.

Yeah, but the point still stands. If you were using Griddy, you paid 8k dollars during the event. If you then get switched to a flat rate provider(by force), they are going to charge their customers more money to make up for their losses. That includes you, even though you already paid an 8k electric bill. So those customers are double paying for this
 
  • #14
Astronuc
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Yeah, but the point still stands. If you were using Griddy, you paid 8k dollars during the event. If you then get switched to a flat rate provider(by force), they are going to charge their customers more money to make up for their losses. That includes you, even though you already paid an 8k electric bill. So those customers are double paying for this
If one switches providers, one only pays from that date on. Griddy's customers do not pay new providers for Griddy's bills; no one is paying twice. Griddy is shutdown because they have not payed for the power they purchased. If Griddy customers want electricity, they have to get it from other suppliers.

Meanwhile, Texas attorney general sues electric company Griddy that sent huge bills during storm
https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/01/us/griddy-texas-lawsuit/index.html
Texas' attorney general filed a lawsuit against Griddy Energy and Griddy Holdings for "false, misleading, and deceptive advertising and marketing practices" after the company sent sky-high electricity bills to customers during February's devastating winter storm.

As the storm rattled Texas' power grid, Griddy, which connects customers directly to the wholesale electricity market for a monthly fee, "passed skyrocketing energy costs to customers with little to no warning, resulting in consumers paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars each day for electricity," Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.

The lawsuit says Griddy misled customers and downplayed the incredible risk of its pricing scheme, which charges the most when customers are most vulnerable.

. . .
 
  • #15
Office_Shredder
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If one switches providers, one only pays from that date on. Griddy's customers do not pay new providers for Griddy's bills; no one is paying twice. Griddy is shutdown because they have not payed for the power they purchased. If Griddy customers want electricity, they have to get it from other suppliers.

Meanwhile, Texas attorney general sues electric company Griddy that sent huge bills during storm
https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/01/us/griddy-texas-lawsuit/index.html


I think you're still missing my point. If you are using a flat rate provider, they are going to charge more for electricity from now until, like, 2022 to make up their losses. If you used Griddy, and paid your bill of 8k dollars, you might have been force moved to the flat rate provider who is now charging more for electricity going forward, to make up for their losses in February 2020.
 
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So what you're saying is, the price of electric power delivered in March is different than the price in February. Welcome to deregulation.

IMO, the old regulated monopoly approach was not broken and should never have been "fixed."
 
  • #17
Astronuc
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If you used Griddy, and paid your bill of 8k dollars, you might have been force moved to the flat rate provider who is now charging more for electricity going forward, . . .
I understand one's point. But 'higher' should be qualified. How much higher?

I suspect many Griddy customers don't have $8000, or potentially ~$17,000 lying around to pay the February electric bill. For many that's probably ~100x what they normally pay in a month, and probably what they pay over 10 years; most probably pay a lesser multiplier. Some would probably have to pay off Griddy in installments over a year, or years. Anyway, Griddy is cutoff from purchasing electricity since they did not pay their bills. Many more electricity providers are faced with huge bills because of unprecedented rates (~$9000/MWh, or $9/kWh) + service fees, which should not have increased since systems were not delivering extraordinary amounts of electricity.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/21/texas-high-electric-bills/
https://www.wfaa.com/article/money/...torm/287-14a54a65-39cb-4d1c-931c-0d003002f529

Update: HOUSTON (Reuters) - https://finance.yahoo.com/news/texas-power-crisis-deepens-more-230801199.html
Texas energy companies failed to pay another $345 million for electricity and other services incurred during last month's cold snap, the operator of the state's grid said on Monday.

The state's deregulated electricity market was thrown into turmoil last month as 48% of its generating plants went offline, fueling up to $9,000 per megawatt hour (mwh) spot rates and $25,000 per mwh service fees. Those charges drove one provider into bankruptcy on Monday.

In all, electricity prices on the state's wholesale market soared by $47 billion for the about five-day period when cold weather drove up demand and generating plants failed, estimated Carrie Bivens, a vice president at Potomac Economics, which monitors the Texas power market.

Her figure does not include add-on fees or payment defaults, which are significant and are spread to all companies that use grid services under ERCOT rules, she said.
 
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  • #18
Astronuc
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Texas Power Grid CEO Fired After Deadly February Blackouts
https://www.usnews.com/news/politic...rid-ceo-fired-after-deadly-february-blackouts

Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was given a two-month termination notice by ERCOT's board in a meeting Wednesday night. Magness made more than $876,000 in salary and other compensation in 2019. PUC Chairwoman DeAnn Walker resigned earlier.

They failed in rolling blackouts leaving many without power for 24 hours or more.
 
  • #19
Vanadium 50
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First, the electric companies are in trouble because they built the capacity that their customers were willing to pay for, which is not (as it turned out) the capacity their customers needed. As gmax points out, regulation is one way to solve this. However, let's not fool ourselves into thinking regulation automatically ensures the tecrocratically perfect solution. (Favorite example: the city of Berkeley has banned radioactive decay within city limits)

(This is not the only solution - insurance could handle this - pooling risk in addition to pooling power; futures contracts could handle this - I pay you $x today for the right to buy power at $y for the next month. All these have pros and cons. Do we really want power prices set by a bunch of people on Reddit living in their parents' basement? Stonks!)

Second, Office Shredder is right. These are real costs, and someone has to bear them. Ultimately we need to pay people to build plants and buy fuel. The answer to underinvesting in the past is to pay more now. Wagging one's finger at the evil corporations might be emotionally satisfying, but doesn't actually fix anything.

Finally, $17000 is a huge amount of power. Rates are capped at $9/kwh. $17000 = 1900 kwh,over 5 days is 15.7 kW. 24/7 for five days. (Can it be 24/7 if it's only 5 days long?) Put another way, the average Texan's bill is 1200 kwh per month. So Mr. $17000 is using almost 10x the power of a typical house. And presumably that's after he's cut back.

No idea who this is, but it's not the "poor single mom about to be evicted and thrown onto the street" we are supposed to get all weepy-eyed over. I can't imagine how one would use that much electrical power without a Bitcoin mine or a fleet of Teslas. Or both.

When you put real numbers in, it's not even clear that deciding to go with variable rates is irrational. The average Texas electric bill is $131. Let's say on average market electrical rates save 20% - much below this and it's not worth doing. So they save $26/month, but once in a blue moon get hit with a $1700 bill. Payback period is 66 months. I would characterize this as long, but not irrationally long.
 
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  • #20
russ_watters
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(Favorite example: the city of Berkeley has banned radioactive decay within city limits)
Oh, how precious! I wonder what the fire marshal thought of that?
First, the electric companies are in trouble because they built the capacity that their customers were willing to pay for, which is not (as it turned out) the capacity their customers needed.
Minor quibble: that's not a "need", it's a negotiable "want".
 
  • #21
Vanadium 50
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the city of Berkeley has banned radioactive decay within city limits
Oh, how precious! I wonder what the fire marshal thought of that?

I'm thinking the police: "Hands up, Ar-40! I see you're a K-40 decay!" "Hey man, I'm stable. Can't blame me for what my parent did."

Need/want is a matter of degree. Normally markets are the way we handle it, but we simultaneously want not to pay for unused capacity but to have it when we need it. Having markets sort this out will certainly not work if we try and insulate people from consequences of bad decisions.
 
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  • #22
Astronuc
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ERCOT kept market prices for power too high for more than a day after widespread outages ended late on Feb. 17, Potomac Economics, the independent market monitor for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, said in a filing.

In order to comply with the Commission Order, the pricing intervention that raised prices to VOLL (value of lost load) should have ended immediately at that time (late on Feb. 17)," Potomac Economics said.

"However, ERCOT continued to hold prices at VOLL by inflating the Real-Time On-Line Reliability Deployment Price Adder for an additional 32 hours through the morning of February 19," it said, adding the decision resulted in $16 billion in additional costs to ERCOT's markets.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-...ring-winter-storm-watchdog-says-idUSKBN2AX0SV

Apparently the state or PUC is considering adjusting (downward) prices of electricity during the critical period.
 
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  • #23
Astronuc
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The Texas winter storm could cost insurers over $20 billion (for fires and flooding due to burst water pipes).
https://www.businessinsider.com/the-texas-winter-storm-could-cost-insurers-over-20-billion-2021-3

One estimate of flood/water damage due to burst pipes in Houston - ~$560 M

City (Houston), county (Harris) say tens of thousands of buildings have burst pipes; true toll won't be known for weeks
https://www.houstonchronicle.com/ne...0-reports-of-burst-pipes-but-the-15963642.php

Apparently the state or PUC is considering adjusting (downward) prices of electricity during the critical period.
I read a headline last night saying Texas was not going to adjust prices or reduce the $16 billion charge.
 
  • #24
Vanadium 50
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I read a headline last night saying Texas was not going to adjust prices or reduce the $16 billion charge.

How would that work exactly? A buys something (power in this case) from B who bought it from C who bought it from D who bought it from E... Who is left holding the bag? If it's unfair (however you define "unfairness") that A is left holding the bag, who should? B? C? D? The taxpayers of Texas? The taxpayers of the US?

Here is an example of a Griddy bill that's supposed to outrage us:
1615144217651.png


I am shocked (no pun intended) by the total energy use - 4.5x the average Texan's. I think I use a lot of electricity: 1100 kwh/mo. which includes the extra usage because of the lockdown and includes the fact I have an EV.

As far as the "social justice" aspect of "let's take down greedy Griddy", OK, now the person who used to be a secretary in Griddy's HR department is out of a job. How has this helped?
 
  • #25
Vanadium 50
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After some thought, I am going to defend price-gouging.

Texas did not have enough (robust) capacity. How do I know? There were rolling blackouts. That's practically the definition of "not enough capacity".

Imagine I'm an investor. I've got some money burning a hole in my pocket, deciding whether to put it in nice, safe Treasuries, or maybe GameStonk, or...I know...maybe I'll build a power plant in Texas. The conversation might go something like this:

I'd like to build a nice robust and reliable power plant here.
Great! Typical wholesale prices are x cents/kwh.
Oh dear, I can't recover my investment at that rate. Why so cheap?
The plants you are competing with are fragile. They don't work in unusually cold winters.
Well then, I'll be able to provide a service then that nobody else can, charge a higher rate, and recover my investment that way.
No, that would be price-gouging. We cap prices to keep that from happening, and in the future, we're likely to cap them even lower.

In this environment, don't Treasuries look pretty good?
 
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