Other questions to consider:
• Is dirty coal-powered energy more reliable than alternative energy?
• What are the consequences of deregulation vs. regulation?
• What’s wrong with Joe “BP” Barton’s view on building more power plants in Texas?
There are several theories around about the cause of the rolling blackouts that occurred the week of February 2nd. It was undeniably cold that week with temperatures in the teens – some would argue, it was so cold it justified the failure of over 80 power plants across the state to provided Texans with energy, and therefore, Texas should build more coal plants. Wait a minute. Let’s back up.
According to the Dallas Morning News:“The grid lost 7,000 megawatts of capacity, enough to power 1.4 million homes, and 50 power plants stopped working. Texans endured eight hours of rolling blackouts.”1
Tripp Doggett, President and CEO of Electric Reliability Council of Texas ERCOT, told the Star-Telegram the following:“In most cases, what we observed was that the extremely cold ambient temperatures along with windy conditions combined to cause problems with control systems…It’s really the responsibility of the owners of the power plants to keep those plants in shape and available”2
Consequently, ERCOT cannot regulate the standard of weatherization for coal plants across the state, and if a power plant is insufficiently weatherized wouldn’t that also imply it is an unreliable source for reliable energy?
Regulation vs. Deregulation
The Texas electrical system is currently deregulated, each power plant is run by independent units whom seek to cut costs to increase profitability. With the deregulation of the electrical system, as demand for power increases, the power supply becomes increasingly scarce. This scarcity in the market increases the price of the power, and encourages the creation of more dirty coal plants.
Joe “BP” Barton (R-Arlington/Ennis, the congressman who apologized to BP during the aftermath of the BP oil spill) took this as an opportunity to state the following:
“We need more power generation in Texas to keep up with the demands of a growing economy and a growing population. We have the desire, the resources, the knowhow and the will to build new plants, but federal red tape has blocked construction…I am a supporter of alternative energy, but at this point we can’t depend on wind and solar power because the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing.”3
According to ERCOT’s State of the Market Report for 2009, Texas has more power than it currently needs or is capable of supporting. “As our economy continues to grow, energy efficiency improvements and new renewable energy is offsetting the growth in energy demand, meaning we do not need new large scale power plants like those being proposed. A key finding in the report was that the Texas electricity market did not support entry for new gas, coal, or nuclear power plants.”4 If anything, his statement proves Barton’s ignorance about Texas’s need for more power plants and it is fortunate that he didn’t become the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Doggett justified the usefulness of wind energy:TT: Were there problems with wind-power plants needing to be shut down for high winds or icing blades, and also did nuclear plants have any problems?
Doggett: I’m not aware of any nuclear plant problems, and I’m not aware of any specific issues with wind turbines having to shut down due to icing. I would highlight that we put out a special word of thanks to the wind community because they did contribute significantly through this time frame. Wind was blowing, and we had often 3,500 megawatts of wind generation during that morning peak, which certainly helped us in this situation.
The Blackout has proven that alternative energy is more reliable than dirty coal. The cold-triggered downward spiral of coal and natural gas supply and the drastic price increase, from $70 per megawatt hour to $3001 during the Blackouts1, in an unregulated Texas market has been proven unreliable.