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talk about adding insult to injury...


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That’s a PG&E specialty down in CA. They jacked up everyone’s prices after they blew up an area of San Bruno due to negligence and got fined out their asses. Passed the pain right on to the customer. Then they add rolling blackouts/brownouts into the mix. What a joke. All the power companies are the same apparently. It’s rotten what’s happening to some of these Texans. 

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Something seems amiss about the story. My lights stayed and my bill was $104...least amount its been for a few months. I'm not on a pre-paid plan. Either his utility company is screwing him over with accounting run amok or it's a scam.

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It's typical Texas Republican anti-regulation "we can go it alone" policy as usual.  Because we don't want to be "regulated," Texas keeps its power grid completely within its state boundaries (which also means we can't get power from neighboring states when needed).  As a result, there are any number of "providers" allowed who can basically set up business in any way they choose.  Many of these don't actually produce power.  They are just middle men.  A number of them, such as Griddy, the provider this guy in the news article uses, just buy power and sell it along to consumers at "wholesale" prices, which means you save money when price for power is low, but can be jammed up when it skyrockets.  These are called "variable rate plans" (and I use the word "plan" loosely). 

Most of us in the state get power from actual power companies and are on fixed-rate contracts.  This is how it's usually done everywhere.  But our insistence in the sanctity of the "marketplace" above all other concerns (such as the basic human need to be attached to an electrical grid meaning you probably want to have some oversight and say in how it works) means lots of folks in the state have bought into these kinds of "plans."  When the state power board last week lifted the limit on what power producers could charge in order to incentivize them to actually start producing power again (since without "regulations" there's no way they could "order" them to do so), then those costs skyrocketed and got passed directly on to the consumer.

The absurd irony of Abbott running around blaming his own administration and its policies for some kind of failure as if he didn't create this situation in the first place and they aren't doing exactly what he has told them to do is another insult added to injury. 

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yup... lived through that CA deregulation fiasco... all was just fine and dandy when someone started rumblings of "let's deregulate... it will benefit the customer with lower prices." When the lobbying for that comes only from the corporations who become deregulated - and politicians - you know it is going to hurt. Before dereg, our power was affordable and constant. As soon as dereg took effect (and I mean that very day) prices skyrocketed for everyone, and suddenly we didn't have any power and we started getting rolling black-outs at the faintest hint of a storm or heat wave, or house-fire in Guam. And things really haven't changed in CA either; folks just reallocated food budget to power, and got used to it. 

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What Griphos says is true but one reason they had to lift it was the rates have been suppressed so low because of the incentives on the "green" energy--the energy producers can't compete because the feds subsidize the wind farms and solar--neither of which were maintained for this rare event. Usually the variable rate plans work because rates don't change that dramatically and it take as catastrophic event (chaos theory and how things bifurcate when an output is treated as input is a whole math model on what not to do in an event like this).

The deregulation isn't the sole source of blame (just like saying wind energy failed was the sole source) just that some cronyism was in place to not have the caveats of rate changes needing to be reviewed. The number of citizens in Texas under these plans is relatively small compared to the population. It's a problem, but not as widespread as the media is leading everyone to believe. Griddy type companies need better rules in place (like quarterly rate reviews like all the other power producers rather than Uber-like instant changes).

I worked in an energy BI tools company as their CTO for 5 years and we provided the data to the EIA on energy production. Talking to my friends in that world it seems the following was a chain of events:

1) Contrary to some ERCOT claims wind and solar did fail. As of today 93% of them are still offline. 10% went offline by 5PM Feb 15, While the amount they produce varies throughout the year they do represent about 23% of the total energy during normal winter. While it may be fun to claim "they should winterize" this was a once a century storm. The cost of doing so would have been outside of most Texans budget. Hard to complain about high rates in winter if you always pay high rates.

2) Natural gas is currently running about 350% of it's normal output. It's supposed to be 400% capable but the remaining 50% failed to come online. That's due to negligence. The plants weren't ready. ERCOT's job was supposed to see that they were.

3) The biggest cock-up was what power was allocated where. At the height of the weather ERCOT diverted remaining natural gas feeds to hospitals and emergency services--on the surface the right decision--but, they did so by cutting power to the natural gas generation plants--dooming the grid to fail by cutting off their primary source of power. It was a death spiral at that point.

Nuclear and hydro produce only marginal power in the state.
Sure, dumping your fuel into the afterburner can speed you up, but if you ain't hooked to a tanker you are going to run out of gas. ERCOT ran out of gas. It's being investigated but I bet they are going to find plain old fashioned human error on this one.

4) Many natural gas power producing plants failed to perform routine maintenance and normal Texas winterization so they failed when called upon. Straight up incompetence here and directly to blame on ERCOT. It's the law, it's their job to see that it's done and they failed.

5) ERCOT is going to get shaken up. Big time. It's already come out that 5 of the 15 members don't even live in Texas. This is where Abbot screwed up big time and will likely get the biggest black eye. It's fair for him to call them out on the failing of their job, but he failed to watch them.

My personal .02 is that we should ditch the useless wind farm off Corpus. It's ROI is crap for what it produces and it has devasted the wild life in that region. We should build a couple of more nuclear plants to add actual power and start shutting down coal plants. The wind farms in the northwest actually get enough wind to be productive, but as has been seen, susceptible to weather. Solar is a complete joke. We are a sunny state and it should work but solar is so inefficient even with the subsidies the payoff is 30+ years. It should be ditched until they improve by orders of magnitude.

 

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There are nits to pick with some of this, but with respect to #2 and #4 in particular, ERCOT has no power to enforce maintenance or winterization on plants according to every source I've seen.  That's what is meant by deregulation.  Regulation just means "better rules in place" like those you suggest above for Griddy.  ERCOT isn't a state agency.  It's a nonprofit designed to massage the market and manage supply.  It can't do the latter job very well without any real regulatory power outside the market.  

And with respect to #1, most states are able to winterize their power plants and still charge close to the average per kwh as most others.  In fact, deregulated Texas charges more per kwh that most of its neighbors to the east and north, and many other states.  And it's been going up, not going down, the past several years.  It charges more than North and South Dakota and Montana and Wyoming, all of whom seem to be able to winterize sufficiently without jacking up their prices. I'm not sure where the figure of 93% of wind power offiline comes from (or if that's wind and solar combined, which still seems incorrect). 

Sorry, but as someone who was without water for the week and power for half that time, I'm a bit grumpy and am prone to calling spades for what they are in any case.  ERCOT isn't the bogeyman.  It was operating exactly as designed.  That's the problem.  Throwing them under the bus is just the usual political strategy around here for failing to perform your actual duties as elected representatives. 

Edited by WWGriphos
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Understand your point Griphos.

The 93% number comes from ERCOTs own data and webpage. They produce a high of 60% of all power in the summer time (it fluctuates week to week) and between 16%-25% in winter. 23% comes from the "average" over the last 5 years. I took all the data from ERCOT's own page and the EIA. ERCOT is claiming to be a non-profit, non-state agency but that isn't how they operate when there isn't a crisis. I spent enough time in the RRC and with ERCOT to understand what I am talking about. They wield all sorts of "authority" until they are held accountable and then suddenly it's all blame shifting. They sure as hell had authority to require Austin Energy to do bi-annual rate examinations--the question is why didn't they do that with the other players like Griddy?  They are the sole authority for power distribution. That' a big area where Abbott failed on his job--no one was double checking their decisions. They are the Energy Reliability Council and if they have no power, ability, or authority to provide the words in the title then it should be disbanded. As the cliche' says, "They had one job..."  What will come out of this is that the "Council" was a political reward for cronyism and not really considerate of Texas power needs. I'm betting good-ole-boyism played a bigger factor than reg vs de-reg.

The winterization I was talking about was comparing to what a state like, North Dakota, might consider routine isn't what is needed here. We don't need tons of windmill de-icing equipment for the same reason we don't buy tons of snowplows. It doesn't happen often enough. They are supposed to have a backup plan to crank up the coal nd NG plants, but their own decisions on the distribution as well as the failure to maintain those offline resources they are chartered with did not work. That being said, what would be considered "normal" for Texas wasn't even done. I don't blame ERCOT for not winterizing for North Dakota standards, but a lot of them didn't winterize to Texas standards.

I totally understand your being in a situation where your patience is short. My point is that there isn't any problem but a collection of them.  Regulating might solve one problem and create others. Having lived in La where regulation is rampant and CLECO rules all doesn't solve the problem as their issues are twice as bad as we have in Texas. It requires a balanced mix and knee-jerk reactions out of frustration or panic isn't going to solve anything.

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