The Texas power grid, the national leader in wind and solar generation, has major problems with reliability and price spikes. The problem begins with intermittency—wind and solar do not generate under certain weather conditions, particularly when it is most needed. The problem is compounded, however, when the normal generation of these two government-enabled energies ruin the economics of the so-called reliables: gas- and coal-fired plants and nuclear.
Recent conservation alerts from the governmental (and the misnamed) Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) portend more trouble. “As searing Texas heat drives power demand to record highs, the state’s grid operator is ordering plants to run at a historic pace, often forcing them to put off maintenance to keep cranking out electricity,” Bloomberg reported. “That’s helped keep the lights on, for now, but the short-term focus is putting even more stress on a system that’s already stretched near the limit.”
Mandated plant operation is the latest in what is becoming a de facto government takeover. The “obligation to serve” that defined reliable operation is all but gone with a socialized wholesale power system trying to integrate (unreliable) wind and solar.
Blaming the result rather than the cause is the false narrative that emerged from the Great Texas Blackout of February 2021—the costliest energy debacle in U.S. history in terms of dollars and lives. Back then, the reliables were blamed rather than the wind and solar power that wounded the reliables. Atlas Shrugged for natural gas and coal came in three parts: prematurely retired capacity, a lack of new capacity, and skimped maintenance on surviving capacity.
This causality is hardly a mystery. The Houston Chronicle reported:
How did Texas get to the point where more than half its electricity generation got knocked offline? The failure of so many power plants during the brutal winter weather that swept through Texas last month was perhaps years in the making, the result of a merchant power industry that has struggled to earn profits, satisfy Wall Street and keep the confidence of lenders and investors.
Yes, and although left unstated in the news piece, it has been the rise of wind and solar in Texas that has damaged the merchant power industry. Just consider that wind operators can and have bid very low—even submitting negative prices—for more than a decade, a perversion made possible by the federal Production Tax Credit for each kilowatt hour from wind.
The guilty trot out new arguments to replace discredited ones. One is that solar rescues wind during the peak afternoon hours. Yes, solar generates well at that time, unlike wind. But why has more than $60 billion been spent on two technologies to fill in for each other? In terms of opportunity cost, a fraction of this expenditure could have been spent on reliable generation with much left over for ratepayer and taxpayer relief.
Another argument from the unreliables is that their falloff is to be expected. Noting that wind in the mid-afternoon was producing at about 12 percent of its nameplate capacity, an editorialist added: “But this is tantamount to expecting solar power plants to produce electricity at 2 a.m.” But daytime solar generation can be spoiled by cloudy, rainy days. Wind output gyrates with unexpected events—such as Texas’s early peak summer heat this year that triggered ERCOT’s conservation orders. In any case, intermittent resources do not belong on a grid that demands consistent reliability.
In conclusion, renewables have ‘market failed’ natural gas, not the opposite. New (government-enabled) wind and solar should not be added to the Texas grid, and existing such capacity should retire to re-incentivize reliability. Only then can conservation alerts and real blackouts be avoided in Texas—and in other renewable hot-spots in the country.