SADOW: Louisiana Avoided Texas’ Power Grid Mistakes

Texas may have made its power grid unprepared for extreme wintery conditions, but Louisiana managed to avoid the worst of the political impulses and thus suffered much less from the Mardi Gras freeze of 2021.

Across the Bayou State, the dip well below freezing with ample precipitation in some places triggered intermittent power outages which left as many as three percent of the population without power for more than a short period of time. Cold weather can affect the extraction and transport of nonrenewable fuels that keep generators going, as well as generator operation itself. Plus, obviously, demand increases to stave off the cold, both from consumers and operators who need heating to keep transport and generation going.

Yet relatively few Louisiana consumers, fortunately, went without power for more than a few hours this week.

However, in the Lone Star State around a tenth of the population suffered sustained power outages. This was exacerbated by most of the state’s nonparticipation in any of the regional power grids, which doesn’t permit Texas to import power into about 90 percent of its territory. That system also has few incentives to increase resiliency in transport and generation, including provision at peak times such as this.

But the biggest culprit in Texas’ power failure this week was reliance on renewable energy sources whose production fell off the table when the temperatures plunged and precipitation moved in. Solar needs no explanation, and in particular frozen water accumulating on the props of wind turbines drastically reduced that output. Texas relies most heavily on natural gas, but second (jockeying with coal for that placement) comes from wind, the share of which has increased dramatically in the past decade.

From the days prior to the weather event that began in earnest last weekend, yesterday wind power fell to a quarter of its previous level of around a quarter of Texas power produced, and solar weighed in at a nearly-negligible two percent. Meanwhile, no gas generation went offline – despite the mainstream media’s attempt to say it did. Media reports lumped in  the inability to activate backup generation that would have added half-again to natural gas capacity because of the cold – and natural gas power eventually took over two-thirds of the entire production.

And Texas’ coal plants, targeted by Democrat President Joe Biden for elimination, kept firing away without incident.

It didn’t prove enough, and that’s why even rolling blackouts didn’t work in Texas that left people like my brother shivering in 47-degree temperatures in his apartment for 47 hours. Put another way, had renewable sources simply kept up their end of the deal, this never would have happened. Even in places where hardening technology on turbines protects them better, in weather no more severe than hit Texas, 15 percent of turbines went out, whereas technology to keep nonrenewable energy pumping and flowing could protect practically all of the power grid. Regardless of source, with such extreme events so rare Texas producers had little incentive to pursue any of these measures.

The plain fact is, you can tweak renewable energy provision at the margins, but in extreme climate conditions this source becomes largely unreliable and it is folly to have it assume a significant portion of power provision given existing technology. This is a feature, not a bug, of renewable energy despite Big Media’s strenuous attempts to deny this attendant to this weather incident.

Why was Louisiana spared the calamity of Texas’ energy mess?

Northwest Louisiana a few years ago nearly committed the same folly as Texas did in ramping up dependence on wind power. Southwestern Electric Power, in conjunction with its parent American Electric Power, wanted to foist the Windcatcher project onto northwest Louisiana ratepayers that would have supplanted wind power for other nonrenewable sources. As the project affected multiple states, all needed to sign off on it for it to proceed, but Texas and Oklahoma regulators saw through the smokescreen and vetoed the deal.

Regrettably, Louisiana’s Public Service Commission didn’t. Perhaps expected that leftists Democrats Lambert Bossiere and Foster Campbell would ignore the science and economics and eagerly sign on, the panel still needed Republican commissioners to assent. But while two of the commissioners, Mike Francis and Eric Skrmetta, did assent to the Windcatcher project, they hedged their bets by having the company pledge to abandon Windcatcher if the alleged consumer cost savings didn’t materialize. Luckily, as Texas regulators made plain, those savings were illusory except under the most ideal circumstances and Texas and Oklahoma killed the project before the Louisiana argument over cost savings went live. Republican Craig Greene voted against Windcatcher without hedging.

But since then, matters have gotten worse. AEP plans on a series of coal plant closures over the next few years, including one in northwest Louisiana and others from which SWEPCO draws. As of yesterday, coal was supplying half of the power for the power collective that includes most of Louisiana, with renewable energy around a tenth of that. Natural gas supplied about three-tenths of the total, but that’s also on Biden’s hit list down the road. SWEPCO draws from another region, where natural gas and coal make up over four-fifths of yesterday’s sources, while wind chipped in just four percent.

Louisianans would have faced power conditions closer to Texans’ experience had it gone with the Windcatcher project, which already would have started its implementation although full completion would have taken several more years. Fortunately, because of Texans, they dodged that bullet. But if Biden has his way (and already his backers have tried to exploit the wintery event), in a matter of years Louisiana will face that same vulnerability regardless of the wisdom, or lack of it, coming from the PSC.

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