Climate News

Texas cold snap fuels spike in wholesale power prices


The wholesale electricity prices in Texas are soaring as the cold snap drastically reduced the state’s power generating capacity. On Monday, spot electricity prices at the West hub surpassed the grid’s $9,000 per megawatt-hour cap, a staggering increase from the average price of $25 per megawatt-hour.

The surge is equivalent to the cost of charging a Tesla going up from around $18 to $900.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit organization that operates the state’s power grid, attributed the price hike to a surge in electricity demand and many power generators going offline due to the extreme winter weather.

“We are dealing with higher-than-normal generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies available to generating units,” ERCOT said in a statement.

Natural gas-fired power generation is the state’s leading source of power, with more than 45 percent share. Wind power generation contributes around 25 percent of Texas electricity, surpassing coal-fired generation last year for the first time ever.

Texas to see more rolling blackouts

Rolling blackouts are expected to continue as the state’s power grid remains overwhelmed. Since Monday, more than three million people have had to deal with power outages as generators and natural gas pipes froze. But the electricity, according to ERCOT, is not going to get stable any time soon.

“The number of controlled outages we have to do remains high. We are optimistic that we will be able to reduce the number throughout the day,” Dan Woodfin, ERCOT’s Senior Director of System Operations, said on Tuesday.

The council said that 70 to 80 power plants were offline and 46,000 megawatts were lost as of Wednesday, CNET reported. Thermal energy – natural gas, coal and nuclear – made up 28,000 of those megawatts while wind and solar power made up the rest. One megawatt is enough to power around 200 homes a year.

“The ability for gas generators to produce, particularly at full output, was affected by the freezing impact on the natural gas supply … So getting those resources back is the central solution to getting people their power back,” ERCOT president and CEO Bill Magness said on Wednesday.

The dramatic plunge in the state’s power generation led to rolling blackouts statewide as ERCOT tried to keep a balance between the power supply and demand to prevent a catastrophic blackout. This caused rolling outages to last much longer than the council anticipated.

Texas also cannot import power from other states because it has its own independent power grid. This grid is not connected to the Eastern Interconnection and Western Interconnection grids covering the rest of the country.

Texas officials slam overreliance on renewables

Texas officials are blaming the state’s overreliance on renewable energy for the rolling outages. Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw tweeted on Tuesday: “The reason for blackouts is complex, but in summary: Texas took too many lessons from [California], over-subsidized renewables, & pushed out baseload energy like natural gas.”

Fellow GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson agrees, noting that the state’s dependence on renewables needs to be revisited immediately. (Related: Solar power costs up to 3x as much as fossil fuels, nuclear and wind power.)

In an interview with Houston’s ABC-13 on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said that the blackouts were due to power generators freezing up, which incapacitated the state’s ability to generate enough power. On top of that, he added, the natural gas flowing into those power generators froze up too.

But later that day, Abbott offered a different explanation for the blackouts. “Our wind and solar got shut down, and they are collectively 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis,” Abbott said during Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News.

“As a result, it shows fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas,” he continued.

Learn more about the winter blackouts across the nation at PowerGrid.news.

Sources include:

OilPrice.com

CNET.com

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