Tomlinson: Texas electric grid is an easy fix, if lawmakers will admit their error
By Chris Tomlinson & Staff Writer February 19, 2021
Most people know the lowest bidder does not always provide the most reliable product.
Making sure a vendor can actually deliver the product also seems like common sense.
ERCOT, the Texas electric grid manager, though, does neither of those things because Republican politicians who have controlled state regulations for two decades have failed to heed 13 years of dire warnings.
Instead, they believed free-market advocates who argued financial incentives would encourage responsible planning.
The Texas Blackouts prove them wrong. Now our political leaders are giving us misleading scapegoating, political gamesmanship and another front in the culture wars.
Texas has the only American electricity grid with no rules for resiliency. Instead, the GOP majority argued that a system that pays higher prices when demand goes up would incentivize generators to make sure their systems work during extreme weather.
Another polar vortex almost exactly 10 years ago triggered blackouts. Natural gas lines froze, coal piles froze like piles of ice. Wind turbine blades glazed over because operators had skimped on the cold-weather package.
The Legislature appointed another investigative committee in 2012 but ignored the advice to set resiliency standards. Instead, lawmakers concluded Texas electricity customers should pay generators even higher prices. The state Public Utility Commission raised the maximum payment per megawatt hour from $4,500 to $9,000 in a market that normally pays $25.
Spending more on resiliency would hurt companies in the long run in the current market. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas buys the cheapest electricity first and then buys more expensive power until the state’s needs are met. Generators do not get paid to be resilient, only to produce cheaply.
All other grids are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which requires weatherized pipelines and equipment. All other grids pay companies to build and maintain weatherized backup generators.