As goes Texas blackout, so almost went New England

By Guy Page

Three winters ago, New England narrowly avoided a regional power blackout such as struck Texas this week. What happened here three years ago and what is happening in Texas is strikingly similar.

As of this morning 3.3 million Lone Star State customers remain without power. People, chimpanzees and lemurs have died as a result of the deep freeze. Politicians, grid operators and utilities are pointing fingers at each other in an effort to escape blame from an angry public demanding to know how this happened and who to blame.

Events in New England three years ago (late December, first week of January) and this week in Texas unfolded in three simple steps:

  1. Unexpectedly cold weather struck the region. Homeowners turned up their thermostats. The available supply of natural gas for other uses dwindled. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, except…..
  1. Output dropped unexpectedly from another, large source of electricity. In Texas, wind power output was cut in half, victims of frozen iced-up wind turbines. Three years ago, storm damage knocked out a key transmission line from Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts. (Wind, solar, and hydro were and still are relatively small contributors, especially in deep winter.)
  1. Natural gas alone couldn’t make up the difference. Asked to 1) provide more heat than expected and 2) deliver far more electricity than expected, natural gas delivery systems and power plants simply couldn’t get enough fuel to do both.

So, why didn’t New England suffer blackouts like Texas? The first answer is a reminder: we almost did. According to ISO-New England, the region’s electricity grid operators, it was a near thing. It didn’t happen because 1) temperatures rose sufficiently just before available fuel ran out and 2) New England had enough backup, backup power generation in the form of oil and coal-fired generating plants. With an assist from the weather and enough backup, backup power, New England squeaked through without the population at large knowing just how close they had come to freezing in the dark.

Some would say the lesson was not lost on New England’s grid operators. Vermont utilities, example, can now “manage” power load by controlling the use of residential heat pumps and home batteries. Utilities can remotely manage power consumption when it threatens to overwhelm supply, as this recent letter from Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest utility, shows:

“On February 12, Green Mountain Power will manage one or more of your enrolled devices beginning at 5:00 pm to help lower energy use during peak demand. The event will last 3 hours. You are always in control and can opt out of this event by manually adjusting your device during the event window.”

That’s how utilities manage demand. They ask for voluntary reductions, and if necessary they remotely access modern conveniences like heat pumps and home batteries.

In a crisis, utilities must also boost supply. And that’s where New England energy policy starts to get dicy. The Pilgrim plant and some other “baseload” generators are permanently closed now, victims of grid energy purchasing policies and the relentless push by the renewable power industry to (for example) build large, offshore wind farms. Supporters of offshore wind are longtime critics of nuclear power and are among the fiercest opponents of developing more hydropower transmission capacity from Canada.

It may seem counterproductive to close existing power generators when the region is also focused on “electrification” – that is, replacing gasoline powered transportation with electric vehicles, and replacing oil furnaces with electric heat pumps. Nevertheless, both of those trends are being pursued simultaneously. Will the New England grid have the resources to stand another polar vortex as struck the area three years ago, and is now inflicting misery on Texas? That’s the plan. Let’s hope it works.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.

5 thoughts on “As goes Texas blackout, so almost went New England

  1. CALIFORNIA HEAT WAVES AND TEXAS SNOW STORM EVENTS

    Various commentators have been blaming the electric grids of California and Texas for the lack of delivery of electricity during unusual weather events. Almost all of these commentators are not energy systems analysts. They often merely echo what they see/hear elsewhere, and are rushed to meet publishing deadlines, and driven by their editors to increase reader attention.

    The grids of California and Texas are not perfect, but neither are other grids in the US and Europe.
    Germany has had increased grid instabilities, due largely to its high level of unstable wind and solar generation.
    The German grid has very strong connections to nearby grids to spread those instabilities all over the place, and have THOSE grids deal with them.

    Most of those countries do not mind, because they obtain that electricity (subsidized and expensively generated in Germany) at very low, or negative wholesale prices. Germany boasts about “we are green” and “be like us”, etc.

    When Germany is short, because of a lack of wind and solar, those countries are happy to supply Germany at high wholesale prices.
    German electricity ratepayers are screwed both ways.
    Germany and Denmark have the highest household electric rates in Europe, by far.

    CALIFORNIA

    California imports about 30% of its annual electricity to cover any electricity short-falls; it has major connections to nearby grids. This mode of operation sufficed, until the US southwest had a major, multi-day, heat wave; during heat waves winds are minimal.

    As a result, electricity supplies, from mostly coal-fired plants, to California were curtailed by the exporting states. The result was rolling black-outs for several days, with 115F temperatures, because, among other RE zealot idiocies, California had closed 15 of its 19 Pacific Coast, low-cost, highly efficient, low-CO2 emitting, minimal-polluting gas plants, because they were warming up the Pacific Ocean.

    None of this had anything to do with the California grid.

    TEXAS

    Texas does not import electricity, because it has minor connections to nearby grids.

    NOTE: New England imports about 19% of its electricity, because it has major connections to nearby grids.

    The New York Times, February 20, 2021, displayed a graph, based on Energy Information Administration, EIA, data, of Texas electricity production by source, a few days before, and a few days after, the major winter snow storm, which started early evening, February 14, 2021.

    Gas plant output was about 43,000 MW. The output decreased to about 29,000 MW about one day later, a 33% reduction (largely due to piping freeze-ups), then output went up and down, at an average of about 29,000 MW, to counteract the output changes of other sources.

    Coal plant output was about 11,000 MW. The output decreased to about 8,000 MW about one day later, a 27% reduction (largely due to piping freeze-ups), then the output was about 7,000 to 8,000 MW

    Wind plant output was about 9,000 MW, from an installed capacity of 30,904 MW (about 15,000 wind turbines); the capacity factor was 9000/30904 = 0.29. The output decreased to about 1,000 MW about one day later, an 89% reduction (largely due to freeze ups of 12,000 MW of capacity, i.e., about 12000/30904 x 15000 = 5,825 wind turbines), then the output increased to 4,000 MW for about a day, then decreased to about 1,000 MW, etc., due to wind-velocity variations. The relatively few wind turbines on the Texas Gulf Coast were unaffected by the snow storm, and performed as usual.
    https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/tx#capacity

    Nuclear plant output was about 4,000 MW. The output became about 3,000 MW about one day later (largely due to piping freeze-ups),
    a 25% reduction

    Solar plant output was near zero. The output increased to 3,000 MW, from and installed capacity of about 13,000 MW, on the following midday, then to near-zero again, starting late afternoon/early evening, etc.

    None of this had anything to do with the Texas grid.

  2. I’m going to post this article from American Thinker in hopes that our esteemed leaders under the Golden Dumb will by chance read it and get a lesson in global climate history. Of course, I do not believe they are driven by facts or past occurrences and if they do read this piece and ignore it, the proof is in the pudding as they say. Obviously, this post is another attempt at waking up the woke climate zealots and an act of futility all in one. We have to keep trying change the thoughts of these legislators like those forgotten soles who continued to believe the the earth was flat or we will soon freeze like Texas and the rest of the states affected by their green energy poor decisions.

    https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2021/02/green_new_deal_frozen_in_its_tracks.html

  3. This disaster is the direct result in government intrusion into the private sector for the sake of “renewable energy.” If anyone believes it isn’t coming to Vermont, they are in for a shock. We must get involved and bring it to a complete stop before people are stripped of their incomes, tortured, and – worst of all -killed.

  4. The Texas power outages are the fault of all those Californian’s who moved to Texas and brought California’s power problems with them!

  5. Guy,
    Thanks for a great summary.

    “Unexpectedly cold weather struck the region”

    Energy systems analysts get paid to come up with adequate measures, in case of extreme events, such cold-weather events, wind/solar lulls, etc.

    Gee, what happens to our turbines, in case we have an ice storm, plus this, that, and the other?
    Gee, what happens to our electricity supply, if wind and solar are minimal for days on end?

    The answer is RELIABLE RESERVES, ready to provide electricity at a moment’s notice.
    Wind and solar do not qualify as RELIABLE RESERVES.

    In Texas, 12,000 MW (about 5,000 units) of 25,100 MW installed wind turbines were not producing any electricity, because of ice-ups, according to ERCOT, the grid operator.

    Similar ice-ups take place in Germany, etc, but those turbines have heating systems for the blades and nacelles, the Greyhound bus-size boxes on top of the masts.

    The Valley News, etc., wrote: SOME wind turbines were not producing.
    The writer failed to google, or did not understand what he was reading, or is an RE dreamer, or was told to cover it up.

    According to ERCOT, wind turbines on the Gulf Coast were unaffected by freeze-ups, and, because of strong winds, produced more electricity than expected, which turned out to be a god-send.

    It takes about 6 to 8 hours for a coal plant to go from a cold start to full output
    It takes about 1 hour for a gas plant.
    Celebrating shutting down gas plants, or cutting off their gas/oil supply, as was done in California, is far beyond rational

    In Texas, gas was curtailed to power plants, because it was diverted to people to heat their poorly insulated houses and buildings; the same happens in southern New England during winter. The curtailment reduced electricity production by the gas plants.

    ERCOT pleaded with people to limit their consumption, so there would enough electricity for everyone
    About 4 million had no power for days, including my friend, who lives in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.

    Wind and solar are VERY EXPENSIVE, SUBSIDIZED, PARASITES. They are cripples.

    They could not even EXIST on the grid, without the presence of gas plants, or hydro plants, that can quickly vary their outputs to COUNTERACT the variations of wind and solar; the more wind and solar, the more counteracting.
    This up and down dancing is very tiring on equipment, uses a lot of extra fuel, and produces a lot of extra CO2.

    Wind and solar, if large percentages of the electricity supply to the grid, could exist, if there were enough battery capacity (MW/MWh), but that would cost about ONE TRILLION DOLLARS, JUST FOR NEW ENGLAND, at about $700/kWh of AC, delivered to the grid, plus those systems would last about 15 years.

    Those batteries would need to be FULL at the start of an event and would need to be capable of supplying any electricity shortfalls for at least 5 to 7 days.

    Any electricity passing through the grid-scale batteries would be subject to at least a 20% loss, on an AC to AC bases.

    And what would RELIABLY refill these batteries, just in case another event would occur?

    Any RE zealots, who blabber in echo chambers about 100% renewables, and about “ELECTRIFY EVERYTHING” (nice slogan), have absolutely not the slightest inkling of what that would entail.

    GMP flattening the daily demand curve, by on/off scheduling of heat pumps, is completely irrelevant, in the event New England would have: 1) a multi-day wind/solar lull, 2) snow covering solar panels, 3) a failed transmission line to a major power plant, and 4) cold weather.

    This is exactly what happened in New England about 3 years ago.

    Luckily, NE gas plants could burn gas OR fuel oil.
    Adequate fuel oil storage did exist.
    It was touch and go
    The camel went through the eye of the needle.

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