Will Texas Governor Seeks to Block more Renewables?

July 9, 2021

For a quick moment, I had hopes that the Texas grid debacle of last winter would lead to a rethinking of the Texas grid’s vulnerabilities. Governor Greg Abbott, with an eye toward big-money fossil fuel donors, looks ready to double down on the system that failed, while crippling hopes for Texas energy future, and locking in vulnerability to extremes.

Chris Tomlinson in the Houston Chronicle:

Gov. Greg Abbott has made clear that he’s more interested in boosting fossil fuel burners’ profits than improving the electric grid or fighting climate change, and he’s rejecting new ways of generating clean, reliable and affordable energy.

The two-term Republican had two chances to help Texas lead the global energy transition. First, he issued orders to his new appointees on the Public Utilities Commission, and he set the agenda for a special session of the Texas Legislature.

Abbott is not letting lawmakers have a say in overhauling the wobbly Texas grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT. Instead, he wants to dictate solutions that benefit coal and natural gas companies over clean energy.

Abbott ordered the PUC, which overseas ERCOT, to redesign the state’s wholesale electricity market to reward generators that can provide backup power. This is a break from the current, 20-year-old system that only pays generators for the energy they put on the grid, not their capacity to generate.

Critics of the system have correctly called on ERCOT to set up some version of a capacity market that pays generators to have readily available power in an emergency. But Abbott twists this good idea by calling for more “natural gas, coal, and nuclear power,” not a more strategic approach.

Coal plants should have no part of Texas’ energy mix. They produce vast amounts of greenhouse gases, and they are more expensive to operate than other sources, including wind and solar.

Nuclear power does not release any emissions, but new plants are astronomically expensive and better nuclear technologies are not ready yet. The two existing nuclear plants in Texas already operate at almost full capacity; therefore, they do not require any additional incentives.

Natural gas plants, meanwhile, are great in emergencies, and ERCOT should encourage companies to have enough of them for the few hours every year when demand spikes. But Abbott should be ordering the PUC to incentivize renewable energy storage technologies, such as batteries and compressed air, instead.

Abbott’s more disturbing order is to pile additional fees and costs onto wind and solar generators. In a complete disregard for how the wholesale electricity market operates, he perversely wants to punish them because they cannot turn on the sun and wind at will.

The key to reducing wind and solar intermittency is to expand the geography where wind and solar energy are generated. If the PUC provided the right incentives, for example, wind companies could install turbines in the Gulf of Mexico, where the wind almost always blows.

Instead, Abbott intends on knee-capping renewables to give old, failing fossil fuel plants a few more years of profitability at the expense of Texas customers.

Lastly, Abbott ordered the PUC “to accelerate the development of transmission” lines to new natural gas and coal power plants, explicitly excluding wind and solar generation. He is using his power to appoint the PUC to pick and choose winners and losers.

Huge policy decisions like these would typically fall within the purview of the Texas Legislature, which created ERCOT and the wholesale electricity market. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Abbott to put ERCOT market reforms on the special session’s agenda, but Abbott decided to rule by decree rather than allow the GOP-controlled Legislature to provide input.

Abbott’s policies are profoundly regressive compared to the innovation taking place on other major U.S. grids. Not to mention, Abbott could solve almost all of Texas’s electric reliability problems by simply connecting to the national grid rather than maintaining ERCOT as a separate island.

Another state that struggles with extreme heat, Nevada, is a national leader in high-voltage transmission lines that are adding more renewable energy, including geothermal, to the grid. Nevada’s leaders plan to rely on carbon-free energy for 50 percent of the state’s power by 2030.

“I know one thing that’s on a lot of people’s minds is what happened in Texas, and could what happened in Texas be repeated here in Nevada?” Doug Cannon, CEO of the utility NV Energy, told Nevada regulators in March. “We are in a very different position here in Nevada than what they were experiencing in Texas.”

Dozens of other states are also innovating. New York is adding offshore wind; the mid-Atlantic PJM grid is building solar facilities with batteries built-in. Virginia is boosting clean energy standards.

Abbott is intent on abdicating Texas’s crown as the world leader in renewable energy. But don’t believe for a minute this is about reliability, he’s ignoring the best solutions. No, he’s running for reelection, and his letter is about raising campaign funds and rallying right-wingers to win.

Michael Webber is at the University of Texas, he adds some shading.

Tomlinson again:

If a heatwave like the one that baked the Pacific Northwest struck Texas, temperatures would top 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

While that is unlikely to happen any time soon for many meteorological reasons, Texans should take notice of the long-term possibility as we continue to warm the planet with greenhouse gas emissions. Those 130-degree days could be in our children’s or grandchildren’s future if we don’t act now.

Portland’s typical June high temperature is 73 degrees, while Texas averages in the low 90s. On June 29, Portland set a record of 117 degrees. Seattle, which has only had temperatures of 100 degrees or more three times in the last 126 years, hit the triple digits three days in a row last month.

Texans are not ready for 25 degrees above normal, let alone 40.

The disputed record for the world’s highest temperature is 134 degrees in Furnace Creek Ranch, Calif., set in 1911. But if that reading is thrown out, as some scientists think it should be, Furnace Creek Ranch would still hold the record with a 129.9 degree reading on Aug. 16, 2020.

The highest temperature I’ve experienced is 125 degrees in Iraq, where the troops with whom I was embedded reported a feels-like temperature of 130 degrees, with the humidity included. When we returned from patrol, we would rehydrate intravenously with liters of chilled saline solution to avoid heat exhaustion.

Residents of the Middle East have dealt with extreme temperatures for decades, but none of us should want to follow their example. People limit their time outdoors, expend huge sums on air conditioning, and go to extreme lengths to obtain water and food supplies. As a result, Middle East economies suffer from low productivity and high costs of living.

The Pacific Northwest heat wave offers a glimpse of a more expensive future. Only 40 percent of homes had air conditioning, but last month thousands of people lined up to buy inefficient window units, according to news reports.

Higher temperatures and higher electricity demand destabilize the Northwest grid, just as cold temperatures led to the Texas Blackouts in February. The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit that sets standards for electric grids, warned the West Coast might suffer power cuts this summer.

7 Responses to “Will Texas Governor Seeks to Block more Renewables?”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    Ultimately, Texas has — and always did — have a great commitment to assets which will be stranded. That will be an economic catastrophe. It’s coming. And their leadership is doubling down on it.

  2. jimbills Says:

    People believe what they want to believe, politicians doubly so if their campaign contributors want the same, and triply so if they believe the electorate will support them. Texas is about to pass horrible election laws because the state legislature is Republican controlled. Keeping the status quo on electricity was a sure thing.

  3. John Oneill Says:

    From the study referenced –
    ‘Hurricanes: The GOM regularly experiences hurricanes that bring increased wave height and extreme winds. Offshore wind developers may have to create specialized designs that ensure turbines, towers, blades, and substructures can withstand these extreme weather events…
    • Lower Wind Speeds: Relative to Europe or US offshore wind sites in the North Atlantic, the GOM has lower annual average wind speeds (similar to South Atlantic) that may lead to new turbine designs optimized to operate in these conditions. Features may include increased rotor diameters, lower solidity blades, and more intelligent control strategies for extreme load mitigation…
    • Softer Soils: The OCS has softer soils compared to other regions where offshore wind development has occurred. This may increase the weight and cost of substructure design.
    … These results from Beiter et al. (2017) indicate that most modeled sites had a net value near or below zero dollars, meaning that project costs exceed the levelized avoided cost in 2027 necessary for economic competitiveness without subsidies.

    • ecoquant Says:

      Um, what about ONSHORE turbines? Those are cheaper anyway.

      Hurricane conditions and countermeasures have been studied for years. See

      https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/wind-turbines-extreme-weather-solutions-hurricane-resiliency

      The modern GE turbines proposed for Vineyard Wind near Massachusetts are fully hurricane rated in safing mode: The GE Haliade X series.

      Also peak winds in hurricanes are not the same as median wind speeds. Speeds of winds slow as the surface of oceans and land near because of boundary layer effects. The quoted wind speeds from meteorologists are typically at altitude, much higher than even these wind turbine heights. These are aeronautical heights.

      Finally, ground mounted solar PV arrays are very resilient, even when exposed to tornado force winds. You can find instances of some losses but most arrays remain intact. Repairs are quick and inexpensive, even compared with wind turbines.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Texans won’t stand for the sight of wind turbines blocking their views of oil derricks or emission plumes!

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I wonder if the West Texas wind farms have problems from haboobs, or just grittier wind in general.

    • ecoquant Says:

      We need a better reference than simply Beiter, et al (2017) to check your quotes and be sure they are not cherry-picked. The basis for my suspicion is that

      Stehly, Tyler, Philipp Beiter and Patrick Duffy. 2020. 2019 Cost of Wind Energy Review. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-5000-78471. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy21osti/78471.pdf.

      with a Philipp Beiter as co-author shows no such hesitation on the performance of offshore wind, gives offshore fixed bottom wind turbines as a class a lifetime of 15-30 years, with a reference LCOE of $0.085 per kWh. It also includes the quote that

      “More recent European and U.S. auction bids suggest that costs for offshore wind could fall further in the coming years.”

      Indeed, in their discussion of “Offshore Operation and Maintenance Expenditures” there is not a single mention of hurricanes with respect to operations in the North Atlantic. Further there is no mention of this risk under “Offshore Wind Financial Sensitivities.”

      The best I can say is your reference is out of date, but I doubt that’s all it’s about.


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