Texas Gas Barons Move to Shut Down Clean Energy

March 13, 2023

Above, massive builds of wind, solar and battery queued up for the Texas Grid.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is its own island, mostly cut off from the rest of the US grid, due to Texan’s inability to brook any Interstate Commerce rules on their generation.
It’s a mixed blessing, as recent grid debacles have shown. ERCOT has had insufficient rules for winterization of power plants, which played a huge role in the Valentine’s day Grid Collapse of 2021. Gas power plants, gas supply lines and wells all shut down, along with at least one nuclear plant. (some wind turbines froze, also because of no winterization – while their winterized counterparts in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa did just fine in the same weather)
On the plus side, the Texas system is much more market based than just about any other, and what that has meant is a major move toward the no-brainer economics of solar, wind and battery storage.
But the Texas legislature wants to send a message – free markets are one thing, but the gas barons are still in charge.


Lawmakers pitched the bills as a way to increase energy reliability in response to the catastrophic 2021 blackout. But the proposals rely on discouraging Texas’ fastest growing energy sources – wind and solar power – while incentivizing the construction of natural gas power plants that will take years to build.

Failures at gas plants in freezing weather were the primary cause of the 2021 blackout.

“We know that it will take several years from this day forward to get [power] plants in the ground to add more power,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said at a press conference touting the bills. “But this is the beginning of that process.”

The plan to create a backup fleet of power plants, outlined in Senate Bill 6, is not a new one. It was first proposed last legislative session by the company Berkshire Hathaway as a way to protect Texas from further blackouts.

“This program is a true backup program,” said Georgetown Republican Sen. Charles Schwertner, one of the authors of the bill. “That’s why people buy generators for their home. The same reason that Texas needs its own backup generation.”

He said Senate Bill 6 would also create a bank of public money to help finance the maintenance and operations of existing power plants.

Another bill, Senate Bill 607, would force wind and solar power generators to pay a sort of credit to guarantee they can deliver power, something that would increase the cost of renewable energy in Texas.

Still another bill, Senate Bill 2015, would require at least 50% of new power generators built to be “dispatchable” generators.

State lawmakers often use the term “dispatchable” to refer to fossil fuel and nuclear generators, which can be turned off and on, and are not dependent on the wind or sun to generate power.

Senate Bill 2015 would also direct state regulators to encourage the marketing of gas-generated electricity as “green” energy. 

Raising the cost of renewable energy on the grid, and investing billions into new power generation infrastructure would all-but guarantee higher energy bills for consumers. It would also increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use.

‘It’s essentially saying we, the State of Texas, do not join with the rest of the world in looking to a brighter, cleaner energy future,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Sierra Club. “We’re going to double down on the use of gas going forward.”

Environmental advocates, like Reed, as well as many energy analysts say the Texas grid does not need a massive investment in new gas power generators to bolster its reliability.

Instead, they say, improvements to energy efficiency and energy conservation programs would be cheaper and easier to implement.

When it comes to many of the state senators’ proposals, Reed said, “those costs ultimately all flow to consumers.”

The state Senate plan comes in response to a proposal to overhaul the Texas energy market, approved by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and supported by Gov. Greg Abbott.

But state senators also framed their plan as a reaction to the Biden administration’s efforts to combat climate change by encouraging the growth of wind and solar power.

Federal policy “certainly incents more and more solar, more and more wind,” said Rep. Schwertner, pointing out that every year more renewable energy is flowing over the Texas grid. 

“Over time, we’ll turn the dial back.”

PV Magazine:

The final report by FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation said that issues with the natural gas supply caused 87% of the outages as wells and pipelines froze and uninsulated gas plants failed to function. An additional challenge is the unique Texas electrical grid, which stands alone. The grids that supply electricity to most of the country are controlled by FERC, whereas the Texas grid is regulated by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a non-profit corporation regulated by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Had Texas been interconnected to grids in other states, it may have been possible to bring power to the storm-stricken areas. According to a Grid Strategies report, an additional 1GW of transmission ties between the ERCOT grid and that governed by FERC in Southeastern US could have saved nearly $1 billion, while keeping the heat on for hundreds of thousands of Texans.

In 2020 Texas ranked number two for solar installations in the country, and at the time of the storm a total of 6,349MW of solar capacity was installed on Texas rooftops or in utility-scale installations across the state.

According to a white paper “Rooftop solar and the 2021 Texas power crisis”, recently released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, if Texas’s full rooftop solar potential had been tapped, devastation from the February 2021 freeze would have been lessened.

The research estimates that the technical potential for rooftop solar generation in Texas is 97,800MW – more than 15 times the total installed capacity at the time of the 2021 power crisis. The report notes that power production fell short of forecast demand on 13 days last February and it estimates that on 11 of those days, rooftop solar could have supplied more than enough power to meet the daily shortfall gap.


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