The Texas Blackout Blame Game

The Texas blackouts are shaping up to be the costliest disaster in state history, and the loss of life remains unknown. People are justifiably very angry. And when people are angry, politicians look around for someone to blame. Many have trotted out their favorite villains for the occasion. Many on the right have picked Don Quixote’s old enemy, the windmill, while many on the left jumped at the chance to blame deregulation. Neither explanation really holds up. While it will be some time before all the specifics are known, what we do know doesn’t support any easy political narrative.

The central fact about the chain of events that led to the blackouts is deceptively simple: It got super cold.


The sheer size of the supply hole makes it hard to blame either wind or deregulation for the failure. While pictures of frozen wind turbines may be evocative, ERCOT’s forecasts do not rely on a large amount of wind to sustain the system—and wind ended up meeting those expectations. Some have argued that the low cost of wind power over the last decade has forced the retirement of more reliable power plants that could have helped make up the gap had they been there. I’ve addressed those arguments at length elsewhere; here I’ll add that many of the recently retired Texas plants were rendered unprofitable not by wind but by the fracking-induced fall in natural gas prices. And given how many thermal plants failed, it doesn’t seem plausible that having a few more of them would have made the difference.

Similarly, there is little reason to think that Texas’ competitive electric system is to blame. ERCOT’s most recent winter forecast included a worst-case scenario for the grid that roughly predicted the needed demand but underestimated the amount of generation that would be unusable by almost half. A more centralized or state-run electric system almost certainly would have relied on the same forecast and ended up in the same situation. In retrospect, it’s easy to blame generators for not doing more to protect their plants from cold. But if a plant had known that unprecedented cold was coming and had weatherized, it would now be reaping millions in benefits. The problem was not a lack of incentives but a lack of imagination.

Source: The Texas Blackout Blame Game

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