Thursday, February 03, 2011

Some call BS on yesterday's rolling blackouts across Texas

McBlogger has an interesting conspiracy theory:

(F)actor in the most recent capacity report which showed the state with adequate generation capacity through 2014. Suddenly, because of weather conditions which we’ve known about for days, there is an issue? How many generators have been effected? Given our excess of capacity and the massive increase in wind generation, it’s gotta be one hell of an outage to cause us to have to suffer rolling blackouts. Such an outage could realistically only be intentional ...

Think I’m crazy? Remember that CA’s problem in 2001 was caused by engineered capacity constraints, which created an artificial demand/ supply imbalance that enriched energy traders. Can anyone honestly look me in the eye and tell me my theory is crap?

Didn’t think so. No, it looks like Perry has found a very nice way to pay back campaign contributors without too many questions.

UPDATE – We’ve also received word that not long after Perry’s press release, ERCOT terminated rolling blackout activity in Houston metro. Wanna bet the generators suddenly jumped up capacity?

UPDATE TWO – Dewhurst says it’s all about a broken pipe (sure) and low gas pressure (whatev). That gas pressure one I find particularly funny since the compressors at the feed can be adjusted.

He's got more there that I left out of the above excerpt on the TCEQ authorization to exclude facilities from penalty for exceeding clean air standards during the "emergency".

Houston media picks up the scent from another angle ...

"It particularly troubled me because both ERCOT and generators had so much advance notice,” said PUC commissioner Ken Anderson. “It's not as if this weather was a particular surprise."

So it was a surprise that 50 power generating units statewide went down. The last time Texans encountered rolling blackouts (April 2006) only seven generators were lost.

"The number is unprecedented, and that is one of the questions that the commission is going to need to look at," Anderson said.

Another question the Public Utility Commission will tackle: Why ERCOT didn't follow protocol in sending out that electricity reserves were running critically low.

The PUC received one advisory at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday, but the next update it got from ERCOT came at 6:05 a.m. -- nearly three hours later, when the rolling blackouts were already underway.

Steps in the middle were missing --like alerting the media – 11 News was not forewarned as required, and 11 News viewers were not either.

"We need to know why, and if the reasons aren't good, and if they don't deal, relate to reliability, then it's not acceptable," Anderson said.

While a formal investigation won't likely begin until the bad weather has cleared ERCOT may face some tough initial question as early as Thursday morning at regularly scheduled meeting of the PUC.

Is this another benefit of deregulation? In a privatize-everything environment, is the invisible hand of the free market fingering us? Is it credible that the generating plants in North Texas actually have uninsulated water pipes, causing equipment to be shut down? It's possible that maintenance has suffered because they've laid off a bunch of laborers, I suppose. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost ...

Mexico came to our rescue, thank goodness. Cue the "illegal electricity" snark.

So is this just smoke or is there a fire here? Many Texans who shivered yesterday would crave having the heat no matter which it happens to be.

Texas Vox has more.

Update: Fort Worth state rep. Lon Burnham wonders if the market was manipulated (a la Enron in California, as McBlogger speculated in the top link above).

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