Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Nobody knows why the grid was short on power

Really inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

Last Monday, Texas’ main power grid operator asked Texans, mid-heat wave, to turn their thermostats to 78 degrees during the afternoon and evening for the week to reduce electricity demand on the grid after 12,000 megawatts of power generation unexpectedly went offline — enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day.

By the end of the week, that appeal from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas expired without a public announcement, and ERCOT officials still have not said why they asked Texans to cut back on electricity use.

Were there damages to the power grid infrastructure stemming from February’s deadly winter storm? Were there nefarious actors looking to manipulate the electricity market? What does this mean for power generation during the rest of the hot Texas summer?

ERCOT hasn’t said — or released data to answer any of these questions raised by industry experts. And that is exactly how the Texas power grid is supposed to work, energy experts said.

“ERCOT knows what plants fail, but not why,” said Bob King, an energy consultant in Austin who has worked in the Texas energy industry for more than 30 years.


In the meantime, ERCOT’s independent watchdog will investigate what happened. Beth Garza, who was director of the watchdog from 2014 to 2019, said that’s standard procedure after such an event.

“They will look if there is any indication if there is any nefarious or bad acting on any particular generations’ part,” Garza said.

Last week’s power generation outages marked the second time ERCOT has asked Texans to cut back on electricity use since February’s storm. Garza and other experts also raised concerns about the winter storm’s impact on “thermal” sources of energy, which in Texas are largely powered by natural gas plants.

“One thing I’d be curious about: What the effects of February’s cold weather was on thermal units,” Garza said. “Was some of that being worked on and fixed (last week)?”

We do know that it wasn’t because too many plants were down for routine maintenance, which contradicts a claim made by Greg Abbott. We may find out some more information soon, as the PUC has ordered ERCOT to release its data in the next seven days, though how much information we’ll get is not clear. The bigger point, as was made in the story, is that all this happened at a time when it wasn’t as hot as it’s going to get later in the summer. What will be in for then? Like I said, it doesn’t inspire confidence. Reform Austin has more.

Related Posts:

One Comment

  1. policywonqueria says:


    Regardless of the eventual retrospective “attribution of causes” for partial generator unit failure or just plain nonperformance (Another survey to be mailed out by ERCOT kindly requesting industry cooperation?), what’s clear is that scarcity means higher wholesale prices. So scarcity is being rewarded by the “market structure” overseen by PUC/ERCOT. Why should it be surprising that there is more scarcity when scarcity yields higher profits for generators?

    You can even see that in the differential between day and night wholesale prices, which was about $20 per MWh at night and $120 and thereabouts in the early afternoon during the last scare period (with geographical variation), based on Excel files posted on ERCOT’s website. (Please check it out yourself and correct me if my recollection is off.)

    Note that the spot price for natural gas — the major fuel type for electricity generation in Texas — does not fluctuate by a factor of six. It has been pretty steady in the $3-$3.40 per MMBtu range lately. So that suggests that there is lots of money to be made at stable operating costs during peak afternoon demand hours even if production volume is reduced by a quarter or a half for whatever reason. As long as a power generating company’s fleet doesn’t go offline completely.

    According to a media report, the shortfall in electricity production was attributable to just a few big power players. See Will Wade and Josh Saul, Four Huge Power-Plant Upsets Pushed Texas to Brink of Blackouts, BLOOMBERG (June 18, 2021).

    “The nearly simultaneous shutdown of four gigantic power plants in Texas — capable of powering almost 1 million homes — drove the region to the brink of yet another energy crisis this week as temperatures soared, according to data analyzed by Bloomberg.”

    Where is the investigation for anti-competitive and collusive behavior when it’s needed? Possible abuse of market power? Or plain incompetence, for that matter?

    Where is the transparency?

    And how is it that we have know-nothing regulators?