Energy-rich Texas suffers energy nightmare with ongoing power outages
Even mighty Texas, the energy powerhouse of America, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature. © Matthew Busch/Bloomberg/Getty Images Pump jacks operate in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas, U.S, on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. The arctic freeze gripping the central U.S. is raising the specter of power outages in Texas and ratcheting up pressure on energy prices already trading at unprecedented levels. Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images A deep freeze this week in the Lone Star state, which relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing power demand to skyrocket.
© Provided by Salon Texas; Power Outage
The U.S. and Texas flags fly in front of high voltage transmission towers on February 21, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Millions of Texans lost power when winter storm Uri hit the state and knocked out coal, natural gas and nuclear plants that were unprepared for the freezing temperatures brought on by the storm. Wind turbines that provide an estimated 24 percent of energy to the state became inoperable when they froze. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
As the winter storm in Texas still leaves thousands without power, Texans are reporting that the cost of their utility bills has skyrocketed, with some bills in the thousands for just one week of power.
Republicans use Texas power outages to spread false claims about green energy
Republican politicians are using the widespread power outages in Texas to place false blame on renewable energy. Millions in the state were without power following a massive winter storm that brought snow and freezing temperatures to the region as a second storm loomed nearby.
"The average price for electricity in Texas in the winter is about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration," NPR reported. "Texas utility regulators allowed that price to rise to $9 per kilowatt-hour."
Those most affected by the price hikes are on "variable-rate power plans," which gives energy companies the discretion to change the price depending on consumer demand. Generally, when demand increases, the price does too. Variable-rate plans are particularly desirable during periods of low energy usage (i.e. normal weather conditions) because customers get to pay at a discounted rate. However, when the devastating winter storm hit Texas, leaving millions without water and heat, those discounted rates went out the window.
Texas, the go-it-alone state, is rattled by the failure to keep the lights on
Political leaders in Texas prize what they see as the state’s self-reliance, its go-it-alone ethos, and its cheap power – all of which they regard as related. As the country and the world stand on the verge of a revolution in distribution of electricity, driven by artificial intelligence and the coming surge of electric vehicles, Texas is proud of having its own energy grid, with only minor connections to the rest of the country. And they argue that the state’s aggressive deregulation of the grid — which some link to this week’s failures — has brought inexpensive electricity to the state’s residents and businesses.
Many utility companies have already begun the process of damage control. Last week, CPS Energy ("the nation's largest municipally-owned gas and electric utility") told customers that, while it is "unacceptable to have customers bears the costs on their monthly bill," it was "working diligently to find ways to spread those costs to 10 years or longer to make it more affordable."
Wholesale electricity retailer Griddy –– now being sued by a Chambers County resident for $1 billion –– remarkably insisted that its customers switch electricity providers before they might be affected by the price spikes. However, switching providers can take days, making it too late for customers to skirt around the bills.
Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old veteran on Social Security told The New York Times that Griddy had charged him $16,752 for the month of February. "There's nothing I can do about it," Willoughby said, "But it's broken me."
Senator seeks probe of natural gas price spikes during storm
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic senator is calling for federal investigations into possible price gouging of natural gas in the Midwest and other regions following severe winter storms that plunged Texas and other states into a deep freeze that caused power outages in millions of homes and businesses. Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith says natural gas spot prices spiked as high as 100 times typical levels, forcing utilities and other natural gas users to incur exorbitant costs, many of which were passed on to customers.
Griddy wrote in a blog post last Thursday, "We intend to fight this for, and alongside, our customers for equity and accountability – to reveal why such price increases were allowed to happen as millions of Texans went without power,"
On Sunday, the Texas Public Utility Commission implemented two orders: to halt power disconnections due to non-payments and discontinue sending monthly estimates to customers. However, it should be noted that the commission gave the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) –– which oversees the majority of Texas' power grid –– the go-ahead to increase prices due to a bottleneck in supply.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot –– who erroneously attributed green energy to the sweeping outages –– has called for an investigation into ERCOT, five of whose board members announced they would resign on Wednesday. "We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages," Abbot said on Saturday during an emergency meeting. Texans, however, are demanding that concrete action be taken.
Texas Pays the Price of the Culture War
Instead of focusing on governance, Republican politicians in the Lone Star State spent their time inflaming grievances.We were among the millions of Texans who lost power when a massive winter storm brought the temperature down to the single digits. In Houston, a woman and child accidentally suffocated themselves with carbon monoxide trying to stay warm in their car. Two people in Austin died in a fire that likely resulted from an attempt to stay warm. Here in San Antonio, a man in his 70s was found dead, apparently from exposure.
"The state government is gonna have to step in and basically hold people harmless—in other words, make sure that those exorbitant costs are not passed onto the customer here," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas. "And I think they're gonna see that there's gonna be a movement throughout Texas of people who are liberal and conservative and across the political spectrum who are refusing to pay $2,000 when for two days they didn't even get power, and they're not even responsible for the poor planning that went on by state leaders."
Other officials echoed Castro's concerns, emphasizing that customers should not bear the brunt of the financial cost when so many of them are already in vulnerable positions during the storm.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told CNN on Sunday that "it would be unconscionable for bills to go up and for bills to be put on the backs of residents of the state that have been suffering and freezing their homes for the last week, through no fault of their own."
Although it's clear that Texas' energy crisis was primarily brought on by a wildly unregulated energy market, Republicans have nevertheless continued to blame green energy solutions. "Where is the story about the $2B "green" bio plant the City of Austin funded — that didn't produce 5 minutes of energy while Austin residents were without power for days?" tweeted Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Tex. "Doesn't much of the staff for @TexasTribune live in Austin? That's a layup."
Texas Watchdog Says Grid Operator Made $16 Billion Error .
A firm hired to monitor Texas’ power markets says the region’s grid manager overpriced electricity over two days during last month’s energy crisis, resulting in $16 billion in overcharges. Amid the deep winter freeze that knocked nearly half of power generation offline, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as Ercot, set the price of electricity at the $9,000-a-megawatt-hour maximum -- standard practice during a grid emergency.