The catastrophic breakdown of Texas’ natural gas and electric system the week of February 15 lacks a single villain to blame for it all. Instead, the widespread constraints in natural-gas supply and the shutdown of core power plant capacity that left millions without power can be chalked up to cascading failures between two interdependent systems – and any solutions will need to take these interdependencies into account to avert a similar crisis in the future. To learn more, read Texas Blackout Hearings Highlight Intertwined Risks of Natural Gas, Power Grid and Deregulated Market.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In a hearing held on February 25, power company executives pointed to natural-gas shortages for forcing more than half of the state’s winter peaking generation fleet to shut down. That loss of generation capacity forced state grid operator ERCOT to institute rolling blackouts to prevent a broader grid collapse.
  • The hearing saw disputes over whether failure to winterize the state’s natural-gas infrastructure was primarily to blame for the shortages, as opposed to a surge in demand for the fuel for both power generation and heating.
  • Underlying these technical failures are questions about the role of the state’s deregulated energy market structure.
    • ERCOT is the only major grid that operates outside the federal regulatory authority that sets maximum market prices.
    • For two decades, Texas’ energy markets have lacked the capacity and resource-adequacy constructs that other states and grid operators use to secure resources to cover rare but potentially disastrous imbalances between electricity supply and demand.
    • Instead, Texas relies on scarcity pricing of up to $9,000 per megawatt-hour during times of peak grid stress to incentive power plant owners to invest in resources to cover those emergencies.

Path to 100% Perspective:

In both Texas and California, the widespread blackouts reveal the need for updated policy, improved planning as well as technological and chronological power system expansion along with adequate modeling. Updated policy means including these renewable fuels and the plants that use them to count towards clean energy goals. As many believe climate change will make extreme weather events more common and even more unpredictable, state policymakers and regulators need to act now to decarbonize the electricity sector.


Photo by Mitchell Kmetz on Unsplash