Blackout Prevention Intervention: Wind & Solar ‘Powered’ Texas Spends $Billions On Gas-Powered Plants

Texas has squandered a cool $66 billion on building its wind and solar capacity and the infrastructure needed to support it. The subsidies that have driven the the wind and solar onslaught – principally the Production Tax Credit, as well as state-mandated feed-in tariffs), deliberately designed to relegate the reliable generators (nuclear, coal and gas) to second place on the grid.

The “how to wreck your once reliable and affordable power supply” story is a universal tale and goes like this: massively subsidised, unreliable and intermittent wind power undercuts reliable coal-fired power plantssome of those plants closepower prices rocket; and grid managers suffer conniptions as they chop customers from the grid, trying to prevent a complete ‘system black’ when the wind stops blowing, as it does almost every single day, and the sun sets every day, without fail.

On 16-17 February 2021, hundreds of wind turbines were left frozen solid during breathless, freezing weather – Texan wind power output was a paltry 2% of installed capacity. Solar panels were buried under inches-deep blankets of snow and ice and, likewise, just as useless. Millions of Texans were left freezing in the dark; no doubt, less than enamoured with their ‘inevitable transition’ to an all-wind and sun-powered future.

The only thing keeping the lights on in Texas, were its nuclear and gas-fired power plants.

Having wrecked the ability of conventional generators to dispatch to the grid, Texan politicos have come up with a cunning plan: throw billions of dollars of taxpayer’s money at the construction of fast-start-up Open Cycle Gas Turbines to deal with sunset and/or calm weather, when wind and solar output inevitably collapses.

Rather than face up to hordes of furious Texans the next on the power goes out, legislators are determined to spend a fortune undoing the pointless and unnecessary damage caused by wind and solar subsidies, in the first place.

A Texas-Sized Energy Fiasco
Wall Street Journal
14 April 2023

What a mess. Renewable subsidies have distorted and destabilized the Texas electric grid, which resulted in a week-long power outage during the February 2021 freeze. To prevent more blackouts, Republicans in the Lone Star State now plan to subsidize gas power plants.

The Texas Senate last week passed putative energy reforms to “level the playing field,” as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put it. Texans will now spend tens of billions of dollars to bolster natural-gas plants that provide reliable power but can’t make money because of competition from subsidized renewable energy.

Federal tax credits have encouraged an oversupply of wind power, which Lone Star State Republicans assisted last decade by charging rate payers $7 billion to build thousands of miles of transmission lines from West Texas and the Panhandle to big cities. Solar and wind supply about 30% of Texas power on average but sometimes can produce more than half [and during calm weather, after sunset, nothing at all].

Wind generators pocket a tax credit for every kilowatt hour they produce no matter if the grid needs it. A surfeit of wind is increasingly driving wholesale power prices negative—i.e., generators have to pay to offload their power. Wind producers can still make money because of the tax credits, but fossil-fuel plants that provide baseload power can’t.

Baseload plants were developed on the financial assumption that they’d run 85% to 90% of the time, but many aren’t because they are being squeezed by renewables. Coal plants are closing, and gas generators are at risk. Too few new gas plants are being built to support a growing population and industry. As a result, power is becoming unreliable, especially during extreme weather.

The state Senate’s answer is to create a Texas Energy Insurance Program to support gas generators to backstop renewables. The state would commission gas plants with as much as 10 gigawatts—enough to power about two million homes during peak demand—to run only during grid emergencies. Keeping them idle at other times isn’t efficient, but letting them compete in the wholesale power market could make it even harder for existing generators to make money.
The Senate Finance Committee set aside $10 billion in its budget proposal to fund part of the cost for these emergency plants, but the legislation also proposes charging consumers. An insurance program would finance zero-interest rate loans to existing gas generators to maintain their equipment, which they are struggling to do owing to negative power prices.

Another Senate bill would create financial incentives for “peaker” gas plants that could ramp up on demand. Yet building peaker gas plants that run only 10% of the time costs about three times more than a baseload gas plant that operates 85% to 90% of the time.

To sum up: Texas Republicans are trying to fix the enormous inefficiencies caused by federal and state renewable subsidies with state subsidies that cause more inefficiencies.

Texas’s grid mess offers a portent for the rest of the U.S. and another illustration of how the Inflation Reduction Act will cost Americans much more than the $391 billion that Democrats claimed. States may have to subsidize backup power generation to keep the lights on. Subsidies that create market distortions invariably lead to more subsidies and more distortions. California couldn’t have done it better.
Wall Street Journal


May 1, 2023 at 02:34AM

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