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Lessons to be learned in Texas’ power woes

The news is filled with assertions that the Texas power outage was caused by either failure of wind power or by failure of fossil fuel power. In truth, both were to blame. There is a lesson here for Arkansas and other states.

From Feb. 4-8, Texas’ power usage was steady at about 40 gigawatt-hours, with wind supplying between one-third and one-half of that, gas supplying a similar amount, and coal plus nuclear supplying about 15 gigawatt-hours. (Power sources often vary on an hourly basis.)

On Feb. 8-9, the cold front began moving into West Texas, bringing ice and snow. Between Feb. 8 and Feb. 15, Texas power demand increased 50%, to about 60 gigawatt-hours. As wind turbines suffered from decreasing wind and as freezing ice stopped some of them, Texas wind power dropped by half or more. To compensate, Texas gas power plants increased their output by more than a factor of two, and over Feb 12-15 were generating about 40 gigawatt-hours. Texas coal and nuclear power remained constant.

On Feb. 15, the Electronic Reliability Council of Texas power grid began to fail, and power generation dropped below demand. Rolling blackouts became necessary. In addition to a decrease in gas power, coal and nuclear power also dropped, and wind power remained very low. Power failure in gas may have been related to the large, sudden demand put upon it, and the decrease in some coal and nuclear power may have occurred because cold and ice/snow produced failure in components.

The message to be learned here is that wind power (also solar power) can greatly decrease or even fail at unpredictable times. During those times, a state needs to have other, reliable power sources ready to take over. Texas has just learned this lesson the hard way. A decrease in available power just when power demand increases can be the perfect storm.

Donald Bogard

Bentonville