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Texas produces more power than any other state, but suffered a blackout anyway

Published in 22 February, 2021

New York (CNN Business) –  Even mighty Texas, America’s energy powerhouse, is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature.

A deep frost this week in Texas, which relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing energy demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear facilities in Texas have been shut down due to unthinkable low temperatures . 

This situation could have far-reaching implications as the US energy industry tries to reduce carbon emissions in response to the climate crisis.

That nightmarish supply and demand situation has seen electricity prices in energy-rich Texas skyrocket more than 10,000% compared to before the record-setting temperatures hit. Texas has been hit by life-threatening blackouts. More than 4 million people in the state were without power early Tuesday.    

In response, Governor Greg Abbott has called for an investigation into the Texas Electrical Reliability Council, a nonprofit organization known as Ercot, which controls most of the state’s grid. The group’s chief executive on Tuesday defended the controlled outages, saying they “prevented the network from collapsing” and sending the state into a total blackout.

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    Texas isolated from the national grid

    It’s too early to say definitively what went wrong in Texas and how to avoid similar cuts. State authorities will need to provide more information.

    However, some experts say the criticism of wind power already seems overblown.

    “In terms of the blame game, the focus on the wind is a red herring. It’s more of a political problem than what’s causing the grid power problems, ”said Dan Cohan, associate professor of Environmental Engineering at Rice University.

    Cohan said there was a much larger deficit in terms of the amount of energy Texas expected from natural gas than from wind.

    It’s clear that a wide range of energy sources, from fossil fuels to renewables, were unprepared for the unusual weather in Texas.

    “Regions need to rethink the extreme conditions they are planning for and make sure their systems are designed to be resilient to them,” said Jenkins of Princeton.

    The energy crisis in Texas also raises questions about the nature of the state’s deregulated and decentralized power grid. Unlike other states, Texas has made a conscious decision to isolate its network from the rest of the country.

    That means that when things are going well, Texas cannot export excess energy to neighboring states. And in the current crisis, it cannot import energy either.

    “When it comes to electricity, what happens in Texas stays in Texas,” Cohan said. “That really worried us again.”

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