Last week, Texans braced themselves for another bitter cold snap almost exactly a year after the catastrophic blackouts of February 2021. The media and leftist political organizations were giddy about the possibility of more blackouts as an opportunity to create controversy and galvanize Democrats heading into the primary election, hoping to pin blame on Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas’ legislative leaders.
ERCOT’s forecasts said that an emergency situation and brief power outages were possible Friday morning, but fortunately for Texans, the lights (and heat!) stayed on. Thanks to smart reforms pushed for by Gov. Abbott (in the process of being implemented by ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission), as well as the benefit of hindsight, our grid is in a much stronger place. Had last week been another Winter Storm Uri, with temperatures 15 degrees colder and lasting longer, the situation would have been less severe than last year.
But fortunately, operating reserve margins remained above 6,000 megawatts for the entire duration of the cold weather. In the past, ERCOT has significantly overestimated reserve margins (specifically by miscalculating possible wind and solar production) during peak demand periods, but this time, ERCOT projected far higher demand for electricity than actually came to pass. The ERCOT region had a greater than 10% reserve margin Friday morning. Some other reforms, such as on-site backup fuel storage provisions, likely also played a role.
While a very small proportion of Texas households lost power, those outages were due to downed power lines and other infrastructure issues typical of winter storms, not due to any widespread grid outages.
The good news for Texans is that the PUC’s proposed market reforms will place more emphasis on reliability and protect Texans from being forced to rely on variable wind and solar. Gov. Abbott, ERCOT’s new leadership, and the PUC should be praised for their commitment to reforming our electric grid to make sure the devastation from the 2021 blackouts never happens again.
The next step is clear: Texas should go beyond simply incentivizing reliability and instead enact legislation requiring all electric generators to guarantee a certain amount of power to the grid during peak demand periods, as called for in Gov. Abbott’s letter to the PUC. The federal government’s market-distorting energy subsidies are not only wasting our tax dollars, but making it impossible to build the new dispatchable power plants needed to power our growing state when the wind and sun are not available. But Texas can right the ship with a strong firming requirement. Texans deserve to know that intermittent generators like wind and solar no longer threaten their access to electricity.
We look forward to continued engagement as the PUC moves forward with its proposed electric market reforms to ensure reliable power generation is prioritized, and we hope Texas’ leaders will remain committed to affordable and reliable electricity. It will take additional market reforms and many years to get more reliable power plants into the market and manage the growth of unreliable renewable generation, but the future of Texas is looking bright (pun intended).