‘Climate’ policy ignores weather at its peril

In rain and wind and sleet and snow, the power is out in your bungalow.

Excellent analysis. RTWT.
Assigning Blame for the Blackouts in Texas | Climate Etc.

“Extreme cold should be expected to cause significant outages of both renewable and fossil fuel based resources. Why would anyone expect that sufficient amounts of natural gas would be available and deliverable to supply much needed generation? Considering the extreme cold, nothing particularly surprising is happening within any resource class in Texas. The technologies and their performance were well within the expected bounds of what could have been foreseen for such weather conditions. While some degradation should be expected, what is happening in Texas is a departure from what they should be experiencing. Who or what then is responsible for the shocking consequences produced by Texas’s run in with this recent bout of extreme cold?…

Traditionally, responsibility for ensuring adequate capacity during extreme conditions has fallen upon individual utility providers. A couple decades ago I was responsible for the load forecasting, transmission planning and generation planning efforts of an electric cooperative in the southeastern US. My group’s projections, studies and analysis supported our plans to meet customer demand under forecasted peak load conditions. We had seen considerable growth in residential and commercial heat pumps. At colder temperature these units stop producing heat efficiently and switch to resistance heating which causes a spike in demand. Our forecasts showed that we would need to plan for extra capacity to meet this potential demand under extreme conditions in upcoming winters.”

Debate is raging over which form of power generation was the proximate cause of the Texas power fiasco. Bill Gates is arguing with Greg Abbot; the MSM publishes articles alternately excusing windmills and blaming natural gas. There’s chatter about failure of the free market.

Forget all that. Yes, more solar panels and more windmills would have made it worse, but nuclear plants shut down when cooling pumps froze (go figure), and natural gas more or less ran out. Gas prices soared 10,000%.

Texas power generation failed because of central planning. Intermittent energy generation was favored over energy capacity. CO2 reduction became more important than reliability. The system was robust until it wasn’t. Nassim Taleb’s books The Black Swan and Antifragile leap to mind.

Central planners knew reserve dispatchable (on demand) electricity provision was a weakness for renewables’ case, even as renewables raise the importance of dispatchable power. If planners wanted more renewable energy they had to raise electricity prices to fund building the standby generators and securing the fuel supplies they might not use, or take bigger risks across the board.

Wind and solar were not to be dinged for the increased costs they impose on the grid to ensure reliable generating capacity during extreme weather events. Mustn’t have anyone question whether windmills or solar panels are doing the job you hired them for if you still have to have natural gas plants idling in case of bad weather.

Politicians are neither engineers nor risk managers. They see risk management as an electoral issue. Global warming is a vaguely apprehended future risk, but the present hype is concrete and assuaging it ‘virtuous.’ Weather caused power failure is concrete, but also mundane and inevitable. The need for dispatchable power, AKA the cost of mitigating the extreme weather risk, is directly proportional to the increase in renewable energy dependance. And inversely proportional to the direction of the political wind.

This is a tunnel vision application of the precautionary principle. The risk of a once in a lifetime weather event was judged to be less important than the risk of AlGore’s vision of a future flaming globe. You get votes by paying homage to the latter, and complaints about electricity cost if you mitigate the former.

This danger was not a Hayekian lack of information. The consequences had been clearly foreseen by well established risk analysis protocols, and papered over. The consequences were unintended only in the sense of “we didn’t want that to happen.” Some of the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) Board at least had the grace to fall on their swords.

ERCOT bet they wouldn’t have the weather, during THEIR terms, which they knew Texas would eventually experience.

Put differently, Warren Buffett invests in windmills because the economics are tilted by subsidies and pricing manipulation, not because he cares about providing affordable, reliable power.

*Yes, that would be regulation. In a free market we would long since have had contractual ways of doing this.