South Carolina is a lot like Texas – making news on a national basis when it comes to energy. For failures. Money down the drain. Organizations that failed customer needs. Both states can learn, specially from Texas.
Lesson: It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.
Texas has its minimal requirements for energy systems. South Carolina had its Baseload Review Act.
Both systems could have come out way better than they did from customers. Legislation or regulations by themselves do not create resilient energy systems. How regulations are employed create resilient energy systems.
South Carolina’s Baseload Review Act had noble goals of building a carbon-free power source and saving money. Neither happened. Don’t blame the law.
Power systems take tending. Energy laws should not be political campaign one-liners – pass laws and forget about them. Pass laws and regulations and expect them to run themselves – naïve. All processes have to be managed for success.
Lesson: Wires are critical
Transmission and distribution systems are essential and not real sexy. Power generation is interesting to legislators, in my opinion. A grid in need of improvement is asking for trouble for customers.
New electric generation usually requires new or updated transmission to complete the puzzle. Ignoring wires means customers are ignored.
Lesson: Account for changes in the climate.
I think of heat when I think of Texas. (I have worked in Austin and Houston in the summer.) Yet Texas suffered fatal cold temperatures that crippled its power system. South Carolina had its Polar Vortex a couple years ago and was on the edge with power. (Check what Colombia’s WLTX meteorologist said in Like Texas, South Carolina has a history of Arctic cold: “The geography of the southeast makes it one of the most favorable places in the world for big temperature swings.”)
In Texas, wind generation was blamed by politicians in part for the power problem. Not the real issue. Wind units can be winterized. Same with gas plants that did not work in Texas. Now that lesson is understood in Texas.
South Carolina can apply the lessons and planning as it faces stronger tropical systems. The state has had record-breaking flood events multiple years in the past decade. Lessons learned?
Lesson: Understand the need for “just in case” power
Texas is its own energy island; Texas is independent – sometimes to its own detriment. Check this: “Not only are there minimal opportunities for Texas to import electricity during crises, but there is also no reserve margin (extra available power above demand) enforced in the state—meaning companies have absolutely no incentive to build capacity above expected demand.” (Source)
South Carolina has the same independent streak but has avoided the same type of unregulated environment as Texas. Texas proved that sometimes independence makes states stronger. Sometimes independence hobbles states. Electrons can travel anywhere, following the path of least resistance. Why make it tough to build and share electricity?
Have some extra sources of energy ready. They may be power plants that spin-up easily or storage. Texas was long on independence and short on extra power.
Lesson: Be decisive (and correct)
Energy decisiveness springs from utilities and regulators working together. Avoid the error that the Texas Governor recently made, He issued a letter to the Texas Public Utilities Commission that tells them what to do, picking winners and losers in energy – instead of allowing the process to work on its own.
Texas made decisions, just not ones that guarantee a resilient power system. Today Texas has said that the cold wave was a “meteor strike,” and not worthy of attention.
South Carolina takes years to make simple decisions and decides to keep the systems that failed – Santee Cooper.
Both states will find the same results by keeping the same systems.
NOTE: This is one of a two-part series about what North Carolina and South Carolina can learn about the power failures in Texas from earlier this year. Some lessons apply to both states, some are unique to each. For more on our view of what happened in Texas, and what consumers, industry and policymakers can learn from it, see our “The Mess in Texas – Energy Lessons from the Lonestar State,” page, where we’ve collected all of the blog posts we’ve written to date on the subject.