It’s hot in Texas, and apparently in the Governor’s office, too. Pressed for action on the energy emergencies in the state, Governor Abbott issued a letter to the Texas Public Utilities Commission.
The letter directs the PUC to act beyond recent legislation to remedy February’s polar emergency. Some of Abbott’s directives are good, some challenge logic. Here’s how I see which directives are which.
What Governor Abbott got right:
- Ensure reserve capacity, the “just in case” power needed in an emergency. That’s necessary for a strong energy system.
- Targeting transmission for improvement. “Wires” must match generation technology to build a hardened grid.
- Reinforcing nuclear for generation is good for ample, carbon-free energy.
What Governor Abbott got wrong:
- No storage: The letter reinforces power generation but leaves out storage. Renewable power generation sources like wind or solar can be paired with storage for a robust source of power.
- Playing favorites: The letter asks for a financial penalty for technologies that are not 24/7 during an emergency. This is an anti-renewable directive in a heavy-duty petroleum state.
- Reinforcing coal generation in a climate emergency. Natural gas, which can be an option in place of coal, is plentiful in the state and emits less carbon than a coal plant. (But even gas will get pressure in the future because of carbon.)
Bottom line: Politicians shouldn’t pick specific energy winners and losers. Energy experts and regulators determine the best electric systems for their states. Abbott makes decisions he is not able to make.
Abbott acted, but not all logical action to make a state that built its reputation as a leader in traditional energy into a state that will be an energy leader in the future. Look ahead, not behind.
Here are the directives from the letter:
- Streamline incentives within the ERCOT market to foster the development and maintenance of adequate and reliable sources of power, like natural gas, coal, and nuclear power. The PUC has the ability to redesign segments of the market to incentivize and maintain the reliable electric generating plants our state needs. Those incentives must be directed toward the types of electric generators we need for reliability purposes. The goal of this strategy is to ensure that Texas has additional and more reliable power generation capacity.
- Allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power. Electric generators are expected to provide enough power to meet the needs of all Texans. When they fail to do so, those generators should shoulder the costs of that failure. Failing to do so creates an uneven playing field between non-renewable and renewable energy generators and creates uncertainty of available generation in ERCOT. To maintain sufficient power generation—especially during times of high demand—we must ensure that all power generators can provide a minimum amount of power at any given time.
- Instruct ERCOT to establish a maintenance schedule for natural gas, coal, nuclear, and other non-renewable electricity generators to ensure that there is always an adequate supply of power on the grid to maintain reliable electric service for all Texans. Regular maintenance of our natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants must be strategically scheduled to prevent too many generation plants from being offline at the same time. This will help prevent an artificial shortage of power.
- Order ERCOT to accelerate the development of transmission projects that increase connectivity between existing or new dispatchable generation plants and areas of need. Dispatchable generation, such as natural gas, coal, and nuclear power plants, are essential for the reliability and stability of the electric grid because they can be scheduled to provide power to the grid at any time. We must ensure that, at any point in time, ERCOT is utilizing non-renewable electricity in sufficient amounts to maintain reliable power throughout our state.