So apparently the Texas electrical grid came close to failing completely during the severe weather that hit a large part of the country two weeks ago. Geoff Beckman wrote an article in Counterpunch about how and why the Texas grid failed while the other two grids in the country did not.
The Texas power grid is run by ERCOT; The Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It sounds like we were running at an unsafe capacity and that the power had to be shut down. Beckman explains the danger of running the generators connected to the grid at higher capacity than the maximum safe level this way;
"Here is a scary thought. Remember what happened to the boiler in the book version of The Shining when it ran at 90% in the last chapter?"
By noon February 14th, it seems demand for power was dangerously high, "ERCOT realized they couldn't meet demand." "They simply shut off power to every zone that didn't have a hospital located within it."
The article is critical of ERCOT and deservedly so, but he says this as well;
Texas just showed what can happen anywhere, given a few shocks to the system.
Richard Wolff weighs in with his emphasis on the failure of capitalism to be able to ensure that the needs of the people are met. He also talks about the WIC, the Western Interconnection, specifically parts of the California grid and their episode with Enron. The California electricity customers got to pay higher rates for the Enron scam.
Jeffrey St. Clair had a great article in Counterpunch on the revolting corruption in our energy sector in general. His story starts in the '90s and covers a few of the crimes.
In the summer of 1994, while Clinton vacationed in the Tetons, just down the trout stream from Dick Cheney’s ranch, 8 top oil executives dropped in for a visit. This confab in Jackson Hole became Clinton’s version of the Cheney energy task force. The oil moguls pressed Clinton for a number of concessions: 1. Increased drilling on the Outer Contintental Shelf, especially in the Gulf of Mexico; 2. A break on royalty payments; 3. Expedited leasing for coal-bed methane the Rocky Mountain Front; 4. Opening the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling; 5. Removal of the ban on export of Alaskan crude oil to overseas refineries.
He also mentions the Enron heist in California.
One of the big concerns raised by consumer advocates and environmentalists about deregulation was the issue of reliability. Would private companies, driven solely by the profit motive, have an incentive to maintain powerlines and powerplants to keep them in working order? Yes, said Cavanagh. It turned out quite differently. The companies actually had an incentive to turn the plants off at the precise moment demand was at a peak. In one of the tape recorded conversations, two Enron executives are heard plotting to raise prices by shutting down a steamer at a power plant.
“I was wondering, um, the demand out there is er … there’s not much, ah, demand for power at all and we’re running kind of fat,” one executive complains. “Um, if you took down the steamer, how long would it take to get it back up?”
“Oh, it’s not something you want to just be turning on and off every hour. Let’s put it that way,” another Enron employee replies.
“If we shut it down, could you bring it back up in three ? three or four hours, something like that?” the executive asks.
“Oh, yeah,” the other says.
“Well, why don’t you just go ahead and shut her down, then, if that’s OK,” David says.
The Enron traders loved the blackouts, because that meant they could cash in on the sky-rocketing prices helpless consumers were forced to pay. “Just cut ’em off,” one Enron executive said. "
When wildfires threatened to incinerate powerlines and an electric transfer stations, the Enron traders could be heard singing, “Burn, baby, burn.”
Guy Standing talks about the plunder of the commons. A Charter in Great Britain called The Charter of the Forest, was created in 1217 to set aside land to be safeguarded for the use of the people. This law held for 800 years (with some struggles and losses) and influenced the defining of the American Constitution later. "The agenda of the Neoliberals has been eroding the principle of the commons." "They have been allowing the privatization of community property". Not only does this contribute to poverty but also destroys the environment for profit.
The first 15 minutes are the most relevant in this video.
Photo: Winter in Yellowstone, Wyoming. National Park Service