Rolling blackouts expected this week for Texas's libertarian power grid

Originally published at: Rolling blackouts expected this week for Texas's libertarian power grid | Boing Boing


I’m sure the invisible hand will raise up a competing company with a robust and stable power grid any day now


What vacation spot will Ted Cruz be visiting during this latest weather-driven failure of the “free”-market Texas grid? And which of his children will he throw under the bus this time when he’s caught?


The state faces a “potential reserve capacity shortage with no market solution available,” ERCOT said in an operating notice posted on its website.

I think that ‘no market solution available’ is libertarian for ‘the gods have forsaken us’.


How long before they make a law that lets people sue for damages if they think their neighbors are trying to leave the state?


As far as The Holy Market is concerned, this is a feature, not a bug. During these totally-unpredictable power shortages the suppliers can jack up their prices to whatever they like (monopoly pricing).


I can’t go solar fast enough, but that doesn’t help the vast majority of folks who don’t have the means to do so.

But, hey at least the 0.01% are getting their windfall from Hot Wheels.


I’d definitely agree with that in the sense of ‘market’ all too often used by its loudest defenders; but my successful passage through econ 101 compels me to note that a ‘market’ with very high(and state-imposed) barriers to entry, a relatively small number of sellers; and buyers who commonly lack price information in time to respond to price signals is…a fairly profound deviation from the textbook definition.

Electricity is a fundamentally dodgy thing to try to analyze in market terms(it essentially can’t be stored; and people who are running battery banks or pumped hydro facilities or whatnot are basically the same as people running normal peaking units, except that they buy power when it is cheap rather than buying fuel; and nobody actually ships the electrons between the guy who nominally sold them and the person who nominally bought them, there’s the whole separate issue of the grid operator and trying to layer a buyer/seller model on top of a giant, complex, AC network doing what a giant, complex, AC network wants to do); but this is one of those ‘markets’ where it passes only the ‘is not literally soviet communism’ test; like healthcare.

edit: the fact that electricity goes through ‘the grid’ with something resembling buying and selling metered on after the fact, at least for all but the really, really, big utility hookups that have dedicated lines with their own switching capabilities and such, also makes price signaling tricky because it’s nontrivial to shed load in a very granular way: if it was a matter of people going to the store, looking at the price tag, and deciding how many boxes of electrons to buy it’d be fairly easy to argue that price signaling is achieving an efficient allocation(the kind of ‘efficient’ that leaves poor people dying of heatstroke in the dark; but that’s pretty standard for 'efficient market allocation); but it’s not: unless you want chaotic and somewhat unpredictable brownouts to occur where physics decides to put them you’ve got to cut power to certain parts of the grid where the switches are; which makes the buy/no-buy choice for all potential customers in the blacked out areas; rather than just raising the price and having buyers drop out according to their willingness to pay until you hit equilibrium.


The TX law that covers the libertarian power grid states that each customer gets to choose her power company. So I use Gexa Energy which supplies wind energy.

The problem is that there’s only one grid. Sure you can choose who you send your money to, but all those different power companies aren’t running wires to your house. When the grid is overloaded because there’s no profit motive or mandate (or even standing) for any of those power companies to upgrade it, it doesn’t matter who your power company is. The grid takes them all down.

This is the subtext of Rob’s post, and why corporate-owned infrastructure is problematic at best. Privately owned infrastructure is a classic case of broken incentives. It never succeeds in serving people well in the long run for crucial services like utilities and healthcare.


I’ve chosen renewable energy only as well. But I don’t think that gets us out of being subject to the rolling blackouts. Those are done by cutting power to large regions- not based on which company a household is buying from.

I want battery tech to improve so I can make the jump to solar and store power. Been delaying on installing solar panels until battery tech is more useful and safer


I’ve been thinking of starting with the batteries, then installing the solar later. We couldn’t go 100 off grid here, I don’t think, but I’d like to have batteries instead of a generator to deal with outages (for us it’s mainly wind or snow storms that cause them, so far). We could charge the batteries from the grid, and have them hooked up to do the stuff to keep the home survivable if the grid is down for a few days at subzero temps.
But I’m also biding my time.
In the mean time- Good luck! Hope you can stay cool.


I just got back from Iceland. It’s always between 50 and 60-something during the summer. Don’t let Fled know, though. I don’t want the nice people there to have to fumigate the place.


I feel sorry for all those Californians who moved out there, and bought a huge house and now have to run 3 or more AC units 24-7 from May thru October. Enjoy your summer.


I just love the delicious thought that all those libertarians not only have to share the grid, but they have to share in the rolling blackouts. It’s almost as if they live in a society where they have to depend on each other, instead of their selfish blinder-ed freedumb-enhanced gun bunkers.


The only thing that fails almost as hard as prayer does is Libertarianism. Plenty of both in Texas, which explains some things.


My Texas based energy systems software company talked this over in our weekly call a few hours ago, and we looked at the ERCOT site. Every single voluntary load reduction contract has been called in, and while there could be a few peakers that are looking to hostage-take at $900/MWh, it looks like there’s a legit complete shortfall happening starting about now. Backup plan is rolling blackouts.


There are utilities that are doing an excellent job of this - AEP is upgrading everything in 5 states in a 10 year, $10bn or more plan, that has really great and consistent engineering. And I’ve also seen public entities (power coops that are small, the power authority organizations that are large) be completely inept because they lack internal expertise, or think that the current market rate for say a protection and control engineer is too rich for their blood. Ideologically, I’d like to agree with you, but in practice the public stuff is also political and it has its own special insanity. There’s a power line under the Hudson River north of I84 that at peak can carry 20% of NYC’s load, and it has a few showstopper problems that the “public” entity involved has deferred because they screwed up the initial design in the 1980’s and they’d just as soon not admit that right now.

I don’t know of a single publicly owner power transmission system in the country (the coops tend to be below 138kV). NY is a collection of TO’s (transmission operators) that include Nat Grid, NYSEG (Iberdrola), Central Hudson (different Spanish company), NYPA, and ConEd. All of them are rate based utilities. These legally are now separate from the GO’s and DO’s (generation owners, distribution owners) in most de-regulated markets.



Maine is working on it right now. Fingers crossed.


Coincidentally, I was at a company that did a solar plus battery for NPPD (and my current company is doing software for them). They’re not a major transmission operation, and they aren’t their own “ISO” (independent system operator). Maine, similarly, is a piece of ISO-NE and the ISO makes sure that the utilities are doing what they’re supposed to. If Maine (say CMP) got taken over as a public util it would change very little about their operation.

I just realized that a lot of folks on here might not know what the ISO’s do (NYISO, CAISO, ISO-NE, PJM, ERCOT, etc). They’re the people running the “clearance” of electricity sales. They also are the final authority on everything reliability for all FERC controlled power lines (many distribution lines are outside of their jurisdiction, but a huge number are in it, and all transmission is). In California you can’t get connected to the grid with anything until you finish a CAISO reliability study; same follows for NY and NE (in practice NYISO and ISO-NE often farms these back to the transmission utility which isn’t great.)

I think ERCOT is public (their website says they are a 501C3), and the other ISO’s are definitely public agencies. ERCOT just happened to run a “no spinning reserve” philosophy. They are idiots. But they are public idiots, not private ones.