One week after Gov. Greg Abbott declared Texas’ electrical grid was fixed, the state faced the possibility of a summer meltdown.
And we haven’t even hit 100-degree weather yet.
The grid on Monday came uncomfortably close to another round of outages because a large number of power plants, 11,000 megawatts of capacity, had mechanical failures that knocked them offline.
In fact, the reforms the Texas Legislature completed this session may have been an improvement, but they don’t guarantee that the lights will stay on. The vaunted weatherization rules designed to avoid another freeze catastrophe don’t go into effect for some months, and in any case, the weather on Monday was nothing special in Texas, with temperatures in the high 90s.
Without the excuse of extreme weather causing plant outages, we have to wonder if poor maintenance or inadequate staffing were at issue. Are power plant operators skimping on maintenance? Did regulatory uncertainty this year lead plant operators to delay needed investments?
We could say ERCOT had one job: To keep the electricity flowing to consumers, and it stumbled. But lawmakers have not explicitly made ERCOT responsible for ensuring the lights stay on and the air conditioners keep whirring. ERCOT doesn’t have the mandate or the tools to keep power plants in good working order. That’s the responsibility of the plant owners.
If power plant operators are unable to keep the juice flowing on a normal June day, what can we expect when temperatures reach triple digits? Electricity is not a luxury good; the February outages reminded us that electric reliability is often a matter of life or death.