Blackout questions, few answers

POSTED: Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 1:59pm
UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 9:54am

It is tough to find out details on last week’s blackouts, and the system is apparently set up to make it tough.
In fact, the 82 power generating plants that went down last week is a number we apparently have to take on faith.
Because, those are the rules.

Did we lose over a 6th of our power generation on the Texas power grid? That’s what we hear from the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, the non-profit group whose job it is to make sure all the private suppliers on the grid are running smoothly.

Since prices for electricity spikes from roughly $50 to $3000 in a few hours, it might be interesting to know just who profited from the emergency.

But Houston Chronicle Business Editor Loren Steffy found that information is hard to come by.
“I mean it’s frustrating as a consumer,” he told us. “You would think in a free market, quote unquote, you would think that a lot of this information would be available, but it’s not. In fact in the name of preserving market integrity, they keep all this information private.”

For example, did any of the plants that went down belong to the same company that sold power?
“You know,” Steffy says, “if you think about what Enron did in California a decade ago when they took plants down for mantainance at a time when that electricity was needed the most. If you wanted to take advantage of a weather opportunity, this would be one way to do it.”

The other issue is why so many generating plants were so unprepared for the cold.
What’s interesting is that even the Public Utility Commission doesn’t know all the details for sure because none of the power companies have to actually prove they had a real problem.

“I was rather surprised to find out that they don’t really know for sure that those plants were down. They take the generator’s word.” He concluded

Which means the Senate hearings coming up in Austin mid-month should be interesting…

“You know ERCOT has a lot to answer for,” Steffy declares, “the PUC has a lot to answer for and the generators themselves have a lot to answer for.”

The good news is that if you are on a fixed rate electric plan, you won’t see any spike in your bill.
If you aren’t…good luck.
 

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