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A View from the Altar / Texas wind
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Texas wind

Texas has been leading the country in wind power installation. Now Texas lags the country in power generation reliability. For the past two decades, their predominant sources of new and replacement generation have been natural gas and wind power. During the most recent winter storm, these generation sources were completely tapped out, so Texas was obliged to implement rolling blackouts to keep their grid up and running.

The problem in Texas was not all that big — this time. The storm was short-lived, and outside generation sources including Mexico were able to make up most of the shortfall.

However, if the entire United States were to shift heavily to wind power, there’d be no way to recover. The country has already grown dangerously over-dependent on natural gas for electric generation due to excessive environmental regulation which eliminates the coal and nuclear options. Wind power physically cannot make up the difference because it’s too unreliable. When the wind stops blowing or blows too hard for the wind turbines to tolerate, power generation stops.

And think about it: A severe winter storm produces exactly the sort of scenario where you’d expect natural gas and wind generation to get overtaxed at the same time. During severe winter weather, natural gas is heavily demanded for home and commercial heating. Also during severe winter weather, gale force winds can be too strong for windmills, and icing conditions can force operators to take them off line just when they’re needed most.

As I’ve always said on this subject, I’m all in favor of free enterprise, and any guy that wants to erect a wind farm and make a buck is welcome to try. But as a matter of public policy, dependence upon wind is a serious reliability negative. Furthermore, over-dependence on natural gas is a problem because it detracts from the diversity of fuel sources utilities needed to ensure that no one energy supply can take down the whole power system.

Here’s hoping the power company executives were all paying attention to the distress experienced in Texas… and learning from it. This time the shortfall in Texas was relatively small and brief. But if they spend a few more years shuttering coal plants and building windmills and gas-fired units, a similar blizzard could take down their whole power system.  And if the whole country follows in their footsteps, the problem could go national.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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