Texas outage sheds light on ‘unreliability’

AP Photo Texas resident Kaleb Love works to clear ice from a water fountain on Tuesday. Temperatures dropped into the single digits as snow shut down air travel, grocery stores and even power generated from wind turbines.

How does New York’s power mix compare to Texas, where 2 million residents on Tuesday were struggling without power following an unusual winter storm and freezing conditions?

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Texas power supply relies chiefly on natural-gas plants. Those supplied 40% of the grid to the Lone-Star State while the second-largest source was of power was wind at 23%.

In this case, the turbines have turned out to be ineffective in helping sun-belt residents battle the severe cold. Bloomberg News reported wind power generators were among the victims of the severe conditions, with turbine blades rendered inoperable due to ice — a phenomenon that reduces efficiency and can ultimately stop them from spinning. Texas estimated that more than half of its wind power capacity had come offline.

Here at home, according to the New York Independent System Operator, renewables — as of noon Tuesday — made up only 23% of the power supply to the state. That figure includes wind and solar energy at 3% and hydropower at 20%. Chief power suppliers, the ISO dashboard noted, were nuclear at 30%; fossil fuels at 28%; and natural gas at 19%.

State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, is trying to flip those numbers by 2040 in hopes of getting out of the fossil fuel and nuclear energy business. Locally, the impacts are seen in the closing of both the NRG coal plants in Dunkirk and Tonawanda. Currently, much of our state power — with the shutting of these regional plants — is being imported from other states.

“Our planet is in crisis. By every metric it is clear: Sea levels are rising; ice caps are shrinking. California is burning, the Arctic is melting and deserts are flooding.” Cuomo said in making his State of the State address last month. “We are proposing the largest wind programs in the nation and advancing our green manufacturing capacity and the jobs that go with it. Our new energy superhighway will be optimized by state-of-the-art battery storage facilities, so we can store renewable energy to be used when needed. These projects will not only create power but bring needed economic opportunity to struggling parts of our state, create green jobs, and make New York state a global wind energy manufacturing powerhouse.”

This has sparked worry and brought small protests to a number of smaller area towns. In Chautauqua County, those who have been opposed to wind and solar criticize the federal subsidies attached to the projects. Ripley is currently working with developers on one of the largest solar farms in the east while wind projects here have been constructed in Arkwright with another nearing completion in Cassadaga and Charlotte.

State Sen. George Borrello has been a vocal critic regarding the push for renewables. “This (Texas weather event) shows the unreliability of wind energy and the colossal boondoggle that these green monstrosities truly are,” he said Tuesday.

A major proponent of Lake Erie, the Sunset Bay Republican has noted his obections to plans that would place turbines in the waters. To the west in Ohio, a plan for six turbines in what is being labeled as the Icebreaker project was given the approval of the Ohio Power Siting Board last fall. It would be the first freshwater offshore wind project in the United States. New York’s aggressive plans could soon target those waters as well, some local leaders and lake advocates fear.

In the meantime, with more frigid days expected in the South, frustration continues to increase over the power woes, the Associated Press noted. The surging demand and the loss of some power stations in the cold forced blackouts typically only seen in 100-degree Fahrenheit summers.

State officials said surging demand, driven by people trying to keep their homes warm, and cold weather knocking some power stations offline had pushed Texas’ system beyond the limits. “This weather event, it’s really unprecedented. We all living here know that,” said Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. He defended preparations made by grid operators and described the demand on the system as record-setting.

“This event was well beyond the design parameters for a typical, or even an extreme, Texas winter that you would normally plan for. And so that is really the result that we’re seeing,” Woodfin said.

Borrello also has worries about the climate conditions here. “New York has much colder, harsher winters than Texas and still cannot maintain reliable power,” he said. “This is a harbinger of New York’s future with Cuomo’s green energy plan.”


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