A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Great Texas Blackout of 2021: Triumph of the Unreliables

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 20, 2024

“The Kiesling/Giberson (et al.) narrative is a call for more government. MORE wind. MORE solar. MORE Batteries. MORE central planning to correct prior. And rationing from ‘smart meters’ to forgive all that came before. Think Big Brother, the Electricity Road to Serfdom.”

Three years ago this month, a prolonged, extensive cold snap did the unthinkable to Texas’s huge electricity grid. The shared narrative from proponents/apologists of forced energy transformation (‘Energy Transition’, ‘Decarbonization’, ‘Net Zero’, ‘Green New Deal’, ‘Virtual Power Plant’) focused on the failure of natural gas infrastructure as the cause of the debacle, a sort of “market failure” from “an Act of God.” The cancer in the system, intermittent wind and solar ($66 billion worth), was forgiven, and central planning of the state’s grid by Austin politicians, regulators, and administrators was treated as a neutrality.

Faux free-market advocates Lynne Kiesling and Michael Giberson pushed this false narrative, refusing to get from the physical why to the analytical why. Bad analytics, bad historical interpretation. And their recommendation: more intervention, not less, coordinated by government agents.


Wiki summarized the physical side of the event:

In February 2021, the state of Texas suffered a major power crisis, which came about during three severe winter storms sweeping across the United States on February 10–1113–17, and 15–20. The storms triggered the worst energy infrastructure failure in Texas state history, leading to shortages of water, food, and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, some for several days. At least 246 people were killed directly or indirectly, with some estimates as high as 702 killed as a result of the crisis.

The human and economic toll of the Great Texas Blackout is in the books. But the “why-behind-the-why” of the unprecedented debacle has been neglected, even by “free market” electricity specialists wed to the state’s ISO central planning model.

Getting back to fundamental causality requires a lot of analysis beyond the simplistic surface effects. It brings in a worldview of free-market processes and government intervention. As I concluded in a counter-analysis the month after the event, “Renewables ‘Market-Failed Natural Gas in Texas:

The second draft of history is pointing toward a massive government planning failure in America’s second most regulated industry (next to money & banking), as well as the intended and unintended consequences of pro-renewable, anti-fossil-fuel decarbonization policies. There is much more evidence to come, but the picture is getting clearer.

I updated my initial thoughts on the second anniversary of the debacle: “Wind, Solar, and the Great Texas Blackout: Guilty as Charged.”

Unreliable capacity that never should have been built crowded out the reliables—as intended by “magical thinking” policymakers. Storm Uri was not the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was the moment that showed the animal’s back was badly broken.

The way forward is the opposite of what the UT-Austin authors recommend. Wind, solar, and batteries should no longer receive government advantage. The wholesale power grid now run by ERCOT should be denationalized and mandatory transmission rules rescinded. Third, franchise protection and other “public utility” regulation should be removed for the denationalized grid, a program outlined elsewhere.

Central planning for a forced energy transformation produced the debacle of debacles two [now three] years ago in Texas. It is time for a new era for U.S. electricity policy, premised on market entrepreneurship.


  • Wind and solar predictably disappeared at the (weather-generated) peak
  • The reliables were wounded by (artificially) low margins created by the take policies of ERCOT (the central planning agency) in light of the (very low) marginal cost of wind and solar. Pricing for reliability under such central planning failed.
  • On-the-shelf winterization technology behind a number of gas-well freeze-ups was not in place from a variety of government interventions (forced disintegration, artificially low margins/prices, and government weather-forecasting error). The 1989 and 2011 experiences with gas freezing went unlearned and unheeded thanks to non-free-market distortions.
  • Central planning errors from monopolistic ERCOT (covering 90 percent of the state), which replaced utility control and the “obligation-to-serve”, was a Hayekian planning failure.
  • Forced/jawboned electrification of gas compressor stations from natural gas fell victim to power cutoffs (also see here).
  • Climate model prediction and NASA/NOAA forecast of a warm winter in general and specifically for Texas, respectively, misled the market.

The narrative of natural-gas failure as market failure has been weakened by ERCOT’s repeated conservation alerts since the February 2021 debacle (example here). Wind, solar, and batteries are rushing in, and politics is Texas trying to subsidize new gas-fired capacity in the face of renewables’ predatory pricing. Will a duplicated centrally planned grid be the solution?


It is not a coincidence that the worst event in the history of the U.S. electricity market occurred in the state most hampered by government intervention. It was predicted by free marketeers and not predicted by the wind/solar apologists.

Blaming natural gas in a market where natural gas was wounded by predatory renewables is disingenuous. Worse, the Kiesling/Giberson, et al., narrative calls for more government. MORE wind. MORE solar. MORE Batteries. MORE central planning to correct prior. And rationing from “smart meters” to forgive all that came before. Think Big Brother, the Electricity Road to Serfdom.

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