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Tomlinson’s Narrative on the (Wounded) Texas Grid: More Misdirection from the Houston Chronicle

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 13, 2023

“First wind and solar–and now batteries. How can a business editorialist not talk about cost and opportunity cost? Does $65 billion and counting ring a bell? I guess when you are a climate alarmist, economics does not matter.”

“‘Demand response’ is more government intervention to rescue prior. ‘Virtual power plants’ are the ultimate government takeover of the grid. Wound the supply side, load it up with costs, and force demand down.”

In “Natural Gas, Coal and Nuclear Power are Failing the Texas Grid, New Tech is the Future,” Houston Chronicle business editorialist Chris Tomlinson carries the water for Green New Deal/Net Zero interests, including his wife’s business of wind/solar origination. His 750-word piece is a tissue of half-truths and misdirection that only church-going climate alarmists can like.


The Texas electric grid’s biggest failures so far this summer are coming from the supposedly most reliable generators: fossil fuels. At 6:31 p.m. June 16, when electricity demand was near its peak, the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant dropped 1,000 megawatts of electricity for two days due to an equipment problem. That’s enough power for 200,000 homes that suddenly disappeared from a plant “with an on-off switch.” Four days later, when demand was peaking at 7 p.m., a coal-fired power plant dropped 568 megawatts, enough power for 113,600 homes. Coal plants are supposed to provide the baseload power for the grid that advocates say is so important.

Comment: Since the 1880s when coal first generated electricity, and in the last half-century when natural gas joined in, reliability has never been in issue in electrical generation in Texas, the U.S., and worldwide. So what has changed in the last decade in particular? Why does Texas’s grid now have statewide conservation orders and close calls during the winter and summer peaks?

The obvious answer is the growing takeover of the states’ power grid by wind and solar, the unreliables. The problem of wind and solar is not only when they fail to show up when needed most (solar at night and on cloudy, stormy days; wind on hot, still afternoons and evenings). It is also when wind/solar are in full production, idling the reliables and ruining their margins and profits. Take away incentives and bully the technology (Tomlinson is a bully), and underperformance will occur. Business 101. Economics 101. Atlas Shrugged.

Natural gas power plants have a summer capacity of 53,446 megawatts, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. They are our backup system for when demand is strong and it is dark or still outside. But natural gas generators have not been showing up. Last week, ERCOT issued an alert that all available power generation would be needed because demand was expected to set a record. But even with a week’s warning, natural gas delivered only 46,992 megawatts. Prices rose from $20 a megawatt-hour that morning to hit the $5,000 cap. But all that money was not enough to get the missing megawatts online.

Comment: The above statistic is that 88 percent of gas-fired capacity came on line. Compare that to wind and solar on a peak day to see a vast difference. Maintenance is a fact of life with mechanical equipment and, more importantly, gas-fired capacity has been prematurely retired and poorly maintained due to ruined margins from wind and solar forcing and preference on the grid from government policy.

Don’t count megawatts of the reliables followed by a ‘should have’. Ask those in the know about the takeover of the grid by the unreliables to neuter the reliables. If a 24-hour restaurant is idled because of government intervention given to intermittent restaurants, don’t complain if the former’s food is missing or stale when suddenly called upon. Business 101. Economics 101. Atlas Shrugged

If that sounds familiar, it should. During the 2021 February freeze that killed hundreds of Texans, the Public Utility Commission locked the price at $9,000 a megawatt-hour to encourage generators to come online. But the price was not the problem; broken equipment was. The same is true this summer.

Comment: Broken equipment? Why, Chris? A lack of gas-well weatherization and a lack of electricity at gas compressor stations has something to do with governmental intervention in spades. What is the reason now that it is summer? Maybe the cancer of wind/solar explains both. (And Tomlinson as predictor totally missed the Texas grid blackout of February 2021.)

Theoretically, Texas has 97,000 megawatts of potential generation available this summer, ERCOT said. But the wind doesn’t blow as hard when a high-pressure system sits over the state. When heat indexes top 110 degrees, fossil fuel power plants overheat and break down.

Comment: The business editorialist goes vague–and has obviously not done much homework. (Lazy, or on purpose?) Chris: Does the technology exist to weatherize power plants? Yes. Why it is missing? Explain the economics involved–and the disincentive created by wind and solar in this regard.

No source of electricity is 100 percent reliable; only a diverse mix can keep us alive during extreme weather.

Comment: This “all of the above” argument is an excuse for the best energies to subsidize the worst. Parasitic energies are at the heart of the reliability problem.

A climate change-exacerbated heat dome over northern Mexico and South Texas this month is not only driving up temperatures but trapping humid air. Some parts of the state are hitting heat indexes above 120 degrees, and it’s expected to continue.

Comment: Does Tomlinson understand El Nino? The urban heat island effect? The nature of the greenhouse signal (weakest this time of year, particularly during the afternoons, as verified by climate alarmist Andrew Dessler, Tomlinson’s go-to guy).

The stifling pattern has slashed wind energy production.

Comment: Yes! and that’s the problem. Thanks for sharing so deep in the article.

Solar facilities are cranking during the day, and some wind still blows at night. But the remaining challenge is how to shift that power from when it’s generated to when it’s needed.

Comment: What is the cost of that, sir? Why not have natural gas combined cycle do that instead of duplicating the grid with destabilizing intermittents?

Wind and solar would not be on the grid in the first place if not for massive, multi-pronged government intervention. Why is even reliability a front-page issue–it never was before the wind/solar invasion.

New batteries kept the lights on during the two unplanned outages, and they will do more in the future. Within minutes, batteries can provide hundreds of megawatts of power for hours until the generators restart or others can kick in. ERCOT anticipates having 8,000 megawatts of battery energy storage installed by May 2024. That’s enough power to meet ERCOT’s current backup needs, called ancillary services. Companies have applied to connect 96,300 megawatts by 2030, which is more juice than the entire grid consumes at today’s peaks.

Comment: Very vague–need more information. Batteries are throwing good money after bad to rescue wind/solar. Batteries further duplicate the grid versus the ‘natural’ storage of mineral-like energies.

Batteries will soon compete economically with the quick-start natural gas plants that provide backup today. New technologies will extend the current duration from four hours to eight or more.

Comment: First wind and solar–and now batteries. How can a business editorialist not talk about cost and opportunity cost? Tomlinson does not want to talk about cost for a reason. Battery storage costs are huge. And when you are a climate alarmist, business economics does not matter.

One of the most heartening facts about Texans is how quickly they pitch in to help. You can see electricity demand drop quickly in the minutes following those text and email alerts asking for conservation. Experts call this demand response, and an entire industry is blossoming to automate the process. If 15 million text messages can cut demand by 2,000 megawatts within 10 minutes, imagine what a signal sent directly to 10 million thermostats might accomplish.

Comment: Sacrifice–the call of government when prior government intervention fails. Text messages now–but wait until smart meters in your home and business automatically cut your demand.

Demand response advocates call such aggregated conservation a virtual power plant because with a few million dollars of hardware and programming it can eliminate the need to build $18 billion of natural gas power plants.

Comment: Those gas-fired power plants would have been built long ago and avoided the $65 billion of wind/solar/battery costs that have been/are being incurred. And who is paying for the difference? Consumers and taxpayers, now and in the future. But Chris is a wealthy ratepayer and can lecture the rest of us on the government power planning.

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, and Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, authored Senate Bill 1699 this year authorizing the Public Utility Commission to expand demand response systems. Virtual power plants offer another way to shave peak demand while saving consumers money.

Comment: “Demand response” is more government intervention to rescue prior. “Virtual power plants” are the ultimate government takeover of the grid. Wound the supply side, load it up with costs, and force demand down. Thank goodness the Texas Legislature said NO.

Building more batteries and perfecting demand response will take years. In the meantime, Texans will rely on old fossil fuel plants that are getting creaky. When they run too hard, steam pipes blow, circuit boards fry and turbines shut down.

Comment: Creaky? How about sabotaged by government intervention into a true free market. The Texas grid was never “creaky” and undependable until forced energy transformation came along.

I note the irony of all this, several decades after CEO Ken Lay’s Enron, on a natural gas theme, pushed climate alarmism. Enron then rescued the U.S. wind industry and resuscitated the U.S. solar industry, . Enron legislatively put Texas on a central planning/renewables path and began the civil war within the fossil fuel industry (gas vs. coal and oil). What a shame and dark blot on political capitalism–and on Texas Republican leaders who made it happen.

The grid must evolve to mitigate climate change. Texas will eventually rely mostly on clean energy most of the time. Fossil fuels will always provide some backup. But don’t believe for a minute that they are 100 percent reliable.

Comment: A permanently wounded grid for Texas? Big Brother in the home? What a sad story for just about everyone–but good news, I guess, for the Tomlinson household. Oh, the (wounded) Texas grid will avert ‘climate change’. I forgot.

One Comment for “Tomlinson’s Narrative on the (Wounded) Texas Grid: More Misdirection from the Houston Chronicle”

  1. Peters  

    It is quite revealing that the editor of a business section of a newspaper isn’t arguing for free markets without subsidies. Is he really a free-market supporter? He is masterful at ignoring reality of first-in-line preferences enjoyed by renewable power suppliers. He can thank natural gas for running his A/C during summer afternoons and evenings when wind dies and the sun goes down.
    As he has publicly stated, climate change is about transforming our economy.


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