Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Texas Senate passes bill aiming to counter federal subsidies for wind and solar (houstonchronicle.com)
89 points by sofixa 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments

I understand that natural gas plants were just as impacted by the storm as renewables (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/natural-gas-power-st...) so it is not clear this bill is being passed in good faith

Yes, the loud politicians have always been painting this as a Green/Wind vs Fossil problem as soon as the storm hit and that the solution is Fossil.

It's frustrating because unlike other debates - the underlying truth is quite clear. Cold temperatures affected both Natural Gas & Wind bringing both power types[0].

Winterizing both can be beneficial. Wind can operating in those temperatures just fine[1]. It wouldn't be cheap, but winterizing gas lines isn't either.

It's being turned into a left vs right issue by those who choose to ignore facts and outright lie to push their own agendas. It actually saddens and frustrates me because a non-partisan issue is being turned into one.

Our country has become hyper partisan and this one doesn't need to be.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08mwXICY4JM

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottcarpenter/2021/02/16/why-w...

The right are not interested in regulation. Treating power as a utility is the government overreaching on the free market.

It was a left vs right issue before the power went out. The right are just in a weak political position because they are responsible for a disaster and want to control the narrative.

The Republicans control most of the statehouses, while the Democrats barely hold together a weak majority in Congress. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say the right has a weak political position.

Semantics. My point is that it costs political capital to be responsible for an easily avoidable disaster.

They’re not semantics, my comment is about power and who is willing to wield it.

Republicans will still vote for Republicans even when avoidable disasters happen. There are two choices, and they’re not going to give a shit that Democrats were slightly less bad on the subject.

So you’re saying it does not cost political capital to be responsible for policies that caused a disaster? Where’s the good faith in this discussion or the people who suffered the disaster?

It doesn’t truly cost, no. What was the cost to the Iraq war, or the deregulation of Wall Street in the 90s? The public has a short memory, and few choices.

I don’t have to agree with this in order to recognize it.

That Practical Engineering video (the first link) is excellent - in fact I would recommend the entire channel.

Oil and ff interests bought them some politicians laying down FUD at press-conferences and policies just how industry wants them.

> so it is not clear this bill is being passed in good faith

It's not. The problem was caused by the natural gas plants freezing. Full disclosure: I work in the utility industry and I'm very familiar with ERCOT. Here's the reality: any power bid into the market coming from an "unreliable" source such as wind and solar must be covered by power coming from a natural gas or coal powered plant. Those are ERCOT's rules. By "covered" I mean you must have allocated the reserve off of the capacity market. This bill is based on lies, misconceptions, and deceit.

Yeah, the big problem is the death of coal power. Coal power plants can stockpile enough fuel to run for a good while no matter the weather. Natural gas power plants cannot; they rely on a continuous supply of gas, and it turns out that every part of the Texas natural gas supply chain is vulnerable to cold weather and power outages. Fixing this will be slow, incredibly expensive, probably increase CO2 emissions and decrease the cost-effectiveness of gas (because they need to rely on natural gas to compress and pump the gas rather than cheaper electricity from wind power that might not be there).

A nuclear plant went offline due to the recent event. Pretending this has anything at all to do with the type of power generation, instead of properly weatherizing infrastructure is absurd.

If the grid frequency is not stable enough (i.e. demand outstrips supply) any type of power plant will trip off line when the protection circuitry kicks in. Anything else risks damage to transformers and industrial machinery downstream.

No you don't understand, the plant didn't trip.

The nuclear plant's turbines were literally on the "roof" of the reactor complex completely in the open. Nuclear regulations only require the reactor itself to be enclosed and protected.

No shit the turbines froze over. They ignored reports advising them to fully enclose the plant for years.

The turbines have superheated steam flowing into them directly from a source of practically unlimited heat. The only way for them to freeze over would be for the plant to have already shut down.


The feed water system for cooling water froze, and the plant had to be shutdown.

This is what happens when you don't plan your essential services to react to predictable extreme events.

That a nuclear plant can theoretically handle this sort of thing quite easily means nothing if you don't actually implement the systems to do so.

> No you don't understand, the plant didn't trip.

> STPNOC said in an event report filed with NRC that the unit tripped at 5:26 am

The feed water system has nothing to do with the turbines, and the plant shut down as a safety precaution.

Loss of cooling water to the condencer is bad news for any thermal power plant. It can lead to damage to the LP turbine through poor steam quality.

I was perhaps a bit too hasty in my initial statement, clearly this reactor tripped because of the cold. I'm not an expert but given a nuclear power plant produces literally gigawatts of low grade waste heat it feels like that should have been possible to work around i.e. for example by bleeding cooling water back at the intake.

> ... instead of properly weatherizing infrastructure is absurd.

But effective. If you're a politician.

No politician cares about sounding absurd if that's what his primary voters want to hear him say.

>Yeah, the big problem is the death of coal power. Coal power plants can stockpile enough fuel to run for a good while no matter the weather.

I read that multiple coal plants went offline due to weather related issues including problems with the water supply needed to operate the steam turbines and freezing of coal piles.

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063727799 has some good details including that 38% of coal generation capacity was offline during the worst of the recent freeze in Texas.

I think this all just comes back to the point made up-thread: preparing power infrastructure for bad weather is essential, and the size of the relative advantage of coal vs. other forms of generation is dominated by the improvement in availability that comes from that.

Gas from Russia is pretty much used across Europe, coming through pipelines, regardless of weather.

> Natural gas power plants cannot;

They could. Build them on a salt dome.

I am pretty sure natural gas power plants can carry liquid fuel reserves but most don't carry much.

Coal power is part of the problem in the first place.

>it is not clear this bill is being passed in good faith

You expected otherwise from Goobernor Abboot?

This is a huge distraction in the hope that people won't demand fundamental things like:

1) Fixing the electrical grid to the level that the Feds pointed out needed to be done in a report from 10 years ago the last time this happened.

This isn't just winterizing the grid, but also having enough fine grained control that you could shed enough load to do rolling blackouts.

The Texas grid doesn't have enough fine control so too many extra things are on the same circuits as "essential" services and the grid simply couldn't shed enough load without pulling the plug on things like hospitals.

It also doesn't help that residences just use fundamentally less electricity nowadays thanks to LED lighting and efficient appliances. Pulling the plug on residences just isn't a big enough lever anymore.

2) Giving ERCOT real statutory authority so that it can actual compel actions as opposed to being the toothless political sinecure it currently is.

ERCOT couldn't do jack shit when everything went to hell because it has no authority to compel anybody to do what they need to do. For example, the only way ERCOT could force some industrial plants offline that were refusing to shut down was to artificially raise the electrical prices instead of being able to give an order to summarily force shutdown.

But hey, "Regulation bad. Fox News say so."

If they worry do much about storms wouldn't nuclear be the best option? Hydro is also pretty resilient.

At least one reactor had to be shut down as well, because the cooling tower froze.

Winterizing is the answer, no matter the power source.

That still leaves the grid to worry about. Even if the power plant doesn't have issue, if grid lines fail (temperature, wind, snow, ice,...) the power will still be lost. Nulear power plants have problems with freezing temperature (frozen rivers are bad to get cooling water from) and high temps / dry weather (again, low river levels are bad to get cooling water from.

That is obviously less of a problem in case nuclear power plants are build on the coast.

It is also worth to note, that other countries, Canada, Russia, Northern Europe, et... have nowhere near the problems Texas had.

> It is also worth to note, that other countries, Canada, Russia, Northern Europe, et... have nowhere near the problems Texas had.

Well, of course. There was no problem of "it's cold". The problem was "it's colder than we expected". You don't prepare for things that don't happen.

This actually reminds me of a comment I saw on the topic of international shipping: "Slow is fine. Late is not." The goal isn't to arrive quickly, it's to arrive when you said you would get there. And analogously for the temperature.

> You don't prepare for things that don't happen.

Except that in this case, it happens, it happened 10 years ago and the Federal commission recommended winterisation [0] to prepare for such cold spells. It happened 32 years ago as well [1].

Shouldn't one of the richest states of the USA be prepared for an event that has happened at least twice in 30 years and that will happen again, one that not only causes extreme disruptions to its economy but deaths and suffering as well?

[0] https://www.ferc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-05/Reportonthe...

[1] https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/A-t...

Nah. As their lieutenant governor said in recent months about covid, there are more important things than living.


Winterizing would have cost money. The facilities are insured (I assume).

Whoever froze or asphyxiated to death were merely acceptable casualties in the Texas electricity cost/benefit equation. Texas power is the Ford Pinto of electricity.

Except Texas was warned this would happen again after it happened in 2011 and the conclusion was the same: cold weather proof your infrastructure. Naturally of course, the state did nothing to make this happen.

I believe nuclear was also problematic during the storm.. As for hydro, Texas already has 23 dams, and it still only accounts for 1% .. I don't think they could build enough to make a dent.

According to this article: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56085733 about 30GW of coal and gas was taken offline and about 16GW of renewables. Peak demand was 69GW.

So, gas and coal affected represented about 43+% of the total demand for energy. Coal piles froze and reduced capacity (shoveling wet coal frozen solid is hard). Gas pipes froze because of humidity in the pipes (removing water from gas takes energy). Both are preventable problems of course and commonly dealt with elsewhere.

Wind turbines were also affected. That too would have been preventable: weather proofed turbines exist and operate in both polar regions, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, etc. and other places where what happened in Texas can happen any day of the year and does not count as remarkable weather and arguably should have been planned for in Texas where it is rare but not that rare for it to be cold once in a while.

The reason for this push for reducing subsidies is simple: wind and solar reduce the demand for more expensive gas and when that peaks, gas plants are not profitable and may even have to shut down temporarily. Coal is already past the point of being even close to credible as a cost effective alternative. It only survives with subsidies, tax benefits, and other forms of government support. Hence recent closures of coal plants across the US even in states where they actually mine coal. It's just too expensive even in places where they have every incentive to pretend otherwise.

Wind grows by the MWs of capacity per month in Texas currently. There is a massive investment in it everywhere and that has been going on for years in Texas. Likewise grid solar is also rapidly growing there. It's basically becoming the dominant source of energy. People adding subsidized solar on their roof also put power back in the grid during the most lucrative moments in the day.

This presents the dual problem of the grid having to pay for that (to buy it back from consumers) and reducing utilization of their expensive gas and coal plants at the same time. In peaker plant form, operating gas plants becomes even less attractive. Which is why expensive batteries are preferred instead. That's another thing that is growing rapidly in Texas. Batteries are expensive but still preferable to a gas plant that you don't operate most of the time that is really expensive to start and stop.

Gas and oil producers dominate politics in Texas because they are such an important part of the local economy. They prefer to let consumers pay for expensive dirty power as much as they can so they can milk the sunk investments of gas and coal plants a bit longer and so they can sell their gas to the electricity providers. So that is two powerful lobbies with a vested interest in the status quo and a big reason for why things are the way they are. For the same reason weather proofing never happened because that would make gas plants even more costly and thus less attractive.

Local politicians act in the interest of these powerful lobbies rather than consumers (who got some outrageous bills after the storm to pay for the mistakes by their own representatives). The interest of consumers would of course be lower prices and a cleaner grid (less pollution, reduce CO2 impact). But that directly affects the profitability of gas plants and gas producers. Even without clean energy subsidies this trend will continue of course. Of course when talking subsidies, you have to consider that a lot of that already benefits fossil fuel production and consumption whether it comes in direct form, or in the form of tax benefits, environmental legislation, etc. Cutting that would accelerate the demise of coal and gas plants even further. So, instead, politicians do their best to slow the growth of renewables. In the same way interconnecting the grids to the rest in the US is controversial in Texas because that puts locally expensive producers on the spot.

I agree with most of this, but

> who got some outrageous bills after the storm to pay for the mistakes by their own representatives

This was only for people on market-rate plans, who were paying a flat $5-$10 connection fee and then market rate for electricity. They regularly would pay about $15/mo for 2-3kwh; I pay about $85/mo for that much on a fixed rate in Austin, which is a regulated monopoly (you cannot purchase a market rate plan).

The constituents of townships that allow variable and market rate plans _love_ spending 1/5 of the energy cost, and have been doing so for years. It's hard to sympathize with people who were actively told to disconnect and stop using power during the highest demand, chose to continue, and now have fat bills to show for it.

> Wind turbines were also affected. That too would have been preventable: weather proofed turbines exist and operate in both polar regions, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, etc. and other places

The biggest wind producing state is Iowa, where it regularly hits sub-zero temperatures. Sometimes for weeks. I would argue winterizing is more the 'standard' that Texas companies didn't follow to save a few bucks.

While many generation sources were negatively impacted, including natural gas around Feb 15 - natural gas drastically increased generation between February 8 and 22, increasing the overall generation as well as making up for shortfalls in other generation sources. The federal EIA has ok charting and a really good API:


  https://api.eia.gov/series/?api_key=<your API key>&series_id=EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.COL.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.WAT.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.NG.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.NUC.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.OTH.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.SUN.HL;EBA.TEX-ALL.NG.WND.HL&start=20210101&end=20210401

  (Get an API key for the second URL from https://www.eia.gov/opendata/commands.php)

This article from Mises actually goes into the numbers, demand was up 24% compared to normal and natural gas made up most of the short fall.


The author compares the day of the Texas Energy Crisis to the same day of the previous year, but I'm taking his word that this is a fair representation of an average mid-February day for the Texas power grid.

There were issues with some natural gas generators having supply issues due to the cold weather, but natural gas provided 91% more electricity (measured in MWh) compared to an average winters day, and was down only 7% from what it provides during the peak summer demand. Wind was down 72% compared to an average winters day.

Renewables do have some downsides despite all their benefits, and maybe there should be an honest discussion about how public policy should address this. Subsidies for intermittent energy supplies should probably be partly contingent on also providing grid storage.

There are wind farms currently running in Alaska[1] which is arguably colder than Texas. The cold-related downsides seem to be well known and already addressed, so it's definitely not a technical issue here.


It's a technical issue because the investment and power required to for the deicing necessary greatly reduces their efficiency.

It's an interesting question if Texas should require all turbines to have deicing capabilities which are almost never used.

>> It's a technical issue because the investment and power required to for the deicing necessary greatly reduces their efficiency.

Interesting. Can you provide sources for reading?

The natural gas plants are built to pick up the slack. The energy operators know that during the winter there will be several cold, windless weeks, so they don't count on wind power providing very much to the grid. When wind and solar are good, the gas plants can be shut down since the power from natural gas is more expensive than the renewables.

Living in Texas here (hopefully not too much longer).

Texas does everything it can to cater to the oil and gas industry. Let's not even talk about our recent ice storm debacle. There have been cries from the public for years about getting high speed rail between Houston and Dallas. Every time this comes up, the oil and gas industry steps up and kills it. They don't want high speed rail or wind and solar. They want people slurping up the gasoline/diesel to make that 4-hour trip. Sure, wind and solar exist here, but the o/g industry does its level best to keep it in check.

It's the thinking in Texas that is one of the reasons I want to move to the PNW. No place is perfect, but Texas is a special kind of stupid when it comes to progress. Between the oil and gas industry, redneck NIH attitude, and the serious desire by an alarming number of people to "secede", it's difficult to take this place seriously.

Texas has basically a 9-month, humid-as-hell summer and no winter to speak of. It doesn't rain enough here, the sun is out too much, and the people (not transplants) are the most insular I've ever experienced and I've lived in 5 different countries. The education here in the schools is among the worst I've ever seen. I frequently compare my children's learning, topics, etc., with my European family, and the difference is shocking. American kids, with exception, don't get the level of education that other children receive. Don't think for a moment that children of oil and gas employees are going to be open to wind and solar, something that would kill their parents' lifeblood. I've actually heard this talked about. Oil and gas kids are told there is no such thing as climate change, no use in being "green", etc.

Texas may have some good aspects, but I've not seen many. Let's not even get started on the property taxes here compared to other states.

It'd be interesting to see Texas tax deployments of wind and solar within the state but incentivize manufacturing of wind and solar. If oil and gas exports from Texas are going to decline in coming years, having wind and solar exports increase would be a nice logical offset. And even if oil/gas exports don't decline it does seem like manufacturing of wind/solar products will only increase so it would be seemingly low risk.

If Texas doesn't want to deploy wind and solar I don't think anyone outside of the state is going to change their mind. But they should realize that if the feds are going to dump huge amounts of money via rebates or tax credits into wind and solar that there's a huge market to design and manufacture those products within the USA. Texas likely has the ability to make itself into a leader in wind and solar engineering and manufacturing (if they aren't already).

Lots of tech companies seem to already be flocking to Texas (much to the chagrin of Texans) so maybe my idea above would be met with harsh criticism from those who live in Texas (I do not).

The crazy thing is texas has among the best wind conditions in the country, and is also the center of structural steel.

It’s not about logic, it’s about entrenched interests and deeply engrained belief systems of those in power.

This is not crazy. The system is doing exactly as one would expect based on how it’s structured.

Sometimes it seems like TX and FL are in a bizarre secret competition...

The nonpartisan approach would be a carbon tax along with paying higher prices for energy that provides guarantees that it won’t be interrupted during a cold spell.

Then the research should center on how high the carbon tax should be and how much higher prices Texas is willing to pay for frost hardened energy.

Unfortunately both sides are playing partisan politics and try to tilt the playing field.

"Paying higher prices for energy that provides guarantees that it won’t be interrupted during a cold spell" is effectively a subsidy for fossil fuel power plants and coal in particular - and a real subsidy too that actually gives it a financial advantage over renewable power, not the inflated fake "subsidies" that articles like this quote which usually turn out to be things that are available equally to all power sources or even all businesses.

There's some controversy over capacity payments to power suppliers (effectively, payments for being able to offer a guaranteed supply of electricity on demand) here in the UK for exactly this reason. They're seen as unnecessary subsidies to coal and other unclean fuel sources. The US media coverage blaming this outage on Texas not having capacity payments because it's supposedly run by right-wingers with a delusional belief in the free market above all else didn't mention this, but you can bet that if they introduced such a thing the press would be all over the Texas Republicans subsidising dirty fossil fuels angle.

If coal has that effect, then it is a plus for coal. But there are other sources of power that do have that effect: any form of stored energy, nuclear, geothermal, etc... Also note that you can pair energy storage with renewables. It may even spur technological development in these areas.

Also the carbon tax taxes unclean energy. Dirty coal would have to pay that tax.

I was under the impression that the issues with their grid were not due to renewable energy sources.

I am under the impression that this is an attempt by certain groups to control the narrative, and also to give petroleum producers (the home team down in Texas) a leg up.

That is correct, but the issue that the Texas Senate is trying to solve is 'How to best protect the profits of their fossil fuel sponsors.'

In that sense, this is exactly the solution they need.

Wind being offline, while not majority, was a non-trivial amount, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08mwXICY4JM.

If the wind infrastructure can be weatherized to effectively prevent such a scenario from happening (which it's my understanding is the case), then the claim that wind is to blame is still an untrue allegation. The blame would lie with not weatherizing the equipment, not with wind.

It can't with current technology. Wind can handle cold but not storms. Wind is the hardest power source to protect against the elements.

Wind turbines usually brake after 25m/s wind speeds for safety reasons. They stopped working in Texas cause they were frozen, not because it was too windy.

Clearly this is a Texas only problem, given it works in much colder countries and States. Texas did not want to pay to winterize to maximize profits. Risk reward, a few hundred dead people once in a while vs. profits every year.

This is not even close to fair. Everyone is forgetting how exceptional the storm really was. If Miami were hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake would you all be whining about Miami’s building codes?

Considering that this exact thing also happened ten years ago. How exceptional is this kind of storm?


i was here for both, what happened then wasn't anywhere near as severe or prolonged.

This makes me wonder. Basic macroeconomics tells us that savings must be invested. If you do not invest your savings, unemployment will go up because people are cutting spending and since they are not investing they are also not creating new jobs.

Interest rates being lower than inflation are a signal that pressures people to stop saving because the savings = investments equation has been broken by a huge margin.

The obvious question is, do these people hate money? Why aren't they just investing? One answer for that could be that all investments they want to make are illegal. Low carbon energy is an obvious investment. If you ban that and then ban the next thing, then what are all those pension funds (and other retirement related savings) supposed to invest their money into?

> Basic macroeconomics tells us that savings must be invested.

Because this wisdom is wrong. Investment is buying non-liquid capital, and to some extent, an irreversible decision; while saving is pretty much keeping liquid capital (like money) on hand.

So if you invest (make an irreversible decision), you are taking a risk that the decision is wrong. Therefore, other players on the market, who save and not invest, can learn from and react to your decision. In other words, keeping options open by saving (and not investing) gives you an upper hand over people who do invest.

Of course, if everybody saves and nobody invests, everybody loses as well. It's a prisoner's dilemma of sorts.

In practice this often manifests by large corporations keeping large amount of savings on hand, so they could "invest" in smaller companies that are deemed to be winners. It's generally a better strategy than to invest themselves everything back into some cutting edge research and risk these investments won't pan out.

The basic macroeconomic wisdom ignores this dynamic (and the fact that fundamental difference between investment and saving is that one is irreversible and the other is reversible), and so it concludes that all money that is not consumed (savings) must always be invested.

The loanable funds theory is wrong. Banks don't loan savings. So, investment doesn't come from savings.

The Bank of England explaining it:


Notably one of the other banks owned by the British government exists specifically to use savings by individuals as a source of capital for the government itself.


[As a result NS&I cannot "fail" in the sense a commercial bank could, your deposits are guaranteed by the continued existence of the United Kingdom, and since it has its own currency this means if the bank fails, the country fails, the currency fails and the money was actually now worthless anyway.]

What many here may not realize is that amongst certain groups in the US, people are not exposed to complete information. And in cases where they are, it tends to create cognitive dissonance with the narratives they have heard repeated frequently on a few "news" sources and by their friends.

Immediately after the severe cold period passed, I heard from friends and family in Texas that they survived DESPITE the failures of the wind farms which "Biden forced" upon them. Now keep in mind, Biden had only been president for about one month. When I politely provided more details, such as the ratio of natural gas powerplants vs wind, and the failure rate of both, the common reply was, "Well let's not fuss over that now."

This has been a long process of disinformation and brainwashing that has occurred, to the point where there is frankly no rational thought involved in politics there. Whoever you or "your people" think are bad, you want exactly the opposite of what they want. It is mindless and pointless and destructive.

It may take another 20 years, but unless Texas shifts its policies and behavior, it will become another "once was" stories. Anyway with any awareness of reality will move away, leaving the rest to architect their own demise.

An anti-carbon tax? Or, anti-(carbon tax).

A wall of ads is all I see. Thanks big media.

Americans sure like their grifting politicians, I see

This issue involves the Texas government pitched against US legislation. I'm sure there's a more accurate group to refer to than "Americans," which doesn't make sense to me in this context.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact