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Deceit about Texas Blackouts threatens Prosperity and Security

by a siegel Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 11:29:37 AM EST

The recent U.S. snowstorm provide a clear case of outright falsehoods and serial deceit in the service of securing a more polluting and less secure future.

In the face of the winter storm that hit the nation, Texans suffered a series of rolling blackouts as some 50 fossil-fueled power plants (coal and natural gas) shut down due to frozen pipes and other problems. (See: Blacked Out Texas: Seeking understanding or Falsely laying blame?)  In the face of readily available information, including from Texas' own grid-managers (ERCOT), there is a bevy of fossil-foolish commentators falsely asserting that 'greening' efforts are to blame for freezing Texans.  For example,

  • The Drudge Report has suggested that  the Texas blackouts were "a direct consequence of the Obama administration's agenda to lay siege to the coal industry, launch a takeover of infrastructure under the contrived global warming scam, and help usher in the post-industrial collapse of America."

  • Rush Limbaugh has put the blame on `federal red tape'.  "It's not just in Texas, that's everywhere. And, folks, let me tell you something: If Obama gets his way, rolling blackouts will be the new norm. What do you think `green energy' is?"

These political motivated and, well, simply false attacks threaten American prosperity and security.

In one of those outrageous attacks on American exceptionalism, The Report Card for America's Infrastructure, prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives the US Electric Grid a rating of D. Its summary says the following:

The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity demand and investment in new power plants has not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of demand, resulting in an increased number of "bottlenecks," which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.

When it comes  of the threat to American national security, in 2008 (hint: under President George W. Bush), the Defense Science Board issued a report on energy (pdf) which identified two critical issues: reliance on liquid fuel (e.g, oil) and
Military installations are almost entirely reliant on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical defense and Homeland security missions at risk of extended outage.

Often derided as environmentally driven "greening" of the military, military measures for improved fuel efficiency and to improve base electrical systems (smartgrids, energy efficiency, renewable energy produced on base, energy storage, (improved) data and control systems for power management, islanding of bases to keep them operating if the civilian grid is disrupted) are fundamentally about improving military capability (think longer range ships due to more efficient engines) and secondarily about (often significant) financial savings ... and, well, they offer the tertiary benefit of reducing the military's carbon footprint.

The Department of Defense views (and did even during the Bush Administration) the antiquated electrical system as a threat to national security -- which extends well beyond the risk to military bases.

When it comes to economic impact, the best (rough) estimate of annual cost to the U.S. economy due to power outages: $100 billion or nearly 1 percent of the economy (pdf: page 4).  For a fraction of that cost, investment in modernization of the grid (smartgrid and otherwise) would nearly eliminate that cost and provide other benefits (such as more efficient use of energy) that would boost the economy.

In other words, improving the U.S. electrical grid would improve national security, improve the economy, and improve our environmental situation.

Valuable reading:  Gail E. Tverberg, The U. S. electric grid: will it be our undoing?, The Oil Drum

The basic problem is an excessive trust in the market to provide infrastructure, both in the US and the EU, which has distorted all investment via far too short time horizons. The dash for gas, underinvestment in the grid, it is all a symptom of the same malaise, which is a dire unwillingness to think more than a year or three into the future. It is very easily predictable that the utilities which are currently raising the percentage of gas in their baseload into the heavens are going to end up with pitchforks pointed their way the first time gas prices spike.. but that is the problem of the next CEO, not the current one, so gas is what gets built.
by Thomas on Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 12:51:40 PM EST
Trying to inject facts into the Fright Wing Gasbag Machine is like trying to inject a reactant into a container of helium: no effect whatsoever.
by rifek on Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 02:03:01 PM EST
is to cede the space of public conversation to that deceit.

Perhaps this is simply screaming (spitting?) into the wind or, perhaps, the accumulation of truthful pushbacks can undermine the unending deceit machine.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 03:48:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And of course this is exacerbated by the rampant "Texas Exceptionalism" we have had. Among other things, Texas has very few ties into the national power grid. The US power grid is, essentially, three regions: Eastern USA and Canada, Western USA and Canada and Texas.

Note the "proposed links".

The power problems in Texas are a direct result of their fossil fuel legacy. And it was Houston based efforts that torpedoed plans for new coal fired plants in Texas. They were afraid they would be stuck with higher rates once carbon taxes were implemented. Texas has yet to build adequate transmission lines to tie in the wind farms T. Boone Pickens and others wanted to build in the panhandle. Bet they wish they had that power on-line just now. I guess wind is supposed to build its own transmission facilities. The US approach to a "national grid" is so fucked it is unbelievable and Texas has done much of the fucking.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 04:09:37 PM EST
To add injury to insult, I lost internet connectivity last week for about an hour Suddenlink, successor to Cox Cable), and when I got through to the regional service center in Tyler, Texas this was attributed to rolling blackouts. My local Suddenlink office manager had assured me that Suddenlink had back-up power available and I pointed out to Tyler, Tx. that the fiber optic link was surely single-mode and required in the order of a milliwatt of power! I'll laugh my ass off if they have to black out part of the Super Bowl because of power shortages.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Feb 6th, 2011 at 04:22:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Boone wants to build wind to lock in demand for gas - texas has shitty storage options. Their nuclear plans are somewhat lacking in ambition tough, so this could be a case of BANANA (Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody) thinking screwing the pooch, again.
by Thomas on Mon Feb 7th, 2011 at 06:13:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Texas has lots of desert to plant BANANAs.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 7th, 2011 at 07:03:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, that is not how I've read the deceptive nature of Pickens' Plan.

I will grant him that he is seriously concerned about oil and oil prices impact on U.S. national and economic security.

I believe that he is more interested in locking in natural gas in the transport system -- where he has significant ownership share in the NGV refueling technologies.  Massive increase in NGV = increased profitability for his natural gas holdings + hugely increased business/profitability for his NGV refueling financial interests.

Also, re wind, what he really wants is the transmission corridor that will open up eased path for his moving water from his acquifer holdings so that he can make huge profits off another depletable resource holding.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Mon Feb 7th, 2011 at 10:22:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Add to that that he has emphasized NGVs as a less polluting path to a renewable future, which it could be. It might not be the optimal path, but it sure beats coal. The biggest concerns are just how long the gas will last and how much damage "fracking" will do. All in all, self-serving? Yes. More sane than current policy? Yes. Certainly better than the mad ethanol policy.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 7th, 2011 at 01:04:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lots of material to provide, but you could start with this: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2008/08/26/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-t-boone-pickens/

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Feb 12th, 2011 at 07:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...about spending taxpayer dollars for sustainable energy.

2010-11-01 19:05:10

The Air Force Academy, which has pledged to obtain all its energy from renewable sources by 2015, will soon
be home to one of the largest solar arrays in Colorado. Top military brass, Mayor Lionel Rivera and others broke ground Monday on a 6-megawatt solar array system, which will span 30 acres along southbound Interstate 25. Plans call for more than 19,000 solar panels designed to follow the sun to be mounted on the ground by April. The high-efficiency panels will save the academy more than $500,000 a year and provide it with up to 15 percent of its energy needs. "Since 1950, the Air Force Academy has produced some of our nation's finest leaders, and today, it also becomes the site of a leading renewable energy technology," Rivera said during the ceremonial groundbreaking near the south entrance of the academy. The $18.3 million project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be designed, built, operated and maintained by California-based SunPower Corp.

by asdf on Sun Feb 13th, 2011 at 01:15:41 PM EST

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