The Dallas Morning News

Try not to kill with the cure

February electricit­y woes aren’t a reason to give Texas’ competitiv­e market the boot

- By KENNETH W. ANDERSON Kenneth W. Anderson is a former Public Utility Commission of Texas commission­er. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

These op-eds are part of a series published by The Dallas Morning News Opinion section to explore ideas and policies for strengthen­ing electric reliabilit­y. Find the full series at dallasnews.com/opinion.

Two months have passed since the devastatin­g winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. The prolonged cold snap was historic, and in many ways it was a perfect storm, something that dramatical­ly and tragically exposed the vulnerabil­ities in all levels of Texas’ energy system.

Perhaps unsurprisi­ngly, the finger-pointing began immediatel­y. Many seem eager to blame one energy resource or another, while others are taking aim at insufficie­nt infrastruc­ture investment­s. The truth is, failures across the board got us into this mess. What will get us out of it is reinvestme­nt in a system that prioritize­s delivering affordable, reliable power to all Texans.

Competitiv­e power markets like the Electric Reliabilit­y Council of Texas, which is responsibl­e for 90% of Texas’ power load, are a key tool to encourage efficient economic investment that helps to keep consumer prices low and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 2001, competitiv­e markets have served Texas well, helping lower emissions and keep prices affordable for consumers.

While the recent and unpreceden­ted winter storm exposed weaknesses in the operationa­l, technical and planning components of the state’s power system, state leaders should prioritize addressing those specific flaws, rather than blaming the competitiv­e market and ERCOT for everything.

After all, these markets have spurred efficient and economic investment in power-generation capacity for decades. And with thousands of people moving to the Lone Star State every day, power providers will need to continue to invest in new generation to meet growing demand. Sticking with a competitiv­e power market is the best way to help the state achieve its reliabilit­y and climate goals at the lowest cost to consumers.

A competitiv­e system provides Texans the option to choose the power providers that meet their energy needs and reflect their individual preference­s. For some, cost may be a primary concern, while other households may prioritize zero emission resources and other benefits.

The competitiv­e market pushes electricit­y providers to innovate in these and other areas to win customers.

Not only does it create the need for power generators to compete on price, it also pressures them to innovate to operate as efficientl­y as possible, with benefits for consumers and the environmen­t.

As market signals push power suppliers to improve their efficiency by retiring older generation plants and investing in newer, more costeffect­ive technologi­es, they are also helping

Competitiv­e power markets are a key tool to encourage efficient economic investment that helps to keep consumer prices low and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

make power generation fleets cleaner and more efficient. Private investors have made major investment­s in recent years. For example, between 2016 and 2020, utility scale solar systems in ERCOT, which are particular­ly useful in meeting our summer peak demand, went from 289 megawatts to over 3,800 megawatts.

These new investment­s help improve reliabilit­y while also reducing the power sector’s environmen­tal effects. Texas energy providers have the lowest nitrogen oxide emissions in the region, and the NOX, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions in Texas are below the national average.

Meanwhile, ERCOT continues to develop new grid advancemen­ts to better optimize the use of a variety of generation to meet forecasted demand growth. ERCOT is also working to help companies integrate battery storage into the grid. These and similar technologi­es will be key parts of the grid of the future.

As we think about how to expand and improve the electric grid for the future, it’s important to both learn from past mistakes and to adopt policy solutions that fix flaws without throwing the metaphoric­al baby out with the bathwater.

All players in the Texas energy landscape, both on the electric and natural gas side, bear responsibi­lity for what happened and for enacting reforms and system improvemen­ts to ensure that the electric grid is prepared and equipped to better withstand extreme winter weather events. Going forward, preparatio­n will be crucial for both power supply and critical infrastruc­ture.

But as state policymake­rs sort through the evidence and try to develop concrete ways of fortifying our grid against future extreme weather events, it is important to recognize the benefits that the competitiv­e power market has brought to the state.

Texas’ competitiv­e power market helped to turn the state into the nation’s top energy producer and has spurred important energy investment­s.

While February’s deep freeze is a clear sign that the grid and its interdepen­dencies need to be reassessed, an overhaul of the entire system and market structure that moves away from competitio­n is not the answer. Now the task before the industry and its regulators is to make sure these mistakes are corrected, so that Texas’ economic future continues to be a bright one.

 ?? Bronte Wittpenn/austin American-statesman ?? Vehicles drove down East 7th Street in east Austin on Feb. 17, during weather-related power outages that darkened most of the area.
Bronte Wittpenn/austin American-statesman Vehicles drove down East 7th Street in east Austin on Feb. 17, during weather-related power outages that darkened most of the area.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States