Problems with Electricity
This week we had a listener ask us to discuss the problems with electricity in the state of Texas, so, we looked it up! You may remember we did an episode on the “Strain on the Grid” (Ep: 038 – Listen here), but today we are going to go a little deeper! There seems to be a serious issue with their infrastructure and their grid to support major weather conditions. We discuss how ERCOT (Energy Reliability Commission of Texas) had recently published an announcement asking for people to voluntarily conserve electricity. And they said it might be because they’re running out of electricity. Find out what they were asking people to do, and did they ask Commercial business to do this?
Episode 44 -Transcript
CLARICE: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. It is Monday. It feels like Monday.
MARISA: You got a case of the Mondays?
CLARICE: Hard Mondays, yeah. This is, I think, why we record on Fridays. I’m usually really bouncy and ready to go.
MARISA: Yeah. That’s a good point. I’m also feeling a little less than chippy today. Oh, by the way, this is Environmentally Speaking. I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney in Rhode Island.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m coming in with questions and topics of things we want to talk about and I’m also forgetting what we’re doing, so thank you for that.
MARISA: As I was just telling you before we started recording, I’m having some back muscle spasms which is a first for me, so if you see any grimacing or noises of pain it’s not necessarily the topic. I mean, it could be the topic, but it could also just be my back. I think this is – I’ll be 45 in August in a month. I think this is how it starts.
CLARICE: Is it?
MARISA: This is the beginning of the end.
CLARICE: Oh, no. Don’t say that.
CLARICE: I’m already very stressed.
MARISA: And listeners might have to hear me every episode go through the list of complaints that I have with my medical health because that’s what you do when you get older.
CLARICE: That’s what I’m told.
MARISA: Yeah. So I’m starting it out. I’m starting it out. Got the back spasms happening.
CLARICE: You know what, this is a good warmup for the listeners. August is coming. It’s coming soon. Yeah.
MARISA: There it is. There it is. There it is. So we have a listener request today.
CLARICE: Yes. Yeah. A listener and friend of mine Sarah – hi, Sarah – she lives out in Texas and she has recommended another topic that’s going to make us grimace and just are general happy joyful topics. She asked that we talk about the strain on the grid out in Texas and all of the problems with electricity that folks are experiencing and that sort of drama that’s kicking up.
MARISA: Now, were you able to communicate with this woman about whether she’s interested in learning more about the topic? The reason I ask is that we did a previous episode on generally the strain on the grid. Or is she just kind of fired up about electricity?
[0:03:00] CLARICE: Yeah. This is a rage topic. She came in real angry about the situation and just there was some general upset about how you can clearly see the strain on the grid is directed to or is connected to lack of green energy, issues around that. We’re running out of our resources. Like a good cohost I recommended our previous strain on the grid episode.
MARISA: Excellent. But she needed more.
CLARICE: She needs more. She’s still mad.
MARISA: Well, Texas is a different state obviously and I wasn’t super familiar with what was going on right now, but I do recall the blackout that occurred I think in February –
MARISA: — of 2021. It was bad.
CLARICE: That was really terrible.
MARISA: People died. There wasn’t heat, so it’s the opposite of what they’re experiencing now with the heatwave, but there has been a serious issue with their infrastructure and their grid to support major weather conditions.
CLARICE: Yeah. So I did read up on it a little bit more and got some more detail. In Texas they have the ERCOT, the Energy Reliability Commission of Texas.
MARISA: The ERCOT. Not to be confused with Epcot which is more fun.
CLARICE: Way more fun. Or ergot which was what got everybody in Salem to believe there were witches. It was a whole thing. But ERCOT, they had recently published an announcement asking for people to voluntarily conserve electricity. And they said it might be because they’re running out of electricity.
MARISA: Wait a minute.
MARISA: Slow your roll.
MARISA: So you’re telling me that you’ve got a dedicated entity with expertise and jurisdiction over the grid in Texas and their best solution was a voluntary opt out?
CLARICE: I’m not sure if this – well, I’m going to say it was not their best solution, but from what I understand it looked like this might have been their first step. If we can ask nicely, maybe we don’t have to go into rolling blackouts.
MARISA: Because that works really well, volunteerism. People love that. I mean, jury duty, people are just lining up –
CLARICE: Super excited.
MARISA: — to get in there for that, so.
CLARICE: So I think what’s really important to know is this request to – and specifically this request was to cut back on using major appliances in the afternoon hours specifically between 2:00 and 8:00. Those are peak hours.
[0:06:02] MARISA: Right.
CLARICE: So if you can maybe not run a load of laundry, maybe not run the dishwasher. They were asking things like that. And another request was if you could possibly turn your AC temperature up just a little bit just to cut back on AC use and they made this request during a heatwave in Texas.
MARISA: Now, these are just residential uses, right? You’re not even talking about commercial?
CLARICE: These are just residential uses.
MARISA: Okay. So, Tim, turn up your AC and don’t do your laundry. Tim and Susan –
CLARICE: My lovely Rhode Island friends.
MARISA: — it’s going to fix it.
CLARICE: When I say a heatwave in Texas, look, we all know Rhode Island can get warm in the summer. Everywhere gets warm in the summer. I’m not going to fight you on that, but I’m talking 112. So, Tim and Susan, don’t wash your dishes. Don’t wash your clothes. You know what, possibly skip a shower. That’s going to use up a lot of electricity and also it’s 112. Okay.
MARISA: 112 for days and days, right? Days, yeah. It’s considered a heatwave. Okay. How did the volunteer opportunity pan out?
CLARICE: Surprisingly there have been no mandatory scheduled blackouts yet.
MARISA: Now, I heard that being able to avoid blackouts had less to do with volunteerism and more to do with something called reserve capacity.
CLARICE: Yes. I’ve seen mixed articles. Talk to us a little bit about reserve capacity.
CLARICE: What does that look like?
MARISA: So very clever, Texas. Most states have something called a reserve supply of electricity, meaning if the grid is so strained that it cannot support the demand the utility can tap into its reserve supply. And the volunteer situation with Texas had to do with the reserve supply. It was not a, if you don’t turn off your air conditioner you will experience a blackout. So they’ve made this volunteer program and then they’ve declared it to be a victory because there were no blackouts —
CLARICE: Oh, no.
MARISA: — of the reserve supply.
CLARICE: Also not true. There still were blackouts.
CLARICE: They were not scheduled blackouts. But, yeah, some parts of Texas still had blackouts occur. And keep in mind a scheduled blackout obviously is what – the qualifier I’m using here. It’s when ERCOT – I almost said Epcot.
[0:08:57] MARISA: Epcot.
CLARICE: You know, they’ll give you notice. They’ll tell you from this time to this time on these dates you will not have power. Please plan accordingly. They’ll prepare you in some way for this upcoming loss of power.
MARISA: How do you plan accordingly? Do you go to the mall? I mean, are malls even a thing anymore?
CLARICE: I heard they are out in the Midwest.
MARISA: They are.
CLARICE: I heard malls are still strong out there.
MARISA: Okay. So I guess you go to the mall.
CLARICE: I guess maybe go out to eat. Maybe prep some meals that don’t involve the fridge. I don’t know.
MARISA: Ice cream.
CLARICE: You have ice cream.
MARISA: Eat it all. But wait a minute. So we’re talking about residential cutbacks.
MARISA: What’s the state doing with respect to commercial? I wasn’t able to find anything.
CLARICE: I couldn’t find anything. I looked at several different articles. The articles I read, everything was silent on commercial. I couldn’t find any articles specifically discussing anything with commercial.
MARISA: Oh, God. We’re doomed.
CLARICE: So, yeah.
MARISA: Okay. Another factoid that I was reading about that I find fascinating I think mostly because I don’t understand it like a lot of things in life I don’t really understand. Cryptocurrency is contributing a fair portion of energy consumption because you think about what drives crypto. It’s all internet based. And so all the electricity that you need to power trades and margin calls and reviewing stocks, I don’t know, that is a drain on the grid that wasn’t necessarily contemplated when that industry became so popular.
CLARICE: That makes a lot of sense. I would have never thought of that.
MARISA: So these kind crypto miners, as they’re called, m-i-n-e-r-s, they participated in the volunteer program to a great extent, so that’s a commercial endeavor. And people work from home generally, I think, doing cryptocurrency stuff so as a residential use in your home. It’s also a commercial use that you’re curbing through personal activity. And first of all, I didn’t know that it used that much electricity. And secondly, miners saved the day. Why wasn’t that call put out there as a separate ask? It seemed to me that the cryptocurrency miners figured out that they could not trade during those hours, maybe, and save the grid. They’ve seemed to just figure it out.
MARISA: Like the industry regulated itself almost.
CLARICE: From the few folks that I’ve spoken to about cryptocurrency and that sort of thing – and I say few because I don’t understand it and I’m not –
MARISA: I have no idea what’s going on on any given day.
CLARICE: I accept that I don’t know it and I appreciate anybody who wants to teach me, but I’m just going to be a lost cause. But what I’ve heard is really common is some folks who are really interested in doing this mining will have a separate computer running just the crypto mining program, so they’re now using theoretically double the amount of electricity because – not of the whole house but they’ve got their computer to do one thing and then they have their separate computer that’s running this mining program. So I think I would not have connected that right away, but that makes a lot of sense and that is a huge strain on the grid. What a fascinating connection.
[0:12:33] MARISA: So long-term solutions, I mean, that’s –
CLARICE: Everybody crank that AC back up.
MARISA: — that’s what Epcot needs to figure out. A volunteer program, in my humble opinion, is not going to cut it, so how do you target or provide options, alternative solutions for the commercial side of things because as with air pollution control commercial generators and commercial users are the biggest component for the air pollution regime. Same thing goes for electricity users. You can’t just target residential. You have to come up with a comprehensive long-term solution. Renewable energy done the right way is brilliant. What is Texas doing to further those goals, anything?
CLARICE: To be honest I haven’t heard anything.
MARISA: Are they still pursuing oil and gas?
CLARICE: It looks like – so on the Epcot website –
CLARICE: — you can see there is a combined wind and solar tracker, so throughout the day you can watch to see how much wind and solar energy is contributing to that day’s energy usage. You get to watch that little graph go. In terms of promoting, continuing, and encouraging, I am not sure. I also couldn’t find any additional articles. When I did a search, the most I got was – repeatedly I saw in comments under the comment section underneath articles of some people saying we need more wind and solar and some folks saying we have wind and solar and, look, it’s not working. We need to go back to natural gas. Like it was very, very polarizing, very, it’s not enough, or we’ve tried it, it doesn’t work, let’s stop playing these games. So it was a really charged comment section. Yeah.
MARISA: No pun intended. Hey.
CLARICE: Guys, it’s Monday but we’re doing it. So as of right this very second, on ERCOT’s website there is enough power for the current demand that they’re facing as of this very moment today.
MARISA: Right now.
CLARICE: Right now.
CLARICE: But there has not been any discussion of any preventative solutions, continual planning. It very much feels like a day by day.
MARISA: Well, and I didn’t have time to look this up and I frankly just thought of it. This ERCOT entity sounds to me to be very different from what we’re used to seeing here in the northeast in terms of energy regulation. The region is governed by an entity, but then more importantly I think the states have their own – in Rhode Island the Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Facility Siting Board. In Massachusetts, very similar arrangement.
I don’t know the names of those agencies off the top of my head, but the regulation of energy, electricity, offshore wind, renewables is done at the state level with input and participation by affected municipalities with an opportunity for stakeholders to intervene. The state puts out requests for advisory opinions from other agencies that have expertise, so it’s a heavy lift, but everyone’s involved. And I just wonder if the ERCOT arrangement in Texas precludes that state from coming up with solutions and alternatives like we see here in Rhode Island.
[0:16:37] CLARICE: I’m not sure. I know Texas does have a Public Utilities Commission, but what that relationship looks like between the two entities, I don’t know.
MARISA: Is ERCOT a regulatory group, or are they representatives of the utility itself?
CLARICE: I believe the utility itself.
MARISA: Ah. Okay.
CLARICE: The closest thing I would say is it’s very akin to, say, National Grid for us.
MARISA: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s incumbent on the people of Texas to push for a better regulatory program if they’re unhappy with the way that things are going. I’m not super familiar with the renewable energy options in Texas. I know in this area Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York offshore wind is huge. I mean, they’re proposing to install and construct acres and acres, nautical miles over nautical miles of wind turbines, so, I mean, that’s done at the federal level, but the states do have input into that process.
And let me just throw in one additional speculatory factoid. With the most recent decisions coming out of our United States Supreme Court, the discretion and jurisdiction of federal agencies tasked with protecting the environment has come into question. The majority is signaling that they would like to see states do more of the lawmaking and regulation instead of having the federal government be in charge and then it trickles down to the states. Whether or not you agree with that, not the important point. What is important is that if things keep moving the way that they are states are going to be looking at a heavier workload and more regulation at a more local and state level.
CLARICE: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s big changes and even bigger changes are going to be coming. So that’s a happy topic for today.
MARISA: That’s a happy topic. But let me leave you with this: The cords associated with my headset made a pretzel, so.
CLARICE: That’s nice. This is a win.
MARISA: That’s nice.
CLARICE: I’ll take it. Yeah. All right.
MARISA: That’s all I have on this topic. I’m loving the listener requests, though, because I just feel like I’d rather talk about topics that people are interested in, so keep them coming.
[0:19:28] CLARICE: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. We’re sorry that you’re kind of living through this heatwave, these power uncertainties, but we appreciate you listening and reaching out to us for it. And if anybody else has a topic – maybe it’s not something that you want us to explain. Maybe it’s just something that’s come up or something that you’re experiencing in the environmental sphere that you want us to talk about. Sarah sent in her rage topic. It was great. Send us in your own.
MARISA: Yeah. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear someone else talk about something that you’re upset about or you’re happy about. You’re not necessarily looking for additional information. It’s just more like a, yeah, when you’re in the car.
CLARICE: Absolutely. So send those in. Reach out to us at Help@DesautelESQ.com. Hit us up on all social medias at DesautelESQ or Desautel Law. And, guys, remember, what would Gaylord do.
CLARICE: Have a good one.
MALE: Thank you for listening to this episode of Environmentally Speaking. If you’re in need of an environmental attorney, we are here to help. Call us at 401-477-0023, or visit our website at www.DesautelLaw.com. That’s www.DesautelLaw.com.
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