Monday, February 22, 2021

Texas Warmed Up

 Warm Well Wishers,

  Jenny and I are fine. I guess the news cycle ended Thursday, because Texas warmed up Friday, and we hit the road to Yoakum that afternoon when the roads were safe from being driven on for several hours. Our duplex in Austin did not have water when we left, or when we returned after a big Saturday workday in Yoakum, but we took showers in Yoakum. That modest town was almost unscathed, though it had not gotten the initial ice storm 2/10 - 2/11/21. One outside pipe burst, but was heard to burst Friday by the electrical work crew. That was quickly dealt with, capped off by the plumber they called, who had done a lot of work on the house last year. 

  Our sons Steve and Jim came down from Dallas and Ft. Worth late Friday night, and we did a lot of tree work and cleaning up of the grounds..
Jim cut down lots of big limbs and we dut them up into firewood and brush piles laid out neatly by the street.

  The avocado trees were hit really hard. I've never had somebody tell me their avocado tree survived 8 degrees F. We unwrapped the plastic tents we had created around them and put that neatly away in the shop.
We will see over the next month if any of them shows signs of life sprouting out from below.

  The Mexican avocado seedlings I have been growing for a little over a year got covered in ice by the initial ice storm, and stayed in it for a few days, but 

we put them in the garage before the temperatures dropped down below the mid 20s, and they are doing pretty well. 6 to 8 of them are looking like we could just put them in the ground, though I did just pot them up into big pots a few weeks ago. I have ordered at least one replacement avocado tree, and will likely order another variety, and get as many other replacement varieties as I can from Texas growers.
The roster might shift a bit. We'll see over the next month or so.

  The Texas power grid was seconds to minutes from collapse, which is estimated would have taken at least 8 days to bring back online. That sure would have been worse. A very few professionals had to act quickly and decisively. They did. They will never be thanked, I suspect.

  Clarity came to Texans last week. It was clear that things were much worse with power, water and gas infrastructure than people realized, and everybody was affected. It all needs major fixing which will take a long time and be expensive. It may be politically unifying, for awhile...
​  ​Hardship like what Texas is going through right now can bring clarity. And in the teeth of this winter storm, the entire energy industry, with its high-powered lobbyists and its billions in taxpayer subsidies, is beginning to look like every other elite institution in America: a corrupt and parasitic enterprise whose failures come at the expense of ordinary Americans—in this case, people who are now trying to stay alive in their own homes.

Cold Truth: The Texas Freeze is a Catastrophe of the Free Market
By James K. Galbrait​h​
​  ​Under New Deal-style regulations, electric utilities got a rate-of-return on their investment, governed by a utility commission that set and stabilized prices. It was (in principle) enough to cover construction and maintenance and a fair profit, not so much as to amount to monopoly profits; utilities were a stable but dull business, municipal socialism. Economists complained: there was an incentive, they said, for such utilities to over-invest. The bigger their operations, the higher their total costs, the more they could extract from the rate-setters.
​  ​What to do? Economists proposed a free market: let generating companies compete to deliver power to the consumer through the common electrical grid...
​...​Electricity isn’t like that. Supply has to exactly equal demand every single minute of every single day. If it doesn’t, the entire system can fail.
This system, therefore, had three vulnerabilities. 
First, it created an incentive for cut-throat competition, to provide power in the cheapest possible way, which meant with machinery, wells, meters, pipes, and also windmills that were not insulated against extreme cold – a rarity but not unknown, even in Texas. 
Second, it left prices free to fluctuate. 
Third, it assured that when prices rose the most, that would be at exactly those moments when the demand for power was the greatest.
In 2002, under Governor Rick Perry, Texas deregulated its electricity system.​..
 Enter the deep freeze of 2021. 
Demand went up. Supply went down. Natural gas froze up at the wells, in the pipes, and at the generating plants. Unweatherized windmills also went off-line, a small part of the story. Since Texas is disconnected from the rest of the country, no reserves could be imported, and given the cold everywhere, there would have been none available anyway. 
​ ​There came a point, on Sunday, February 14 or the next day, when demand so outstripped supply that the entire Texas grid came within minutes of a collapse that, we are told, would have taken months to repair.
​  As this happened, the price mechanism failed completely. Wholesale prices rose a hundred-fold – but retail prices, under contract, did not, except for the unlucky customers of Griddy, who got socked with bills for thousands of dollars each day.​..
  When the lights go off and the heat goes down, water freezes and that was the next phase of the calamity. For when water freezes, pipes burst, and when pipes burst the water supply cannot keep up with the demand.​...
  Rick Perry (no longer Governor)has reassured us that as Texans we’re prepared to sacrifice ourselves to avoid the curse of socialism. But it’s too late now. In the aftermath of this debacle, we will return to New Deal-style municipal socialism, or this disaster of power, water, and gas will happen again. 

Feeling Neighborly


  1. I think the electric grids worked well while we had plenty hydrocarbons. Is a reliable supply of electricity a basic human right, and how much are we willing to pay for it?
    How did people deal with extreme weather before electricity? Right now, businesses that need reliable electricity are getting their own backup systems for times when electric companies can't deliver. In other words, reliable electricity for those who can pay, intermittency for those who can't.

    1. I hope Texas can act along the lines Jamie Galbreath laid out.
      We all need to consider our situations and basic needs going forward.
      We did fairly well. Having a gas stove matters.