Amidst Blackouts, Does Texas Need to Build More Power Plants?

Because of the recent rolling electricity blackouts in El Paso and power plant outages in other parts of Texas, there has been a lot of talk about the need to build more power plants in Texas to saddle the extra demand on the grid.

In order to stop Texas from experiencing rolling blackouts, ERCOT urged consumers to conserve energy because reserve margins were dangerously low. 

But this begs the question: do we need to build more power plants to beef up the grid’s available electricity? And in that case, with coal plants being phased out, will this need lead to more pushes for net-zero plants like Net Power is building?

Let’s explore this topic a little more. 

What Causes a Blackout?

Simply put, a blackout is the result of a grid system failure or, to put it even simpler:  “In nearly every major blackout, the situation is the same. One piece of the system fails, and then the pieces near it cannot handle the increased load caused by the failure, so they fail.”

Blackouts result from severe weather as well, meaning that a lightning strike or blizzard can cause a transmission line to fail and the rest of the system fails in succession because of an overload.

Rolling blackouts are a less severe, more common form of blackouts, where grid operators systematically shut down certain areas to avoid an overloaded grid.

With all that being said, do we need more power plants as an added defense mechanism for the Texas grid?

So…Should Texas Build More Power Plants?

Here’s the thing: More power plants mean higher prices for consumers. But if we do not have the reserves available for rising electricity demands, then blackouts will become the norm. Neither the electric companies nor the consumers would welcome that change.

As Bloomberg states, (via Finance & Commerce) “The U.S. has become so awash in cheap natural gas and renewable power resources in recent years that electricity prices have, in some places, plunged below zero.” This means that the burden for electricity generation has fallen largely on the shoulders of wind farms in Texas, and not the coal factories, which are being phased out

It seems like at the very least, more natural gas plants need to be built while Texas continues its positive push into more sustainable energy and increased production of wind farms. Texas isn’t quite there yet for wind to provide the needed buffer while electricity demand is so high.

Many are seeing this as a wake up call for Texas to start the process on more power plants. We will see if this drives even more wind farms or if natural gas plant projects will emerge instead.

The Benefits of More Wind Farms

Wind has been an incredibly robust source of renewable energy for electricity generation in Texas. And as wind farm development is at a record high in the Nation, there is a lot to be optimistic about in the Texas energy sector and for advancements in renewable energy in general.

According to data laid out by the American Wind Energy Association, there are over 200 wind farm projects that are in the process of being built or are close to being added to the ever-growing collection of wind farms out there. Additionally, “The U.S. wind industry installed 736 MW of new wind power capacity in the second quarter of 2019. The industry has commissioned 1,577 MW in the first half of the year, a 53% increase over the first half of 2018.” 

Wind Leads to Cheaper Electricity

Texas is ahead of the pack with over 25% of all wind power capacity in the country.  But really, the country is strongly developing as well, putting forth a lot of resources and capital into greener, cleaner energy.  

A big incentive for this push for wind farm production is that the Government awards production tax credits (PTCs) for their development. As the EIA states though, those credits are being phased out this year, so that’s a large reason for an uptick in recent wind farm development.

And yes, wind generation lowers the prices of electricity for consumers. The government subsidies really do result in cheap electricity rates for consumers. In addition, some electricity plans can even provide free electricity at night as a result of this readily available, renewable source. 

The Future of Wind Production and Technology

As the American Wind Energy Association states, the 2Q of 2019 is looking to be a groundbreaking year for wind development. With the “total U.S. wind capacity to 97,960 MW, with more than 57,000 wind turbines operating in 41 states and two U.S. territories,” the future looks bright for renewable energy efforts in the country. 

Even after considering the tax credit phaseout, there are still many green initiatives driving the production as we look to keep our environment clean by combating climate change.

And not to mention recent advancements in turbine technology, which are driving up the efficiency of the windmills. According to Scientific American, turbines are about a MW more powerful than the majority of those in operation today, so a lot of newer turbines are producing more energy. This also means that larger, more efficient towers are being built to free up space.

All of this is an exciting glimpse into the future of wind-generated energy!

Wind-Generated Electricity Continues to Win Out Over Coal

There has been a consistent upward trend for wind-generated electricity in Texas. As the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has recently reported, the industry is continuing to invest in renewable energy for the long haul.

ERCOT states that wind-generated electricity in Texas has beaten coal by 1% so far this year. That means that wind was responsible for 22% of all of the electricity generated in the state. Coal represented 21%.

Of course though, natural gas is still ahead of the pack at 38%. And it accounted for 44% last year, so it’s safe to assume that it will be the leader for years to come while renewable sources like solar and wind continue to rise.

Now, a lot of analysts have chimed in, sensing that wind’s current placement in the rankings is because of uncharacteristic weather. And that could certainly be the case come the latter half of this year. But the data has been consistent across recent years that renewable energy sources like wind in particular are to be viable and robust agents of change in the Texas electricity economy.

As ERCOT pointed out in 2016, wind topped 15,000 MW. That record-setting mark is just a glimpse at how the electricity dynamic is shifting, and will continue to shift as it has since the start of the millennium when wind sources hadn’t represented even 1% of Texas power.

Some Reasons for Wind’s Recent Rise to Power

As Smart Energy International points out, Texas has the most potential for wind generation in the entire United States. A large part of this is the consistent and often chaotic winds that buffet the Texas locale.

As this article states on the wind power of Texas, the state has more than 12,000 wind turbines. This means that “the state’s $40 billion private industry also employs a quarter of the nation’s wind-energy employees.”

Because of these considerable investments in wind energy, it’s no surprise that wind energy has climbed so steadily over the years to just now surpass coal in the first half of this year.

Forecasts for Renewable Energy

CNN states that Texas produced a quarter of the nation’s wind energy in 2017. And as the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) continues to forecast, they think that solar and wind will continue to grow the fastest in the next two years compared to other sources of energy.

As the EIA states in this report, “This projected growth is a result of new generating capacity the industry expects to bring online. About 11 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity is scheduled to come online in 2019.”

So, the future looks very wind-driven for Texas electricity, and by extension, the nation’s power will continue to be built around renewable sources.

MP2 Energy’s Unique Charging Plan for Electric Vehicle Owners

MP2 has recently announced the commencement of a charging plan solely with electric vehicle owners in mind. The plan is a first in the industry. It will offer free rates to those who charge their electric vehicles during designated, low-cost times, with an increased emphasis on the customization of charging schedules for customers.

As is typical for electric providers, rates vary according to the hour that electricity is used. Peak hours equal peak prices. And because of this facet of the industry, the idea from MP2 is a logical action for the Shell Energy North America subsidiary to take.

Thinking Outside The Box

Incentivizing the use of electric vehicles is actually a pretty important and intelligent move for MP2 to make. It bolsters Shell’s market, it publicly demonstrates a focus on reducing carbon emissions through electric vehicle usage, and the price won’t be as steep due to a utilization of low-cost times for vehicle charge.

But will this incentive translate to even more prospective customers in their retail market? That’s a hard question to answer at this stage, but because the plan is so customizable, they might have a winning formula in its design.

Catering To EV Owners’ Green Side

In addition, the new plan will utilize all renewable energy, the prices are already competitive in the market-so there isn’t a wide discrepancy in MP2’s standard pricing plans–and really, with electric companies specifically looking out for the minority who own electric vehicles, a bit of solidarity is achieved with the move.

Because of the customizable characteristics of the plan, MP2’s retails customers (who own an electric vehicle) in Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia will be hard pressed to find a more flexible plan. And because MP2 and Shell Energy North America work closely with solar and other forms of alternative energy, the creation of energy, and as they state, “everything in between,” their inclusive reach has only grown.

Staying Ahead Of The Competition

Ever since MP2’s inception, the Woodland, Texas based company has prided themselves on the customer service and communication they offer. Their parent organization in Shell Energy was founded in 1995 and provides a lot of reinforcement for the efforts on MP2’s part. And with this move, it will be interesting to watch just how well this translates to customer satisfaction and conversions.