Feb 16, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The status and politics of the Texas power crisis

Austin in the snow

Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

More than 4.3 million Texas homes and businesses are without power as of Tuesday morning, per the tracking service poweroutage.us.

Why it matters: Bitter cold temperatures and winter storms are wreaking havoc on the power system in Texas and its refineries, and affecting other states too.

The big picture: Via The Houston Chronicle...

  • "The Texas power grid, powered largely by wind and natural gas, is relatively well equipped to handle the state’s hot and humid summers when demand for power soars."
  • "But unlike blistering summers, the severe winter weather delivered a crippling blow to power production, cutting supplies as the falling temperatures increased demand."

What we're watching: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Richard Glick said in a statement that they would be "examining the root causes of these reliability events," but the current focus is on power restoration and safety.

The intrigue: We'll also be looking to see how the outages in Texas affect the politics of clean energy debates.

  • While frozen Texas wind turbines are getting lots of attention, Bloomberg notes: "The majority of outages ... were plants fueled by natural gas, coal and nuclear, which together make up more than two-thirds of power generation during winter."
  • Still, a separate Bloomberg piece on this crisis and severe weather affecting grids elsewhere notes, "Electrifying sectors like transport and heating to use green power is seen as vital to reaching net-zero [emissions] but the world’s grid infrastructure may not be ready for that shift."

What they're saying: ClearView Energy Partners, in a note, said renewable power critics may point to the crisis as "evidence for the need for Texas to reevaluate grid reliability."

But they're "skeptical" that efforts to slow wind and solar in Texas, the nation's largest wind power-producing state, will take root.

  • They point out that multiple forms of generation were knocked offline.
  • Plus, "Texas does not have typical state policies driving renewable buildout that they easily be reversed or modified."
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Between the lines: U.S. oil prices cracked $60-per-barrel Monday for the first time since January of 2020.

The big picture: While the trajectory has been upward amid vaccine rollouts and planned stimulus, the U.S. power crisis and freezing temperatures added the most recent upward pressure.

Where it stands: WTI crude was trading around $59.69 Tuesday morning.

  • "[W]e find that the recent price increase might be an overreaction to the recent reported events," Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodríguez Masiu said in a note.
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