Stories by Joshua Rhodes

Expert Voices

Summer price spikes are a feature of Texas' power market, not a bug

electric transformers next to an office building
Transformers at an electrical substation in Houston. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Demand for air conditioning across Texas helped drive wholesale electricity prices to the market cap of $9,000/MWh earlier this week, testing both the grid's capacity and the public's response to price spikes under the state's wholesale electricity market.

The big picture: ERCOT, the grid operator for most of Texas, operates an “energy-only” market that pays power plants only when they produce energy, and not merely for being available to do so. Many ERCOT plants thus rely on high-priced scarcity events to stay profitable in the otherwise low-cost grid, where prices are kept down by cheap natural gas prices and, to a lesser extent, renewables.

Expert Voices

Possible PG&E bankruptcy could spell trouble for California renewables

The Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) logo is displayed on a sign in front of the PG&E Service Center on January 15, 2019 in San Rafael, California.
A Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Service Center in San Rafael, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Facing more than $30 billion in potential liability claims for wildfires sparked by its electric system, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the largest utility in California, plans to file for bankruptcy by the end of the month. Consumers' lights will stay on regardless of what happens in court, but the future of California’s energy policy might be a bit dimmer.

Why it matters: To meet California’s ambitious climate goals, PG&E has entered into dozens of power purchase agreements (PPAs) with wind and solar farms, for thousands of megawatts, all over the West Coast. If PG&E enters into bankruptcy court, it might not have to pay those contracts, some of which extend past 2040, in full. While that might help PG&E’s balance sheets, it could hurt renewable suppliers that own the assets.

Expert Voices

Despite the blue wave, the U.S. failed to pass its first carbon tax

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, left, speaks at Cal Anderson Park during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Seattle, Washington.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, left, speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on March 24 in Seattle, Washington. Cantwell was re-elected on Nov. 6. Photo: Lindsey Wasson via Getty Images

One of the biggest losers this past election day was the carbon tax. Environmentalists hoped that Washington might become the first state in the country to pass such a tax through a ballot measure, but the proposal failed by nearly 13 points.

The big picture: The carbon tax, which would effectively increase the cost of producing, distributing or using fossil fuels, has emerged as a theoretically promising compromise to people on both sides of the aisle, as it would create a market-based incentive for companies to pursue aggressive action on climate change. But in practice — and even in a solidly Democratic state — the public appears unwilling to pay for it, at least in the iteration that was on the ballot in Washington.