Curiosity

I have written about calumny as sin, which it is indeed as noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are times I wonder if a “lack of curiosity” is very distant cousin. This would be a place for a “wink” emoji, but I will easily resist such temptations.

The recent power struggles during the February 2021 bitter cold snap are a case in point. It did not take too long for the leadership of the State of Texas to place the blame for the extensive loss of power on the renewable energy (solar panels, wind turbines) as the culprit. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Rep. Dan Crenshaw were quick to jump on that “party line” – pun intended – and people I know held that up as a demonstration of what’s wrong with this country; the green movement forcing people to adopt renewable energy – and “look where that got Texas.” I would such a reaction as one of many examples where a lack of curiosity helps lead people down a dead-end path.

When I first heard the reports about Texas’ power problems, I was curious in general, but especially so since I used to work in support of power production facilities. And while I normally muse of matters of faith, I occasionally muse about other topics.

While such bitter and extended cold is not the norm in Texas, there are many places in North America where winters often carry such extended cold periods. Take Minnesota for example. Minnesota was far colder than Texas during the same period. Did its wind turbines fail to work? Nope. Why? Those turbines have design features such as material selection, cold weather packages, different lubricants, and hydraulic heaters to keep fluids warm – and to keep the turbine producing during Minnesota winters. The designers of Texas wind turbine chose not to add those features. I would be curious if the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) reviewed and approved that design under the proviso that it was an unnecessary cost to address a rare event. Understand, that such an analysis is not unwarranted by the power operator. The ERCOT’s role is to ensure in such events that the remainder of the grid can supply adequate power – that’s the reliability part.

Of the total power unavailable during the crisis, the solar/wind energy sector was only 13% of the power losses. The other 87% of the unavailable power was from fossil fuel (natural gas and coal) and nuclear power plants. You have to wonder what the cause of that. In normal times, solar contribute 3.8% to Texas’ total power capacity. Wind energy accounts for 10% of Texas’s winter energy capacity and throughout the entire year it is able to provide 24.8%, the second-largest source of energy in the state under natural gas, which accounts for 51%.  There are few to no governmental mandates in Texas to install renewable power generation in Texas. Those decision are left to market forces.

By the way, this was not a once-in-100-year event. A similar cascade of events happened in 2011. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation released a report recommending preventative measures to protect Texas’s energy infrastructure from future extreme winter storms. That same report notes that after a similar cold snap in 1989, recommendations to better prepare energy infrastructure for such weather went largely unheeded. Following the freeze of 2011, El Paso winterized its power plants and so in 2021, the city experienced minimal outages compared to the rest of the state.

If the implications of the Texas experience vis-a-vis energy policy is important to you, take some time to search around a little bit. None of the above took very long to find. You just had to be curious.  Here’s another thing to be curious about. While Texas had power generation problems, why didn’t its “import” power from other States? I had to look that one up… but then I was curious. Will you be?

The internet is not without its flaws and issues, but it is a marvel for making information available. You need to discern the source and quality of the information, but it certainly has the potential to satisfy curiosity.

2 thoughts on “Curiosity

  1. Great analysis of ERCOT’s problem. I served in the power industry and worked with several different reliability councils and was always amazed at ERCOT’s independence and arrogance. If you don’t want to follow suit don’t expect for everyone else to let you play the game. Feel badly for the residents of Texas however many times independence has a high price.

  2. Nice summary Fr. George. There is an old adage that I have used all my life as part of my need to find answers….”Follow the Money”

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