By KATE GALBRAITH July 19, 2012
It is almost August. That means Texans are avoiding the heat, air-conditioners are cranking, and electrical power demand is going through the roof.
Let’s hope the power stays on.
Texas likes to be No. 1 at everything. But we are currently dead last when it comes to the reliability of our electrical system, according to a recent assessment by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a group that keeps tabs on the country’s power situation with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.
That means that California — yes, California — is less likely to experience systemwide blackouts this summer than Texas. That even takes into account the problems at a major nuclear plant south of Los Angeles.
“I’ve been doing assessments for five years, and I have not seen this situation” on the Texas grid system, said John Noura, the associate director of reliability assessments at N.E.R.C.
Grid officials do not expect blackouts this summer, but the problem is not going away soon, because Texas is growing. Peak demand on the state’s electricity grid (which covers most of the state but not El Paso and parts of the Panhandle and East Texas) is rising. And power companies have been reluctant to build plants because low wholesale electricity prices — caused by the abundance of natural gas extracted with hydraulic fracturing technology — are eating into their profitability. (One exception is a new natural gas plant planned for Temple; completion of its financing was announced this week.)
Other systems could resolve a power crunch fairly easily, by importing power from other states. That’s what California does. But Texas, alone among the contiguous 48 states, has its own electric grid. That is an outgrowth of the state’s keep-the-federal-government-out attitude (no interstate commerce jurisdiction here, please), and it requires self-reliance, for better or worse.
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