Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"We Spent Billions on Wind Power... and All I Got Was a Rolling Blackout"

UPDATE: 1pm Thursday: Please also read this posting

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said 7,000 megawatts of generating capacity tripped ["tripped" means failed]Tuesday night, leaving the state without enough juice. That’s enough capacity to power about 1.4 million homes. By rotating outages, ERCOT said it prevented total blackouts.
“We have the double whammy of extremely high demand, given the lowest temperatures in 15 years, combined with generation that’s been compromised and is producing less than expected or needed,” said Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar. Oncor operates power lines in North Texas and facilitated the blackouts for ERCOT.
                      --- above from the "Dallas Morning News"

The article didn't give a clue as to what generating capability failed, but I can make a pretty good guess: Wind energy.

When the wind is light, the turbine blades do not turn. And, the coldest nights usually occur with snow cover and light winds. The 9pm weather map for the region is below. The red number at upper right is the current temperature and they are well below zero deep into New Mexico and parts of Kansas and Colorado, so regional power use is high. Springfield, CO was already -15°F. Temperatures are in the single digits and teens over most Texas with very light winds in the areas where the turbines are located.
Map courtesy National Center for Atmospheric Research
For a time, Texas was bragging about being the #1 state for "wind power" (it still is) and we were bombarded with TV commercials and newspaper editorial touting the "Pickens Plan" for massive spending on wind energy. Pickens himself was building a huge wind farm in northwest Texas. He has now ceased construction.
Wind power capacity in 2008. Texas has more than twice as
much as any other state. 
Now, because of relying so much on wind power, the state is suffering blackouts. My book's publisher, Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, was without power all day and Austin wasn't even affected by the recent winter storm. Mexico is trying to help by shipping power to Texas, but it is not enough.

Of course, Great Britain has experienced wind power failures (and rolling blackouts) during cold weather due to light winds. So has Minnesota, just last winter. I think we should learn from them.

If Texas had made the same dollar investment in new coal and/or nuclear power plants they would probably be snug and warm tonight. Do we we really want to sacrifice our families' safety and security along with business productivity during extreme cold for the sake of political correctness?

CLARIFICATION: Some readers have pointed out that two conventional power plants failed. Fine, I don't dispute that. But there is no wind energy to back them up. As I say in the final paragraph, if conventional power plants had been built instead of wind turbines there would likely be plenty of power tonight. Wind energy is inefficient, unreliable and its failures tend to be when it is needed the most.


  1. Mike-

    It was power plants that went down, and we even know which ones went down.

  2. Anonymous,

    The article does not state the source of the other missing 5,000 mW.

    If wind energy played no role in the problems last night and tonight, I will gladly post a correction.


  3. Mike-

    It looks like it was a mixed issue. Several cola plants went down because of frozen pipes, and several other had isue like "frozen coal" (e.g. coal not flowing correctly) and this was coupled to a push on natural gas resouces that caused a low nat gas pressure so natural gas peaking plants could not get online. You can search for a bunch of stories on this. This seems a good compehensive discussion:


    All this and the grid was nowhere near capacity. We better hope for warming or a better design for plants and the grid in Texas.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, but the grid was not near capacity and it was windy in Texas so we have no evidence that wind played any negative role, and may have played a positive one. It is naturally gas fired plants that are designed to go on and off line quickly to meet peaking loads (hard to do big, fast changes with coal too) so if there was a grid failure, look no farther than nat gas fired plants.

    What this does point out is a need to get more major powerlines in place so we can move power across the country more eaily - a good power line from the midwest would also have solved the problem as they have greating peaking load capacity sitting around in the winter as it is designed to run air conditioners during their peak season.

  5. Thanks for the comment. I posted a clarification. I didn't mean to imply the turbines were "broken" but that they are not available tonight when needed. Just checked and the winds throughout the primary generating areas are calm or under the 7 to 12mph needed to turn the blades.

    Here are the 11pm observations in that region:
    AMARILLO MOCLDY 5 0 79 N8 30.50R WCI -8
    BORGER CLOUDY 10 -3 55 N7 30.55R WCI -1
    CANADIAN CLOUDY 8 1 70 CALM 30.58S
    DALHART CLEAR -3 -9 75 N7 30.49S WCI -16
    DUMAS CLEAR 3 -1 81 N9 30.49S WCI -11
    GUYMON CLOUDY 5 -5 63 NW8 30.54S WCI -8
    PAMPA CLOUDY 3 -4 72 N6 30.52S WCI -8
    PERRYTON CLOUDY 7 -1 70 N7 30.54S WCI -4

    Going to get very little usable electricity at those wind speeds and winds will continue to lessen during the night.

  6. If you are right, then why didn't Europe have roliing blackouts when they had the same issue and weather last month? They have a much higher penetration of wind...

    Your whole premise seems more based on hope than knowledge. Soryy, but this is a fail.

  7. Unfortunately, you apparently did not read the articles at the two links above. They very much have had brownouts in cold weather with light winds in Europe and in the U.S. (Minnesota). I didn't realize, until Anthony Watts pointed me to this story from 2008:

    "(Reuters) - A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday."

  8. haha, you really jumped to a conclusion there!
    The culprit: Coal Plants
    not wind turbines.

    typical tea baggery.

  9. "political correctness?"
    Come on mike, if you don't understand the concept of sustainability, you really shouldn't be commenting on the issue.

    The problem with wind power is a lack of transmission lines, not the turbines themselves.

    Our use of coal is actually very unhealthy in many ways.

  10. The turbines on my land have been a godsend.
    I can continue to farm it and produce power for my state.
    The cold weather hasn't seemed to affect the power output so far... knock on wood


  11. Daphne,
    The winds were too light to turn the blades. If there is no power being produced, transmission lines do not matter.

    Glad it is working out for you. What state are you in?

    I'm happy to leave dissenting opinions in the comments because that is healthy debate. However, I want to debate the issues but the "teabaggery" comment is name-calling and out of line. I'm not going to delete because I wish to leave it as a caution to other commenters.

    Thanks for the comment!

  12. I'm out here in west Texas. Word is, our output was up yesterday. (power that is, the crops are another story!) Our turbines could have helped against those blackouts, we just don't have sufficient power lines in place across the state. It's a big state, we'll get there. Just got to let the politicians play their little games first.

    Take care,

  13. Anonymous,
    I agree the name-calling isn't necessary. In fact it seems quite off-base. Why would a meteorologist be a part of an anti-science movement. The study of weather is a science of it's own and likely breeds appreciation for scientists of all other fields. I would be surprised to see a scientist join in a witch-hunt against other scientists. I think they're more respectful of the process than that.
    But by all means, keep trollin'

    p.s. I think wind energy is great, but I understand the frustration with a technology that's still maturing

  14. Dale,

    I found the source of the confusion, please read this posting (scroll up) or use this link:


  15. Mike,

    Thanks for making an effort to clarify some of the confusion that came from your earlier post. However, I feel obliged to ask for a full correction or retraction to your original post for the following reasons:

    1. Wind energy output was extremely high throughout the period when ERCOT implemented rolling blackouts and leading up to that period, making your claims that wind was in any way a cause of this event entirely false. ERCOT data shows wind output blasting along at over 4,000 MW Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. During the 5-7 AM window Wednesday morning, when ERCOT was forced to implement rolling blackouts, wind output was cruising along at between 3,600 MW and 3,900 MW. Throughout that time period, wind speeds on the ground were also very high across the parts of the state with the bulk of the installed wind capacity, with many areas under high wind warnings. A major problem with your article is that you are confusingly talking about the wind speeds and other conditions on Wednesday night, which has nothing to do with what was happening 12+ hours earlier when the blackouts actually happened.

    2. As of mid-day yesterday, 8 hours before your post, it had already been widely reported that the blackouts were caused by roughly 50 fossil-fueled power plants totaling 7,000 MW of capacity tripping offline due to mechanical failures caused by the cold, including two coal power plants with 2,700 MW of capacity that were specifically identified in midday public statements by the Lt. Gov. Dewhurst. Why you proceeded to blame wind for the event many hours after directly contradictory evidence was broadly reported is an open question.

    3. Great Britain and Minnesota have never experienced blackouts due to wind energy, contrary to your statement in the second to the last paragraph. I urge you to read the articles that you linked to, as they do not say anything remotely close to what you claim they do.

    4. At the beginning of your article, you at least make clear that your attacks on wind energy are entirely based on conjecture: "The article didn't give a clue as to what generating capability failed, but I can make a pretty good guess: Wind energy." However, by the end, you somehow felt comfortable making sweeping statements like "Now, because of relying so much on wind power, the state is suffering blackouts." Now that your conjectures have proven entirely false, you owe it your readers, and your credibility, to do the honorable thing and retract the article.

    Since your original post has now been copied elsewhere, such as this, I hope you understand the need to issue a full retraction to stop this confusion before it spreads further. I will be corresponding with other sites that have posted your article and asking them to do the same, and would urge you to contact them as well.

    Michael Goggin
    American Wind Energy Association

  16. My reply to Mr. Goggin is here:

  17. Mike Smith

    Your knee-jerk reaction was pitifully wrong.

    According to ERCOT Texas wind farms were asked to spin up as much as they could and delivered 3.5 to 4 gigawatts of power. Maximum possible power if every one of the 3000 turbines in 40 locations across the state had optimal wind is only 9.4 gigwatts. Our wind turbines delivered almost 40% of maximum possible capacity which is outstanding given that wind farm opponents usually say they only deliver 10%.

    Here's the link you should have read to avoid having wedged your foot in your mouth:

    "The Rolling Chain of Events Behind Texas Blackouts"

  18. Before proclaiming me "wrong," I suggest you read ALL of my postings on the subject and especially, 1) "I do not dispute the information in the [AWEA press] release pertaining to yesterday." and, 2)

    I have asked, twice, for the wind power figures for the time in question (last night) and still do not have them.

    "Our" wind turbines? How about identifying yourself and your connection, if any, to the wind industry. Do you have the amount of MW of wind power generated within the State of Texas between 9pm last night (2nd) and 7am this morning (3rd)? As I say in the earlier post, if it is the "between 3,600 MW and 3,900 MW" Mr. Goggin is touting from the morning before, or even close, then I'm wrong and I'll retract the story.

    But, you are now the third poster to tell me I'm wrong but omit the amount of energy being generated during the period time I was writing about.

    If that information had been provided and the amount of energy was substantial, the story would have been retracted. As of now, it stands because my point has not been shown to be inaccurate.

    I look forward to your response.

  19. Goggin fails to mention that wind output decreased by 2585 MW from 3 pm Tuesday to 6 am Wednesday. That is about the same capacity lost as the two coal plants that tripped offline Wednesday morning. They were generating 3630 MW at 6 am Wednesday, but that was down 41% from Tuesday. There is a history of this happening in ERCOT:

  20. Mike, looks like a retraction is in order:

  21. @2:27pm. Thank you. I'll do a posting on this subject.


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