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Energy expert predicted Texas power grid would collapse like the Soviet Union

Energy expert predicted Texas power grid would collapse like the Soviet Union
Energy expert predicted Texas power grid would collapse like the Soviet Union
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SAN ANTONIO – The Trouble Shooters are digging deeper for you into why ERCOT, the Texas power grid, has failed us this week.

ERCOT is an acronym for Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Early Wednesday morning, billionaire Elon Musk who just moved to Texas tweeted, “ERCOT is not earning that R” for Reliability.

Some energy experts have been sounding the alarm for years, comparing ERCOT to the Soviet Union: limping along for years until an inevitable collapse.

"The ERCOT market was destined to fail,” says University of Houston energy fellow Ed Hirs.

He’s struggling with power outages himself and spoke with News 4 Trouble Shooter Emily Baucum during a rare moment of electricity at his home.

The irony’s not lost on him. Back in 2013, he co-wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle titled, “Texas suffers from Soviet-style electricity distribution system.”

"They recreated an old-style Soviet bureau and it's collapsed just like the Soviet economy did,” Hirs says.

He says if you’re a company that generates power, there’s no incentive to be ready for winter.

"In Texas, every generator really is geared toward providing service in July and August and September when it gets really hot,” Hirs explains. “And throughout most of the year, not all of those generators are necessary. And because we don't pay the generators unless they're bringing electricity to market - at the end of September, they button up and go home."

But this winter, we’ve asked them to fire back up. And now, they’re stuck.

"Forty percent of the grid is offline,” Hirs says. “And that includes wind of course but it includes a huge amount of natural gas and coal and these are the plants that we typically rely on to power us through winter."

Hirs says years and years of underinvestment have led to this moment.

News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila reported ERCOT’s head of operations admitted Wednesday that making sure power generators are maintained and can withstand winter storms is all voluntary. Neither ERCOT nor the Public Utility Commission can force them to do it, and there are relatively few state inspections.

"They all chose cheap over reliable - and they got it,” Hirs says.

Now millions of Texans are without power and elected leaders will finally be forced to restructure the system.

"ERCOT has traditionally been unaccountable to everyone. Unaccountable to the Governor, unaccountable to the legislature, unaccountable to the Public Utility Commission of Texas,” Hirs says.

"And some of its top board members don't even live in Texas,” Baucum says.

"I understand that,” Hirs answers. “That's a tremendous shortcoming, isn't it?”

He says the price of natural gas has now jumped. In response, ERCOT has said it’s willing to pay anything for power. But it’s not ERCOT’s money to pay – it’s ours. So Hirs says we’re all pretty much guaranteed to feel the pinch in our power bills.


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