The Comedy and Tragedy of Wind Power.

      10 Comments on The Comedy and Tragedy of Wind Power.

It’s not a comedy if you’re living through it.

Bad news out of Texas gives us an opportunity  to look at what can happen when energy policy and weather conspire to pull the grid down. If you live in the upper Midwest USA like me, or New England, or for that matter anywhere north of St. Louis, you might think the winter weather hitting the Southern USA, particularly Texas, is somewhat amusing. Look at them losing their minds over three inches of snow! Where I’m from, we barely notice anything less than five inches.



But there’s nothing amusing about millions of people being left with no power, no heat, no water, business closings, accidents, property damage, injuries and lost lives due to unusual weather (for them) that the region is not prepared to deal with. Yes, I’ve seen the internet jokes and memes, including the one with the helicopter de-icing a wind turbine (which, by the way, is confirmed fake news). Beyond the shallow humor, there is real damage being done.

The stage was set for a mess.

The disaster started when the the weather in Texas turned uncharacteristically cold and snowy. The increased demand for electrical power and stress on the grid from the storm created perfect conditions for grid failure. This failure cascaded to water and gas infrastructure when those facilities lost power. Some politically-biased news sources and personalities are laying the blame on frozen wind turbines, but it’s not that straightforward.

Wind turbines account for 25 million megawatts of power output in Texas. About 12 million megawatts went dark. Everything considered, wind turbine failure accounted for 13% of the lost energy. This is not insignificant, but by itself should not have caused millions of people to lose their juice. The other 87% of the outage was from conventionally-powered plants, mostly gas, going offline. It does not take an energy expert to figure this out. When a large part of the traditional grid is disabled, and then roughly half the wind capacity goes too, there is a huge problem.

The self appointed “experts” are squawking about the failure of wind turbines as if they were the only reason the Texas grid went down. It’s not even a half truth; more like a 13% truth. That’s why I have a problem with their hypothesis. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state agency responsible for making sure this kind of stuff does not happen, has a lot of explaining to do. Right now Texas has only about half of the power capacity it usually needs, and it can’t all be blamed on the wind.

You are the star. And the supporting role.

What happened in Texas is a cautionary tale for every reader of this blog. The best and most expensive systems can fail. If you use solar, the same concept applies. After all, the sun is not reliable all the time. In my locale, we’ve had maybe three or four days of full sun in the last month and I’ve had to plan accordingly.

What are you doing to prevent your own personal version of Texas from happening? Don’t feel embarrassed if you’re not comfortable with the answer to this question. Many if not most off grid amateurs have enough alternative power to run their radio gear and not much else. No one can realistically prepare for every foreseeable disaster, but we can probably do better than we’re doing now. Off grid ham radio is just a small part of being ready. The good news is that you’re probably more prepared, and certainly more aware, than the average person.

If you’re warm and comfortable and the lights are on, take some time to evaluate your situation and identify areas to improve. Off grid radio for survival/preparedness reasons cannot be done in a vacuum. After all, what good is it to have the most awesome & capable off grid radio station ever when the pantry is bare and the house is cold? There is a tendency for people to go all in on one aspect of preparedness, be it radio, guns, stockpiling food, etc., and blow off all the other things one must do to be truly ready. If this sounds like you, break the curse of tunnel vision.

You cannot stop a Texas-style SHTF situation from happening to you. And you cannot change bad energy policy or poor infrastructure. So focus on what you can control and write your own ending, to the extent that you can. Those who are apathetic are auditioning to play the tragic character in a very non-fictional drama.

10 thoughts on “The Comedy and Tragedy of Wind Power.

  1. randall krippner

    I agree with Don, very well said, Chris. I’ve seen some of the heavily politicized “statements” from some of the politicians and Texas energy spokespersons and they’re trying to blame anyone and anything for the situation. Except themselves, of course. From what I’ve been hearing they were warned many, many times for decades now that they badly needed to winterize their energy delivery systems, and they did nothing. And now here they sit….

    I should point out one lesson from this, you can’t depend on the natural gas delivery system either. I know quite a few people and businesses who have NG powered backup generators, including hospitals. But the NG system can fail too. In fact, in a disaster like a tornado or hurricane, one of the first things they do is shut off the nat gas system to prevent fires and explosions.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Issues with the electric distribution in the USA have been known for decades, and you are right about the gas system too. Attention hams: If your generator is fueled by commercial natural gas, then you’re not really “off the grid”.

  2. Brad Lee

    Help with math? I did not “shine” in 2nd grade math………so, I am asking for a little help….based upon reports from the WSJ and other sources wind power in Texas accounts for 42% of electricity capacity and that half of wind turbines froze dropping the output to 8%………I understand the lack of foresight and preparation as relates to Texas’ power weatherproofing issues, but how do you get to “13% truth”?

    Thanks in advance ……..

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Hi Brad, the source I link in my article states that Texas gets 25% of its power from wind, and half of that was taken out, thus the 13%. I have not seen anything with a 42% figure.

      Off Grid Ham is not an energy policy blog. I am not an expert, nor do I follow this topic full time. I do however go to great lengths to research my material and present accurate information including links to my sources whenever practical. Whether the numbers are squishy or not is beside the point. My main purpose is to show how these incidents happen and encourage everyone to prepare for them.

  3. DragoSapien

    Im here in west Texas and all you said is right. Im ready in every way right now. Im doing good for now in the ice and snow.

  4. Chris Anton

    The problem is certainly not wind power, it’s a lack of winterization. That’s a problem with a lack of regulation, a lack of investment along with a significant amount of politics thrown in as well. Wind turbines, gas plants and coal plants can all operate in very cold climates, provided they are winterized, just look at the operations in northern Europe and in Canada. If you don’t plan and make the necessary investment to deal with these circumstance you shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome.

  5. Monty Collis

    We used 76 million mwh on a summer heatwave day. The problem was absolutely with Ercot. When they idle electric plants to save money and did not require plants to come on line in anticipation of the extreme cold that put the grid in a bind. Instead of East Texas coal plants taking up the slack, they were dormant. It hit -6 here in VanZandt county. It was in the teens for close to 200 hours. When they started the rolling blackouts they made exceptions for areas that had hospitals and first responders somehow they neglected to include natural gas suppliers They cut power to them, which lowered gas pressure to the electric generation plants enough to severely limit output of these gas fired plants. A very stupid thing to do. On top of that the gas companies were sending supplys out of state. The Governor started a investigation and found this out, less than one day after he found out the problem and ordered all natural gas to stay in the state the blackouts were lifted even though temps were still in the teens. Nothing changed but some common sense. I could go on and on. We did not lose power at our home, but had rolling blackouts for 2 days at the farm. We had 11 inches of snow so dry you could burn it. This weather is not unusual in Texas , 2011 when Jerry world hosted the superbowl , was similar .1989 , 1983 White Rock lake also froze over. The difference was Wind power was not counted on at all and Obama had not put a premium on shutting down coal. Just my 2 cents.

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