The Washington Policy Center reports that the risk of Texas-style blackouts in Washington is real and growing based on soon-to-close coal-fired electrical generators and projected increases in demand, among other reasons.
1. The recent blackouts in Texas have increased awareness of the need for reliable sources of electricity.
2. The risk of a power shortage in Washington is already slightly above the acceptable standard of 5 percent for Loss of Load Probability (LOLP).
3. That risk increases dramatically in the upcoming years, reaching 26 percent in 2026.
4. A new assessment being completed by the NW Power and Conservation Council could find the risk is even higher than that.
5. Removing the four Lower Snake River dams would cause that already high risk to increase even more.
6. Reducing the LOLP to an acceptable level in our state will be challenging given the limits on building new dispatchable energy sources like hydro and natural gas.
The recent electrical blackouts in Texas have sparked a great deal
of discussion about how society can provide a predictable supply of
electricity while reducing the environmental impact of producing energy.
The costs of getting policies wrong, as has been demonstrated in Texas
and California, can lead to expensive and deadly outcomes.
Although Washington State has a very different energy mix and utility
system, the experience in Texas is a good reminder of how state leaders
should assess the resiliency of our electricity generation and the grid’s
ability to withstand a serious winter storm.
What is the outlook for the stability of Washington’s electrical supply?
Currently, the risk of blackouts is slightly higher than is acceptable and
the danger will get much worse in the near future. The high risk is a
warning that the state’s energy policy should not ignore reliability.
Power outages in Texas
Several factors contributed to the outages in Texas.
The basic cause of the outages was a storm that caused winter demand
to hit an all-time high during the night of February 14, 2021. Soon after
midnight on February 15th the electrical system could not meet demand
and rolling blackouts were initiated by the grid manager, a Texas state
agency known as ERCOT, causing the big drop in natural gas generation
and a smaller drop in coal generation. Home heating has priority over
electrical generation for supplies of natural gas, so a loss of fuel could
have contributed to the reduction in natural gas generation. With high
demand and struggling supply, the frequency of the alternating current
dropped below 60 Hertz to a level that required some facilities be shut
down to prevent equipment damage.
Additionally, once the winter weather moved in, the amount of wind energy
available declined significantly. In the week before the storm, variable wind
generation ranged from 3,000 megawatt hours (MWh) to 21,000 MWh. When the
storm moved in, that range narrowed to a maximum of 9,000 MWh to below 1,000
MWh. Some have noted that ERCOT only planned for about 6,000 MWh of wind,
so the reduction was not unexpected. That is true, but that left nuclear, coal, and
(mostly) natural gas – i.e. dispatchable electricity (because it can be dispatched
when needed) – to meet the extremely high demand for power.
Rising risk of blackouts in Washington State
Could a similar situation, with dispatchable energy unable to keep up
with demand, happen in Washington State? The chances of that scenario are,
To estimate the chance that outages or electricity shortfalls could occur, the
Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NWPCC) calculates the annual Loss
Of Load Probability (LOLP), which is the “the likelihood (probability) that system
demand will exceed the generating capacity during a given period.”
It is important to keep in mind that a loss of load could simply mean that grid
managers ask major industrial users of electricity to shut down or reduce demand.
It does not necessarily mean what we saw in Texas. Additionally, reducing the risk
that electricity supply falls short can mean adding generating resources that may
be idle much of the time. Generation that is only used when demand is very high
means the cost of the electricity will be very high. So, while we could, theoretically,
push the LOLP to near zero, doing so would be very expensive…(continues)