For the one-year anniversary of the Power Hungry Podcast, we welcome back – for her third appearance — Meredith Angwin, the author of Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid. Of the 57 episodes we published over the past year, the February 17th episode with Angwin was our most popular one. Thus, we (producer Tyson Culver and I) invited her back. We discussed the “new kinds of blackouts” that are hitting the grid, how lavish subsidies for renewables are making it more fragile, the “fatal trifecta,” and how many of the decarbonization efforts being promoted by climate activists are a new “way of enforcing energy poverty.”
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And today, I’m very pleased to welcome back my friend Meredith angwin, for the third time on the power hungry podcast, Meredith, thanks for coming again on the on the podcast.
Meredith Angwin 0:23
Thank you very much for inviting me three times. I’m just, I’m just delighted.
Robert Bryce 0:28
Well, I’m delighted as well. And I’m going to make full disclosure right here at the top. The reason I asked you back and I talked about it with my colleague, Tyson Culver, who’s the producer for the podcast. Yeah, the podcast that we did in February. In fact, it was February 17, is the most popular podcasts that we’ve done in on the last year. And today marks the one year anniversary, or this episode marks the one year anniversary of the very first power hungry, power hungry podcast, we’ve done 57 episodes, and you ranked number one, all of those 57 episodes. So the your public loves you. And so we thank you, I’m gonna feed the public, you give them what they want. And you were the most popular guest we had. So of course, I wanted to have you on again. So let’s jump right in. And as you know, and I’ve just wrote a piece, I published a piece in real clear energy about what’s going on in the Texas grid. On Monday, the I guess it was this the 14th, the ercot issued a plea to reduce electricity demand, because once again, the state is facing electricity shortages. What’s interesting to me is that comes exactly four months to the day since are caught last issued a plea for conservation, which was the beginning of the winter storm. Now we’re in hot weather, we’re getting the same messaging, what the hell is going on Meredith angwin. Why is this happening?
Meredith Angwin 1:52
Well, ercot is a RTO, regional transmission organization area, and it it runs with a very L, it runs with a very slender margin of backup for when things are bad. And that kind of slender margin falls apart very quickly in the winter. Because in the winter, you have often less availability of natural gas, natural gas plants, because it’s being diverted to home use, or the compressors are doing well on the pipelines or whatever. And you have more demand. Now in the summer, you have more demand, but you should have as much natural gas as you want, because it’s usually not being diverted. And pipelines are usually a lot better about running in hot weather than with the valves freezing or are frozen water impairing within the pipeline itself in cold weather. So it seems like it shouldn’t have a problem. But ercot has always run with a very, very low margin. That is where other grids tried to keep maybe 15 20% more power plants available than they will need for peak or cut tends to run at like 8%. And then the single digits, yeah, single digits. And the The other thing about that 8% is you got to get really deep into the weeds to see how real that eight percentage is. Because if you begin looking at it without getting too deep into the weeds, you’ll say oh, well, 8% should be okay. But what percentage of that 8%? Is wind, for example, or solar? And and, in general, at least on our grid wind and I’m in I’m in New England, for those of you who don’t know what, I’m speaking to you from Vermont, at least in our grid when doesn’t build in to the capacity markets, or get counted in terms of megawatts available? At full nameplate? It’s discounted from that. But I don’t know how archived does it I mean, you know, this is the problem with you know, I wrote a book about the grid. And I think it’s a good book. And it has a lot of insight. A lot of people have said to me, oh, I began to understand my grid after reading your book. But to really understand your own grid, you’re going to have to learn about the specifics of how your grid runs. So I can’t tell you right now, because I’m here in New England, and I haven’t studied everything about the Texas grid, weather Council, one mega megawatt of wind at this at the same level of installed capacity backup available and so forth, as one megawatt of a gas turbine, I don’t know.
Robert Bryce 4:58
Well, and I can answer that. I’m They do discount the capacity of wind. And I think they count and in single digit digit percentage of the available capacity as being ready or deployable during times of peak demand. But let me just jump back. And I want to come back to ercot. Because I published it. In fact, I did a power brief I published on YouTube, just a three minute explainer video about what’s going on with wind during the hot hot weather. I also have a piece in real clear energy showing that when power demand in Texas spikes in the summer wind effectively disappears, it just vanishes. It goes to as I said, goes on, goes with Ted Cruz to vacation in Cancun. But tell me about shorting. Now. This is the third time you’ve been on the on the show. And on the on the podcast. How would you publish the book in October of 2020? And I know from talking to you, before we I think our first interview was in November of 2020. We talked about what happened in California. How’s publishing the book changed your life? I mean, because you’ve gotten it’s changed your profile dramatically. Has it not? Oh, yeah,
Meredith Angwin 6:01
it has totally changed, right? I mean, there were always a lot of people in the energy sphere, especially people who were pro nuclear, who knew about me, and then there was a bunch of people locally, because I was a member of the consumer liaison group for our grid operator that knew about me, but if you went away from locally grid, people didn’t know about me, you know, I mean, it was just sort and now I get all kinds of emails and and invitations to speak and so forth, because invitations to podcasts because of the book, and I think it’s it’s really wonderful. And the reason it’s wonderful isn’t because I’m becoming rich. But because and I’m not, as you know, writing books is no way to, to a palatial life lifestyle. But because the book is getting out there, people are reading it people writing and saying, Hey, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. It was all accurate and says all this junk coming by lopers you know, and now I know what it is. And I feel so good about that. Because you see, when utilities. Okay, let me start by saying My book is mostly about how regional transmission organizations, which are the kind of grid governance where there are auctions all the time you have kilowatts are an auction, and then, and then distribution, utility, Spider Man generators, put them out, put them up for sale, and so forth, and so on. There’s all these auctions and layers of auctions. Anyway, artios Regional transmission organizations are that sort of place?
Robert Bryce 7:45
I guess is the one of the ways to describe them, right? Or, yeah.
Meredith Angwin 7:52
They’re a clearing house. Yes. a clearing house was elaborate rules in general, very elaborate, very elaborate, which put this thing is that a lot of people before I wrote the book and probably still don’t even know they’re in an RTO area, because what they see is their own utility. Okay. So when they hear when they hear that the grid operator has said there may be shortages over the summer, they think somehow their utility is the problem or they don’t eat or for example, I asked a friend of mine who lives in Chicago, I said, Well, how is it living in a little bit of PJM RTO in the middle of miso, Archie, you know, I’ve often wondered about that. And she’s like, what I mean, she doesn’t think of herself as living in a PJM RTO in the middle of miso washio because, you know, it just doesn’t have you ever heard of PJM is now holding a meeting we are it we’re we’re we want to we want the public to to write in and tell us what we should be doing about this particular thing. It’s up for a vote or something No, they keep a low profile.
Robert Bryce 9:01
It’s it’s all invisible to the consumer just not on their radar but I want to go back to that because I think it’s interesting too. And before we started recording you mentioned your birthday was in on May 21. And you turned 76 and one I don’t usually publicize that but i i you know i bring it up because I it to me it’s increases my respect for you and what you’ve done right? This is what your third career fourth career at your at your age where you have every reason to be putting your feet up on the porch and you have grandchildren and you have other things you could be doing. But you’ve said it’s changed your profile changed your life, you’re not getting rich, but it must feel good to at this point in your life to be getting some recognition or an opportunity to discuss this these issues which you obviously you’re so passionate about. You wrote a book that’s what nearly 400 pages I mean that
Meredith Angwin 9:56
more than 400 pages, but that’s counting the glossary in the index.
Robert Bryce 10:00
All right, I’m looking at just picking up 422. If you count every page that’s numbered, and then there’s some other, but But what is that? Is the payoff worth it? I mean, I don’t mean that. It to be sly or anything, but you put a tremendous amount of effort you you, and you got it out there. And now you’re getting some recognition to talk about these issues that you care about. How does that feel?
Meredith Angwin 10:24
Well, it feels very nice, because I feel I’m I’m letting people know about something that was hidden from them. And that would affect their lives. I mean, let’s face it, I wrote that book, because I think the RT o areas are heading to being very fragile grids. And what do I mean by fragile? I mean, it takes less than less to get rolling blackouts. I mean, any grid, any grid can get broken with a big enough incident. But the question is, how robust is it? how resilient is it? What does it take to actually end up with rolling blackouts? And in the actual areas? The answer is not much and less and less as time goes on. And the reason is that they they, they by their governance, they move toward being dependent on renewables plus natural gas. Plus, if all else fails, we’ll ask the neighbors. Right,
Robert Bryce 11:21
and which is the fatal trifecta which, right of all, if, if I could boil your work down to one phrase, that’s it, because you what you’ve done is it’s really boiled down this fragile zation of the grid, which you’ve talked about with Chris Kiefer, Dr. Chris Kiefer’s as the decouple podcast. But that’s but isn’t that the punchline of your all the work you’re doing? You’re you’re calling out to the world, you’re saying, look, our grid is becoming more fragile. And I’ve looked at the data from the do E’s Office of cybersecurity. The number of grid emergencies and unplanned outages has tripled just in the last five years. I mean, these these are worrying trends in terms of outages, blackouts, and your and what we’re seeing here in Texas, these these issues, issuances of notices that we’re having shortages are more common, we had devastating blackouts in February, California is already saying NERC that North and North American Council has already warned about shortages this summer. I mean, you’re talking about the most important network in society, and are you getting it? Are people really paying enough attention? Because it seems like this is these issues should be on the front page of the paper nearly all the time, and they’re not?
Meredith Angwin 12:37
Well, that’s true. They’re not they’re only on the front page when there’s a blackout. Now one of the problems is that, to some extent, people are used to little blackouts on the distribution system, you know, tree goes down, whatever. And so people tend to think, Oh, well the power be back on, but we’re having a new kind of blackout with these rolling blackouts, we’re having blackouts due to not having enough power available having the wrong kind of power available. What I mean by that is power that you can’t count on. Natural gas and, and, and, and renewables, you can’t eat well, natural gas during the summer, you can count on Ember during the winter not. And so we’re having a different kind of blackout, which is adding to the old kind. And I don’t think it’s really penetrated to most people, that the new blackouts are, are just a big deal. I mean, they’re not about getting some linemen out there to fix it. They’re there, they’re there, they’re systemic, they’re built into it there. We don’t have the power plants to do this. We don’t have the, the the firm fuel supply to keep the lights on. And and and it’s that is a very different thing from oh my goodness, an oak tree went down and it went down in a really bad place. And it’s going to take us a day and a half to get this thing open again.
Robert Bryce 14:07
And and that was really relatively simple. You send out a few guys in bucket trucks and chainsaws, and you can get that line back up and operating in a few hours. But when you’re saying that, Meredith, one of the points that you made on an earlier episode, you talked about the importance of onsite fuel. And in when I look at the ercot grid, and from I think 2005 to 2020, the the amount of generation from wind energy increased by about 20%. And the amount of electricity produced from coal fired power plants declined about the same amount. Right. So in hearing you say that I’m thinking well, how much of this is due to the the reduction in coal fired capacity, which when coal plants have been the the major source of electricity generation in America since the days of Edison and yet there’s been frankly a war on coal or that you know, environmental groups and we need to back coal out And that that reliance on a very reliable form of fuel, a carbon intensive, but nobody wants to say anything positive about coal. But when you were saying those things I was thinking, Well, wait a minute, how much is the retirement of coal plants played into this?
Meredith Angwin 15:16
Well, it has the return of coal plants has played into this. And, and, and I mean, I guess what I’m concerned with Moore’s retirement of nuclear plants. Because, you know, if someone isn’t very concerned with with carbon and carbon dioxide, and so forth, they can say, Well, every coal plant retires is a win. But a nuclear plant isn’t retiring isn’t to win that way. It wasn’t making any carbon dioxide. And so I guess the thing is, if you want the Another thing is that it’s it’s a matter of values to some extent, for example, do you value having reliable electricity, I think it is so essential, you have written a whole book about it, you’ve done a film about it, we don’t want to get to the point where we’re some kind of Beirut, south of Beirut West, where everybody has their own generator. And and, you know, it’s more than just a road. I mean, I, my husband was doing a project for a while in India, I mean, the the company had their generators, because the power went out so frequently, no, and that’s common in many areas where we don’t want it to become in here. I mean, that is a really bad way to run a grid and to say, Well, if you’re a business, just keep your generator around. Of course, we have them for hospitals, because a hospital, if a hospital loses power, this is a really dangerous thing for the people in the hospital. But businesses, I mean, it’s not dangerous for them, except for their ability to do business. But pretty soon you get a grid that’s fragile enough, and the businesses have to have their generators and pretty soon the houses after have their generators. I mean, I I just, I just feel that people are saying, oh, let’s shut down the plants that have that are very reliable, because we don’t really care that much about reliability compared to carbon. And I think that is not a not the right way to look at the electric grid. We should care about reliability, and try to be low carbon.
Robert Bryce 17:43
Well, let me come back to the nuclear question for a minute because you live in Vermont, remind me of the town that you live in.
Meredith Angwin 17:48
I live in Wilder, but it’s a challenge that had Vermont Yankee is, is Vernon it’s, it’s about 50 miles south of me.
Robert Bryce 17:57
Sure. So let’s come back to the nuclear plants because you were, I’ve done a lot this year in the in this is again, reminder, this is the one year anniversary episode of the start of the power hungry podcast. My guest is Meredith angwin, who of all 57 episodes that we’ve done, she was the most popular so she is back again. She’s the belle of the ball. But when you when you talk that that discussion you had about reliability, Meredith It reminds me of I was on. I was on a president did a presentation last December, to some electric cooperatives in Oklahoma and the manager of the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Association guy named Chris Myers made a point that when he said it, I thought, Well, duh. And you know, why didn’t I think of that. But he said, without reliability, affordability goes out that out the window. And that’s the point that you’re making here. And it’s a point that I think is critical in the wake of the blackouts in here in Texas, I was blacked out for 45 hours. I’m constantly being hit with advertisements for standby generators, batteries and solar panels. So these, what I the way I would read back to you what you just said about these need for standby generators is that because people are more concerned about reliability, the affordability is going down because they’re having to deploy a lot of capital. They’re spending a lot of money on generators and other things that they would never have thought of buying before. But they’re so concerned about losing power that they’re willing to frankly it’s a misallocation of capital if we had a reliable grid, they wouldn’t be doing that and that to me is really an important issue because it that affordability issue who’s going to be able to buy the standby generators Well, it’s people that are doing okay maybe you know people like me, but wealthy people they’re going to buy their own generators, own battery packs, etc. So it’s not just about reliability, affordability ultimately becomes a class issue, doesn’t it?
Meredith Angwin 19:44
It does, it does. And one of the things that bothers me some great Gil and and is that when, when people talk about you know, we don’t really need reliable That March or whatever, they’re assuming they can they can they can handle it because maybe they’ll have their own generator, maybe they’ll have their their little area will have a little micro grid, whatever or, or they’ll sit around and and and and sing camp songs by fireplace You know,
Robert Bryce 20:24
there’s a blackout so we’re gonna have marshmallow roasters. Yeah, no, really, I
Meredith Angwin 20:30
mean, people have people don’t understand how much of their lives are dependent on that electric grid. I mean, well, the people’s learn to understand it, but it may be too late. But no, it is a class issue. Because when you look at the people who passed away in in taxes due to the grid, it wasn’t rich people. It was people tried to heat their homes with a little bitty heater, that that put out Noxious Fumes that was people who weren’t poorly insulated house and, and found themselves getting hot getting basically freezing to death. And, you know, it’s sort of like, people don’t realize it, like crowded living conditions, for example, can lead to are correlated with asthma. I mean, they are correlated with asthma. And and so, you know, if you’re going to look at at how could you have health, a healthy population, you know, reasonable size houses, clean energy for those houses. That that, you know, that is what you really need. And when people begin talking about environmental justice, I often don’t know what they’re talking about, because they seem to think that means a a, a solar panel on every roof, but but not everybody has a roof. I mean, people live in crowded conditions. If you live in, I grew up, you know, and in Chicago, Chicago, the first place we were living, it was a typical three story apartment building in Chicago. Where are we supposed to have our solar panel? I don’t, I don’t think we’re gonna have one.
Robert Bryce 22:33
Well, it’s interesting. He talked about that affordability issue in the end issue that it wasn’t rich people who died during the freeze. In fact, the there was a un last month BuzzFeed news, did an analysis and it was similar to what I think it was pro publica, or another group did after the Puerto Rico hurricane, but the punchline was the same. Remember, after the winter storm, you’re here in Texas, and the initial official government estimates were about 100 150 people died. The Houston Chronicle in April did another analysis said that was actually closer to 200. BuzzFeed did a an analysis and concluded that the excess mortality when you included all the people who are medically fragile and vulnerable before the blackout, that the total death toll was closer to 700. And then it was interesting that the Houston Chronicle analysis was to your point, many of the people who died in that when it counted in that 200 died of carbon monoxide poisoning. And you know, you can say oh, well they should have known you put your electric generator outside and so on. But those those deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning are very common in America dozens of people die every year and their deaths of energy poverty. And that’s the I think again goes to this issue of class in that if they had available energy that was clean that was reliable. They wouldn’t need that standby generator they wouldn’t be dead. Yeah,
Meredith Angwin 23:52
I totally I totally agree with it. And you know what? Sometimes there was some somebody out here in some environmentalists supposedly said, well, so many people bought reliability, but we want clean power much more than we want reliable power and I thought well, you want clean power more than local power you say until such time as you don’t have any power then I’m willing to bet you’ll take whatever it is
Robert Bryce 24:24
exactly. As you let me just if you don’t mind him I want to come back to the nuclear thing that just a minute I just but I want to go back to the one of the key reasons why I wanted to have you on again and Tyson Culver, my colleague and I talked about this at length, but that you’ve achieved this rare feat, right? And and I say this with a great deal of respect that you don’t have a fancy University behind you. There’s no big think tank or something else but you through your own gumption and hard work at an age as at age 76. You now becoming a recognized authority on what it should be one Considered one of the most important issues in the in, in American energy policy. And that leads me to my credit, that was one of the reasons why I mean, you’re such an A typical expert, right, but you’re not gonna and I say that again with with a great deal of respect. But it’s earned, it’s earned over many decades of experience and decades of learning. And and here’s the question. So since shorting has has been published, are you more hopeful about the the need for understanding the importance of artios? And why they’re not working? Or less hopeful? Has? have things gotten better since you published the book? Or worse?
Meredith Angwin 25:37
I think they’ve gotten better. I think there are more people now who are saying, you know, you know, for example, a tweet would happen was someone says, These areas are expecting possible are rolling blackouts over the summer, and then someone else tweets and says, Well, look at that, that’s pretty much a map of the RTO areas. You know, I mean, people didn’t say that a while back. Now, I’m not saying that Twitter is the whole thing. But at this point, I think there’s more awareness that the artios aren’t working, and not just on Twitter, but just, you know, just like a newspaper article might might mention, our local grid operator said, blah, blah, blah, blah, in a way that they didn’t write it quite that way. Before. before. It was like our local grid operator, they’re the word of the Lord, you know, as opposed to the grid operator says this, but there are some issues about fuel availability, which seemed not to be you know, I don’t know, I just feel there is more interest in exactly what’s going on out
Robert Bryce 26:54
there. And then has to feel good for you in terms of these issues, in that you, you know, that your book is being recognized as an authoritative book on on what to do next. But as I’ve thought about this, and you make this point, he made the point about the rtls. What’s the cure? Because I see the and is it going to require Congress to say, well, we need a more cohesive strategy, because there’s a lot of regionalism here, and particularly in Texas, about Oh, no, we’re gonna have our own, you know, our own grid operator and so on. What’s the ultimate cure here? Is it going to require federal action then to to really get focused on this reliability issue?
Meredith Angwin 27:31
Well, actually, I would, I would say that the cure is more regional. I mean, the thing is that in, in the old days, when, when they work artios states were responsible for their own Integrated Resource Planning, which meant they had to, to, to show the PC had a rule rule, that the various utilities plans for operating power plants for transmission, local transmission lines, and, and, and fuel availability. Were just unreasonable and worth being compensated for and the CPUC held the purse strings will compensate you or we won’t. So the the utilities took dealing with the PVC very seriously. They don’t. They don’t take it seriously with the RTO. Because the RTO runs these auctions. And then the auctions, you know, they changed the rules for the auction because it didn’t look right. It didn’t get the results they
Robert Bryce 28:39
wanted. But at the same time, you’ve seen what’s happened is that many of the utilities have been deregulated. So they’ve been broken up. So I mean, it was one of the things that I wrote down, it seems to me, fundamentally, and you make this point in the last chapter in shorting the grid that this deregulation of the utilities has not been good for the consumer or for reliability. So if you’re, if you’re if what you’re saying is that the states have to take this on, you’re saying, Are you saying then that we need to go back to the regulated utility model and have the state p u C’s being, you know, having good continuous and, and, and, and, and, and proper oversight over those regulated utilities? Well, I think so. But I mean, I think it’s an unpopular notion, especially with the Googles and the independent power producers and the Amazons and the huge companies that are, you know, promoting renewables that’s not what they want. Well, you know, if
Meredith Angwin 29:33
you follow the money, why are the huge companies promoting renewables so they just so pure in heart and the rest of us are awful? No, I mean, let’s put it this way. I had I had an interview with somebody it was just wasn’t online but but but at one point, I said, you know, it’s not a power plant can’t can’t make money and reliable powerplant can’t make money under the RTO system. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole, a whole literature about this called the search for the missing money, because the way they have to fit in, is is is, is not good. And so this is Oh, you say, you know, nobody can make money. I said, I didn’t say nobody. renewables can make money in the RTO system, because they get a lot most of their money outside the markets, if they are to their money, they get it from tax breaks, production tax credits, making a wreck, renewable energy, credit or certificate, which they can sell to another power plant, another utility that needs to prove that it has. It’s using renewables and it can build the renewables, it doesn’t want to build the renewables. But what it does is inspire rack. So here’s this renewable, it’s selling its power to one utility, distribution, utility and selling its Rakesh for that power to another distribution, utility. It’s it’s making money. So I think the thing that is perturbing about it is when when the less reliable power suppliers are the only ones that you can really say that they’re going to they’re going to be doing all right, despite the system. Well, of course, everybody wants to be them. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be them too. If I if I was designing, I’m taking up writing power plants. I look around and say so which ones are doing good. And I’d say Oh, okay, if I’m in an RTO area, especially to the renewables are doing good if I build renewables, everybody loves me, because I’m so noble. And I’ll get payment for Rex and I’ll get payment for production tax credit. And, and and if the prices on the grid go up, I’ll get that money too. And meanwhile, the the the reliable power plants are on there search for the missing money.
Robert Bryce 32:07
You know, this, and I think this is the key point is you hit the nail, in my view right on the head. And it’s the piece that I wrote for real clear energy talking about this very thing that what’s going on in Texas, where we’re seeing spikes in power demand. And during those periods where power demand is spiking, wind energy has nearly disappeared on Tuesday, which was what the the 15th the power demand peaked at 70,000 megawatts and wind energy production in the state. There are 32,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity in Texas, their output was effectively zero and zero megawatts when power demand was spiking to 70,000 megawatts, so and yet what you’re saying is that, despite their unreliability, that’s where the money is. And yes, that’s the part that is truly staggering to me is that when you look and I publish this as well, is that when you look at the RTA, the queue for InterConnection in the ercot grid, it’s 35 gigawatts all of it is renewables through about 25 megawatts of 24 megawatts of 24,000 megawatts of solar and 11 megawatts of more wind that won’t perform to the wind won’t perform in the summer. And we know the solar won’t perform in the winter. So we’re adding yet more renewables to the fatal trifecta in Texas is what is what I see. Am I am I missing anything?
Meredith Angwin 33:29
Yes. And that is what’s happening. And, and the reason is, is there’s no knowing word for reliability. And then is anywhere in an RTO system. So for example, I was on American nuclear society panel, and of course, people were, were talking Well, people often talk about how Texas is just weird, you know? And I’m like, No, no, Texas is an RTO. That’s what that’s all you have to say about it. I mean, it’s just weird. And they say, well, you don’t it didn’t it didn’t it didn’t winterize and I said okay, look, we have very cold weather here and we read Arise for a certain level of it. The the way to winterize a gas turbine for cold weather is to an admit that it’s probably not maybe we’ll get to gas and it’s going to have to store a fuel on site generally oil, though it could be probate, okay. But but basically it’s it’s a fuel that can be stored easily on site, as opposed to natural gas, which is delivered through pipelines. And and so the thing is who you would say in that case, during the winter, most of the natural gas plants should have their little stores on site for maybe to run for 1212 to 24 hours if they can’t get gas. Well, they don’t. And and, and the thing is that I showed this chart and it’s I don’t know if it’s in my book or not. I know I didn’t put it in my Because the thing is the charge has a bar chart. And for every day, during a really cold snap, and in New England, it has a bar and the bar is green almost all to the top. And at the top, there’s a little blue blue area. And the green is is is natural gas that was burned because the grid operator bought. And so oil that was burned, because the grid operator bought oil for that plant, because it knew that we have a bad time in a cold snap. Those those those
Robert Bryce 35:38
are winter with my death and that natural gas wasn’t going to be available or they couldn’t get
Unknown Speaker 35:43
Meredith Angwin 35:45
Not can be available. So the grid operator had a winter reliability project to buy oil for natural gas plants. And that green line is the oil that the grid operator broad, the little blue line at the top, which is almost invisible, which is why I didn’t put it in the book, nobody would be able to see it, it’d be once you printed it in black and white. It that’s what the power plants bought without the grid operators, so they weren’t getting ready for winter. So if you say oh, well, Texas, Texas, they didn’t get ready for winter. Well, in New England, they didn’t get ready for winter. I mean, they got ready in the sensors that were ready to run in cold weather, but they didn’t do anything about getting fuel for cold weather. So they didn’t really take into account reliability in winter, because it’s not their problem.
Robert Bryce 36:37
Well, and that’s one of the things that I think is more than any of them, by the way. So you’re just saying that the blue line was where the gas was coming in that gas?
Meredith Angwin 36:44
No, no, no, no, no, I’m so sorry. I have to I I’m not expressing it. Well, I really shouldn’t do this. Here’s,
Robert Bryce 36:52
I think your point.
Meredith Angwin 36:53
The green part is oil purchased by the grid operator, as winter reliability project. And it’s a long line, that’s a blue line is whatever the power plants actually bought, without the grid operator, and it skinny, and it would not have done the job. Because the power plants didn’t bother to. I mean, it wasn’t it wasn’t didn’t bother, it’s very sounds like I’m calling them names. It wasn’t an in their economic interest to invest in a lot of oil. I see just in case they had to use it
Robert Bryce 37:31
right. We’ll see. And that’s one of the things that is I’ve looked at now, four months after the disaster here in Texas that left hundreds dead, and many of them dying of the lack of energy 100 dozens of people froze to death other people died later because of the medical conditions. And you know, the toll may have been 700 then all the legislative hearings and all of the policymaking all the regulatory stuff, all the many 1000s of words and art and many dozens and dozens of articles that have been written, it’s clear that in the wake of all this, this disaster, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere. And now the guys think in terms of what your overall point about artios is just that, that nobody ultimately is responsible were in the old regulated model that they had that CEO of that utility was going to be in the dock and they’re gonna say, Well, why didn’t you you and your company because they were responsible and accountable to the PSC. Now in Texas, all the PFC commissioners have quit. There’s, there’s like, there’s no one left to blame. They’ve just fired the CEO of ercot. He’s gone. And all the generators are pointing at each other. No, it’s their fault. not our fault. No, it’s their fault. This is the gas guys fault. No, it’s the wind guys fault. Well, there’s no, there’s no, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere. That is a bad situation.
Meredith Angwin 38:47
No, Buck does not stop anywhere. And and if you following the some of the other, writing about it right now, what’s really happening is that it’s full employment for lawyers time. I mean, you know, everybody’s suing each other. I mean, it’s kind of I don’t make as big a point on this book that I shouldn’t. But I talked about the fact that there’s a physical grid, and there’s a policy grid and the physical grid, you want electricity to flow. And that means, for example, having gas available if it’s a gas fired power plant, or having an alternative fuel available, if you know, the gas is less likely to be that’s the physical grid, the policy grid is underwriting winter brands, so that they’ll make money despite everything because you think winter brands are great. That’s the policy grid, this whole idea that the policy grid is all you need to fix. You get the lawyers, you sue people and then it’ll be fixed. No, you still need the the fuel at the power plants. And that isn’t when I see what’s going on when they see the different lawsuits that are going on. I mean, there are several articles, there’s yours. There’s somebody well in King about, about the different lawsuits that are going on. And they are multitudinous. And they are at various levels of, of the judicial system. Sure. But basically, they don’t actually put fuel at a power plant.
Robert Bryce 40:24
I mean, and he just knows, lawsuits aren’t gonna fix the physical grid or the policy grid.
Meredith Angwin 40:29
That’s why they’re not gonna fix either grid. And I’m really sorry to say that, but it is true. And when you think about it, when I when when you go to, if you were able to go to a meeting with an RTO, you will see such a big ecosystem of, of consultants and and and, and, and, and stake stakeholders, I call them and, and lawyers and and, and so forth. And,
Robert Bryce 40:57
you know, and lobbyists
Meredith Angwin 40:58
and lobbyists, you’re not going to actually find a lot of engineers running around, you know.
Robert Bryce 41:09
Interesting, you make that point. So let’s go back to the nuclear part of this, because it’s one of the issues that I followed in you, you know, fought for the preservation of Vermont Yankee, and along with the other supporters lost, that plant was closed. We saw the foolish, idiotic, almost criminal closure of the Indian Point plant in Buchanan, New York at the end of April, which we did it as we did with the Texas blackouts, we did five episodes around the closure of the of the Indian Point nuclear plant and why it was so wrong. But now we’re facing in the wake of that closure in April. The closure of the Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois, which again, are critical zero carbon baseload power plants, and Exelon has made it clear, well, we’re gonna close them because we’re not getting that they’re not economic for us, we’re not making money. And it’s, you know, it’s difficult to say, well, let’s give a subsidy to Exelon. But is it in your view? Or will those plants close just like the cannon, they’re just like Indian Point. And just like Vermont Yankee, I mean, they it seems like that, again, there’s no amount of there’s not very much love being given to nuclear plants at the state level or the federal level.
Meredith Angwin 42:21
I’m sorry to say that I, I fear that they will close. And I grew up in Illinois, and I told you about Chicago and apartment buildings. But basically, you know, I don’t I don’t have a lot of love from coal and Illinois is is is coal. And one of the reasons it had so many nuclear plants is to substitute for the COBOL. I mean, in cleaner skies. Now, nowadays, of course, I am older. And nowadays, coal is much cleaner skies, and it was when I was growing up there. So I don’t mean to just beat on coal plants. But I really, I’m afraid that’s true. But But you understand that it isn’t. A guess a Winterburn can pay the grid to take its power, it can do what’s called negative pricing, it can say, grid operator, I’m going to give you two cents per kilowatt hour, if you’ll take one power, it can pay the customer to take its power. Meanwhile, any plant any business that has some hope of the customer, paying them can compete with someone who’s going to pay the customer. I mean, if you want if there were two grocery stores next to each other, and one of them says come here, we give you $1. For every every everything you buy, you buy what you want, will give you $1 every time you purchase something, and you don’t have to pay us we just give you the dollar, the other grocery store will go out of business, right? Sure.
Robert Bryce 44:06
And that’s because of the distortion of the production tax credit and the
Meredith Angwin 44:09
production tax credit, and the renewable energy certificates and credits. And you know, I don’t know if I don’t have it in front of me. But you know, that was a really good article that showed that Tesla’s one of the reasons that Tesla’s cars do well, is they can sell the equivalent of renewable energy credits also.
Robert Bryce 44:31
Right, right, that the manufacturer is selling the Eevee credits to other manufacturers that are required by federal law. So it’s it’s it’s his I put it, it’s it’s not they’re not in a lot of these renewable energy companies. They’re not in the business of selling electricity. They’re subsidy miners. They’re mining the subsidies and getting the money from the subsidies and that’s what makes their business work. Yes. And that’s the piece that I wrote and published in real clear energy that there were 66 billion according to us. Solar and wind lobbies themselves. $66 billion was spent in Texas before the blackouts in the years before the blackouts. Well, Bill peacock just published a report during that time period, they got $22 billion in tax incentives stimulus, Penny, you know, tax abatements, I’ll call it what it is. Those are subsidies. So one out of every $3 that they spend, they get from taxpayers in one way or another. That’s a good deal if you can get it. And then but it’s a complete distortion of the electricity markets and, and in undermining reliability. That’s how I see it.
Meredith Angwin 45:32
Yeah, it’s an it’s another one of these things that it’s a zombie situation, the tax credits will never go away, they’ll never get killed. I mean, in 2012, was one of the biggest years for putting up wind turbines. And the reason was that supposedly, the production tax credit was gonna end on December 31 2012. Well, guess what it didn’t, I mean, a whole bunch of wind turbines got built that year. I mean, people were like, Oh, God, we gotta get in, can’t get in it. But it actually wasn’t, they didn’t have to rush, the production tax credit is still alive and well and will be renewed. Because you’ve got to see, one of the things about wind turbines and so forth, that are people in favor of renewables, is that they, they kind of have the best of both worlds, they’re going to get rich, that the only group that has a guaranteed profitability on an RTO grid, they are guaranteed profitability, because so much of their money comes from other things and actually selling electricity. They can make it even if the nuclear plant says while we’re not profitable, or the the combined cycle gas turbine says, well, it’s not working for us, the renewables can’t and they’re covered and glory, because after all, they are the future, they are renewables. They’re not these old fashioned, you know, whatever. Fossil lands and fossil fuel plants,
Unknown Speaker 47:11
Robert Bryce 47:13
the old and then this is the new and we’re gonna go with the new and the modern, and therefore, we need grid modernization. What do you think of that term?
Meredith Angwin 47:21
Oh, it’s an excuse for many things. It’s an excuse for putting in transmission lines to faraway power plants that are intermittent. I mean, of course, if you put in a new power plant, you often have to put in a new transmission, but usually you would put in the new power plant, and you will expect it’s mostly going to be making power now you got to put in a transmission line to a plant that is going to be available only 30% of the time when the wind blows, I mean, you know, so yeah, grid modernization.
Robert Bryce 47:58
So what, let me ask it again. So what are the first things that come to mind when you hear that term grid modernization?
Meredith Angwin 48:05
Well, I hear two things. The first thing is that they’re the building transmission lines, to power sources that aren’t reliable. And the second thing I hear is basically a certain level of intrusion, the ability to suddenly enroll you in, in in in demand response where they’re going to turn your air conditioner off for a little while and so forth. There is one part of grid modernization that’s good though. And that is the the smart meters can tell the utility about an outage like a tree falling down and blacking out power to an area where before the utility actually had to sit there and wait for people to call and after the first person called they still didn’t know where it happened so they had to wait for a couple other people to call so they got a bead on where where where they had to send their guys but you know, with modern smart meters and squid motorisation is good about that, but it’s expensive because of the building for internet intermittent power that’s far away and it’s also it’s also can be intrusive. You know,
Robert Bryce 49:29
to follow on that Meredith, because I think that that’s an interesting point that you’re making there and it’s one that I mean several years ago now I live in Austin Mike you know, I because of that I’m a captive customer a customer of Austin energy which you know, is fine with me. I mean, they made money during the February blackouts every one of the few entities that made money for one of the few electric providers that made money the some of the big gas transmission companies Kinder Morgan energy transfer made a lot of money right for selling gas. But a few years ago energy, Austin energy sent me a notice saying well, we We’d like to be able to shut off here. We want to be able to have your smart meters in your home and we want to be able to shut off your air conditioner when demand is high. And I’m waiting, as I’m reading this something will end. The benefit for me is what? Right? I’m going to give you the ability to control a critical appliance, I work at home, and you’re going to be able to shut it off when you want to what’s in it for me, and there was nothing was like, Well, why would I do that? Why would I give away the power to control my electricity use to someone else that I can’t control? It didn’t make any sense to me. But it seems to me this intrusiveness that you’re talking about? It goes further and further, the farther you go on the decarbonisation route, including Nat bans on the use of natural gas in your home, which we’ve talked about as well. And you made a really interesting point about the radiant the value of the how, why that idea is is is one that doesn’t make sense from a human level. Because you said that we humans really like radiant heat. We like that ability to have stand close to the fire. And yet no, it is about electrifying. Everything would take that that that choice of having combustion in the home away?
Meredith Angwin 51:06
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s absolutely true in our skins are quite sensitive to feeling warm when when we have radiance on it. I mean, we we, if it feels warmer, I mean, even if the outside temperature is the same, if you have warmth on your skin from radiance, you feel warmer, that’s just we can we can set that radiance up and feel warmer. And I, I, I get kind of concerned with the idea that we’re we’re not actually human creatures. I mean, we, the the idea is that we we don’t need to feel warm, we can give that up we can. We don’t need to have I don’t know just comfortable alive. So I mean, because it does a greater good if we don’t have a comfortable life. Now those things actually worked. I mean, during World War Two, there was rationing and it was uncomfortable, but people knew what they were doing it for. But the thing is, if you are not allowed to have warmth in your house, what are you doing it for? People say well, you’re doing it to save the planet? Well, maybe but you know, is it really gonna save the planet for you to have a colder house or not to have a warm source of heat? I mean, do you have a Do you have a a, the kind of heating by heat pump? Are you hated by heat pump?
Robert Bryce 52:50
No, but I’ve lived in a home that had a heat pump for briefly and you and I talked about that and it was noisy one because you had to run this outside compressor the whole time and I didn’t like it I would turn the heat pump off and use the you know dish heaters the resistance heaters because I just didn’t like the I didn’t get to your point I didn’t feel warm. And in my home here in Austin we use a gas fired furnace which is air air blown. So during the summer during the blackout, we turned we ran the fireplace nearly full time we do all the time and use that combustion right when radiant heat from fireplace heated up the living room and we hadn’t gas gas stove. And so we kept the gas stove on and heated water and that made the kitchen tolerable. And so but no, it that’s the solution, right that Oh, well. We’re gonna electrify everything everybody’s gonna have a heat pump is going to be great. Well, I’ve lived with heat pumps, they they’re terrible.
Meredith Angwin 53:43
Well, they they, the thing about a heat pump, from its thermodynamic point of view is that the bigger the, the gap between the input and the output, the less efficient the heat pump is. So if you are if you have the heat pump, and it’s 40 degrees outside, and you want to really house temperature up to 70, that’s fairly efficient. If it’s 20 degrees outside and you want to bring it up to 70, then it’s less efficient, because just at the basic thermodynamics, you’re going to need more electrical energy to bring it up there. So what he pumps tend to do in terms of heating the house is they don’t want to have that big a gap. So in other words, when they’re when they’re putting air into the house, that air is not at over 100 degrees, which is what the air is when it’s coming from your furnace. It’s it’s at a lower temperature. And depending on how you feel and as I say I’m an older woman that can feel just point drafting. I’m sorry, it can just feel drafting it because the air is below your skin temperature and it’s moving over you
Robert Bryce 54:57
and yet this is the kind of mess End Date and the kind of reduction in consumer choice. And that’s what it is that the climate activists are pushing. And it one of the interesting things. Okay, so there was a lot of legislation, several bills passed during the legislative session that ended here in in Texas on May 31. Some of the bills, including SB three were aimed at dealing with the blackout. And so there were some measures of regarding weatherization that passed and, you know, requirements for better coordination among the Railroad Commission and so on. But they also passed, I believe it was HB seven, that that bans natural gas bans. So there seems to me in the US, among all the many polarization issues, it’s this ability of, in some states, they’re saying, you Oh, will you go ahead and ban natural gas? That’s what’s happening in California, the big pushes on in Massachusetts city of Seattle has banned natural gas into buildings, where states like Texas are saying, No, no, no, you can’t do that you’re not these cities are not allowed to do it. But I think it’s ultimately it’s a it’s a human freedom, Liberty question, in my view about what you’re going to the fuels that you’re going to be allowed to use? And that goes back to your intrusion point. And I mean, is that ring true to you in my mind?
Meredith Angwin 56:08
I mean, maybe somebody has a heat pump, and they’re very comfortable with it. So maybe I shouldn’t even talk about it. I’ve been around them. And I’ve studied them. But I mean, I haven’t actually. Anyway, yes, it is intrusive. And I found, I was writing a letter to the editor recently, because there was this whole thing about how a neighboring town wanted to have utility usage on a database so that there could be, in other words, my utility usage would go into a database, so that people could target me for advanced utility events, energy savings things. And I’m like, No, I don’t want my I don’t want you to share my utility usage with the third party. Because, you know, if, if you, you understand it, that if the police wanted to know what you what electricity I was using, they would have to subpoena or do a search warrant to find that out. And the idea that, because we have ideas for these people who will help you save energy, we’re going to put everybody’s utility usage into a database I like will tell me, is it going to be identified as me write down into let in the article that it’s going to be targeted? Third Party targeted, offers, this sounds like they can be targeting me, they’re going to know about me. And then oh, we didn’t say that. I said, Well, what did you say? I mean, it’s really a, it’s one of these things where you just don’t know exactly what the plans are. But there’s good reason to be suspicious, that the plans are going to be a lack of privacy. You know, that
Robert Bryce 58:02
smart, like a privacy and a lack of of consumer choice that you’re going to be required to have an induction stovetop, etc, and a heat pump and so on. Meredith, we’re approaching an hour and I know you have a hard stop because you have other obligations. But a reminder to everyone who’s listening, I’m talking to Meredith angwin, who I’m proud to call my friend. She’s the author of shorting the grid, the hidden fragility of our electric grid, which came out in October of 2020. And has really, as you said earlier, Meredith changed your profile and given you in a is an independent analyst is not affiliated with any fancy, you know, blah, blah, academic institution, etc. How do you view just a couple of last questions? As I looked at this, the, you know, the debate now and the discussion around renewables, the discussion around decarbonisation, study after study after study has been produced by academics from elite universities, Princeton, Cal, Berkeley, Stanford, etc, etc, saying, Oh, yeah, we can do all this. And this is our model says we can do this. How do you feel about these models,
Meredith Angwin 59:10
I get very frustrated with the fact that they don’t, they don’t have a path to doing it. They don’t have an estimate of money, they don’t have a way that they’re going to convince people to spend this money. It’s all very much thought experiments. Well, you know, if we were able to build all of this, then we could do this. Well, yeah. But do you think you’re going to be able to build all of this? So for example, like, we’re going to use green hydrogen instead of methane, and exactly how much is this green hydrogen going to cost compared to methane? And how many people do you think are going to use it? And the answer is, well, well, you know, the answer is basically we’ll make them use it. And that really is distressing to me because it’s another way of enforcing energy poverty, in my opinion.
Unknown Speaker 1:00:01
By the way,
Robert Bryce 1:00:03
another way of enforcing energy poverty, but but the other part of it to me that’s so missing is anything relating to the actual physical world. If only we could build all these wind projects in Missouri and Nebraska and so on. Well, what about the backlash in those towns? Where are you going to have Oh, you’re going to build, double, triple r train the high voltage transmission will, any consideration of how hard it is to build that? And that’s to me, that’s the academic departure divorce from what is happening in the real world is really alarming.
Meredith Angwin 1:00:36
I think it is alarming. It is. It is distressing, and it’s distressing. You know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t distress me too much, if it comes from some policy walks. But it bothers me when it comes from engineering schools, because it makes me wonder whether they are actually teaching and
Robert Bryce 1:01:02
because you’re, you’re a chemist by training, right? Yes,
Meredith Angwin 1:01:05
I’m a chemist, I want you to also say that, although I have been, you know, somewhat changed by the the book, The shorting the grid book. I mean, I have been working in the utility industry, most of my life, I have patents on control of nitrogen oxides, I have patents on control of thermal, thermal runaway from underground electrical systems, I worked a lot on corrosion control and nuclear plants. So I’ve been around a lot of the electrical industry. And I just I just wanted to say that because otherwise, it seems like, you know, how did she decide to write a book about utilities? Because I’ve been around them so much.
Robert Bryce 1:01:58
Well, that’s a good I’m glad you added that. And this isn’t coming out of left field for you that this is where you’ve lived for decades. Well, so just the last couple of things then Meredith. So I know you’ve we talked about how the book has changed your you know, the trajectory and you’re getting hate to use that line your day in the sun, but I think it’s more than a day it’s several days in the sun and good for you. So who are you reading now? What what places are you looking to? I thought there was a very good piece by a guy named Michael McKenna in utility dive the other day critiquing this letter from the commissioners about the need for more artios Who do you read now when you want information about what’s really going on? Who do you whose work do you admire in that regard?
Meredith Angwin 1:02:39
Well, yours well, and King McKenna’s solo Patel at utility dive and and I listened to podcast years and Chris Kiefer’s and, and Alex Epstein has had some really good ones. I mean, yeah. And I enjoy reading that I am
Robert Bryce 1:03:08
working as a columnist at Forbes.
Meredith Angwin 1:03:10
Yes, yes. Yes. And I. Well, I don’t think of him as a columnist at Forbes. So he is I think of him is the founder of energy daily, which I read every day when I was at Emory. Uh huh. Okay, you know, so I think of him as someone who’s been in the utility industry, even longer than I have in and keeping up with these things.
Robert Bryce 1:03:32
Right. Yeah, he is. He is a veteran. And that’s one of the things that I like about doing this podcast as I can, you know, I’m not really interested in having young people on and I know, I mean, I’ve had young people. And I’ve overstate that. I like having people that are veterans who have a lot of experience, because that, to me is is what’s needed. Now is a lot of people who have a lot of experience who can say, Well, this is really how the system is working or not working. Last last question, Mary, what gives you hope now? I mean, you’re now Well, we’re six, eight months since the release of your book, you’ve you’ve it’s changed your the trajectory trajectory of your career. Now, what? What gives you hope?
Meredith Angwin 1:04:12
Well, what gives me hope is actually that people are beginning to pay attention, at least I think. So. I think people are beginning to pay attention to the grid as a grid as opposed to the constant like, we love solar. We hate solar. We love nuclear, we hate nuclear. I mean, there’s it’s a it’s a unified at the bottom line, it has to work as a unified system. And I have to say that when I was invited recently, to talk to two chapters of the Sierra Club about my book, I said, Okay, people are beginning to see this as a unified system. I mean, I’d like to be invited to more chapters in the Sierra Club, because my book is really about the grid is a unified system, and we better acknowledge that And we better govern it so that it’s reliable.
Robert Bryce 1:05:06
That’s a good place to stop.
Meredith Angwin 1:05:10
And everybody go by shorting the grid.
Robert Bryce 1:05:14
We’ll stop there. And Meredith thanks again for being on the third time on the power hungry podcast. As I mentioned earlier, your podcast we did in February was the most popular podcast we’ve done out of 57. This is our 58th episode, the one year anniversary of the power hungry podcast thanks to all of you people in podcast land for tuning in. It’s been a great deal of fun for me to be able to talk to people like Meredith and so many others that I’ve talked to over the last year and we’re gonna keep going on this podcast is one year is just getting started and, and I’ve had a great deal of fun. So we’ll end it there. Thanks again to Meredith angling, buy her book shorting the grid. It’s on Amazon. It’s on all fine at all find booksellers. And I will sign off saying thanks to all of you again, marking the one year anniversary of the power hungry podcast. I’ll see you for the next episode. Thanks again. Bye bye.