The Big Electricity Question: How Much Are Dry Nuts Worth?

Categories: Buzz
As Brantley pointed out yesterday, the Texas Public Utility Commission got down to hard numbers last week as it inched further toward what appears to be inevitable -- a huge increase in the current $3,000 per megawatt-hour cap on the price of wholesale electricity during times when demand is high. Texas needs more power, and power producers say they need more money to build the generation plants. Run it all through the magical mystery maze of the the electric market, with it's "peak" this and "base load" that and long time frames, and what we end up with is anybody's guess -- provided anybody's guess is "higher prices."

Unfair Park's commenters -- as cynical a bunch of SOBs who ever trawled the Internet -- continually express doubt that the big power companies won't just pocket any extra money and run. That's the problem with being cursed with a long memory. You pesky Unfair Parkers remember all the promises made and broken when Texas deregulated the electricity market a decade ago. Or sort of deregulated it ... still haven't figure out how price caps, the PUC and ERCOT figure into a "deregulated" scheme.

Still, the whole convoluted mess is fascinating to watch -- to wonks who are easily amused, anyhow -- like those old stereogram posters from the '90s. I stare and stare trying to make the 3D picture appear, one that will answer The Big Question about the future of Texas' electric market: Is my air conditioning going to go out this summer and leave me with a raging case of sweaty balls?

Well, fine, it's my Big Question. Is $9,000 per megawatt-hour the right price for peak electricity? Listen, just guarantee me a dry sack, and you can bill me later.

There was some good news out of the PUC, though. Last week, the commissioners knocked down a regulatory hurdle for Xtreme Power Inc., a Kyle-based company that this year plans to complete a high-tech batteries- and mass-storage facility linked to a Duke Energy wind farm out in West Texas.

Xtreme's facility will be able to store 36 megawatts captured from Duke's 153-megawatt Notrees wind farm in Ector and Winkler counties, then instantly release the energy when it's needed. The PUC, over the objection of some energy-intensive industries that themselves benefit by idling plants and selling power to the grid when demand is high, agreed to let the new big-ass battery's operators pay wholesale prices for the electricity it takes from the wind farm and stores, instead of higher retail prices.

Apparently, the opponents thought the storage plant should pay retail for electricity -- because, technically, all those batteries were consuming power from the grid -- then sell it back to the grid for wholesale, a way of doing business not generally accepted in most industries outside newspapers.

Storing power from wind and solar generators has been the bugbear for the renewable-energy industry, but Xtreme hopes its technology will smooth out power supplied by the fickle winds and make wind farms more economically feasible and efficient.

Granted, the storage project required $22 million in grant funding from the feds to help it get off the ground, but as Amanda Brown, director of regulatory affairs and marketing policy for Xtreme told us, "the PUC commissioners have definitely shown their commitment" to energy storage. (Xtreme also benefited from a $2 million investment from the state's often-criticized Texas Emerging Technology Fund, a.k.a Rick Perry's petty cash box.)

Now, some of you might be thinking that $22-$24 million is a pretty stiff gargle when it comes to helping hippie wind-power work. Me? As far as Buzz is concerned, a boxcar filled with government green is a small price to pay to have the boys cooled by the dry night winds of West Texas -- especially if I don't have to live there.


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26 comments
Paul
Paul

One of the problems with an electricity delivery grid is that when demand reaches 101% of supply, it is not the 1% demand over supply that loses power, but it potentially is 100% of demand that is lost, that is all customers lose power, not just the last 1% to demand power.

One way to fix the supply demand problem is to restrict generators from contracting for sale more than a certain percentage of their installed nameplate capacity.

Paul
Paul

Patrick, the buy at retail, sell at wholesale is the schtick for people who have added solar panels to their homes.

Albert
Albert

I didn't know Schweddy Balls was available in Dallas. Whole Foods?

LaceyB
LaceyB

C'mon Buzzy, you secretly love us UPers for sticking around after Big Bob deserted us. You don't have to name us in your articles.

Fact: BB just told me to "be patient, Lacey" because the DMN's comments section blows burrito chunks--people can come by anon and hate or like your comment and you get graded on some dorky point system. I was top of the "bitch pack", but, what does that matter?

Anywho, what does all this matter? Can't they make electric out of pecans or something? I keep it cold enough to keep my "buttons on high alert". In Dallas. In the summer. And, you know they've already spent that grant money. Ridiculous.

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

The difference between dry nuts and deer nuts is that we are about to pay three times as much for dry nuts but deer nuts are always under a buck.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Patrick, Do a little research and find out how many "NEW" gas fired plants are on line now ?

Gabe
Gabe

You can't store a megawatt, that's like saying a road is 20 miles per hour long.

I think you mean a megawatt hour.  

A megawatt hour would be enough to enough to power 800-900 small or medium sized homes with the AC turned on for about an hour.

If you bought a kilowatt hour (or more, depending on your home) battery pack and the appropriate switching, you could survive those 30 minute rolling brownouts that are coming without losing your AC. 

If you had access to 1210 megawatts and a DeLorean, you could go back and express your opinions on deregulation before it was put into law.

Amy S
Amy S

Here's the problem. There are lots of solutions, but we're only discussing the problem. Like a huge hammer that we can't escape (so they win their fight, right?)  Except we can.

Here's mine, and this is so bad, I can't believe I'm suggesting it, except sometimes it takes some thing worse to make a bad thing better. Make sense? If your electric goes out you get in your car. Car in the garage when the electric goes out? Make sure you know how to open it manually (yes, it can be done) or keep your car outside on hot days. Your car has everything you could need, air conditioning, power source for the laptop - even TV's, or so I've heard. I don't commute to work, so I didn't feel guilty the 2 times I did it last summer.

I know this is very bad for the ecology, maybe worse than the coal fired power generators. But it is still a free country, and if the government cannot ensure the health and safety of its citizens (as that electricity makes its way to Mexico and back), then I say go for it. Maybe the "worse" solution will make this problem go away.

Or less ecologically damaging, go to a store, a movie, a library - however they are on the grid and may have blackouts as well.

james
james

do you really think the big rich megafucks that own the power grid give two shits about your(or anyones)mother in law?

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

For me, the question is not about personal comfort. The question is whether people like my mother-in-law, who physically can't take the heat, will be able to afford to keep their AC on and stay healthy or even alive.

Patrick Williams
Patrick Williams

 Whaddya mean "secretly?" I SAID you guys were a cynical bunch of SOBs. That's about as big a compliment as I pay anyone. And folks with long memories who can hold a grudge? Shee-yit, if I wasn't already married I'd be sending out boxes of chocolates.

Paul
Paul

 Another item to consider is the deliverability of the battery set.  1 MW would meet the capacity of about 200 homes if the demand is 5 KW per house.

Ed D.
Ed D.

 Sure, but where we're going, will we need roads?

Matthew Gunter
Matthew Gunter

Tim, I once asked my grandmother. She would have been 112 yesterday, had she not passed 13 years ago, "how did y'all survive before a/c? How did men wear wool suits when it is 110 outside?"

Her response was simply, "this is Texas, we just did."

My point is, ya the heat sucks, and yes, I'd love to not pay through the nose for electricity. I've lived here my entire life, and August in Dallas is like trekking to Mt. Doom. We've all lived it. It's miserable. But it is livable. How are we to bitch wearing a cotton t-shirt, flip flops, and shorts when our grandparents were in the same hell wearing wool suits?

Every year since she and I had that conversation, when I get off work and sit in my backyard in my underwear with a cold beer and think, "this is fucking miserable!" I then think about walking down Main St. wearing a wool suit in August for just a few blocks. I then think about spending an entire day doing it.

I don't want anyone to die. The de-regulation is bullshit. But in the end, you survive. If that woman could work on a farm in Lucas, in this heat and in the midst of the Great Depression, then I can handle a few hours without a/c. Not saying it is fun, but it just is.

LaceyB
LaceyB

Unfair enough. But, in speaking for the rest of us UPers, we'd really rather have a keg or a bootleg concert (for those on the cheap). We take said "compliment" with a blithe "yeah, whatever". But, glad to know we are "appreciated". Fancy a non-romantic smoke, knowing that you have a wifey and all?

Patrick Williams
Patrick Williams

 I know, Gabe. I actually do know that. And I thought someone would call me on not adding the word "hour" in there, but I figured the people who know that time is a component of measuring the work energy does would know that and the rest of us wouldn't care. I didn't want to kludge up the post with more detail than necessary.

Probably should have rethought that. Never sure about how far to go with those deets. Used to have to edit a ton of stories about water issues in South Texas, and the reporters got really sick of me insisting they explain how much water is in acre-foot in every story.

MikeyBC
MikeyBC

Your statement would be just as correct and effective without the unnecessary and offensive vulgarity!

MikeyBC

John2247
John2247

And your grandmother probably knew people who died of polio.  Lets go back!

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

1. Actually, a lot less people lived to the age of your grandmother because of the lack of AC. My mother-in-law has medical problems that make her more susceptible to problems due to the heat.2. Houses, apartments and offices for the last 40 years have not been built with handling heat without AC in mind. There is little to no cross ventilation in modern buildings. This results in them just building up heat if you do not have a working AC system.3. Temperatures were cooler then. We were coming out of a miniature ice age. Whether you believe man caused it or not, the numbers do show that we have gotten warmer over the last 60 years.

Paul
Paul

Here you go:

Your battery will hold so many amp-hours at a certain voltage. (or for a small battery: milliamp - minutes, 1 milli amp = 0.001 Amp).

The current draw will be so many amps (or milliamps).

Amp - hours / Amp draw = time that you can operate.

Then take that number and multiply by 0.8 so that you have a reserve to be able to land and you have your flight time.

hth

Oh, BTW, Amps times Volts equals power.

Patrick Williams
Patrick Williams

 Will do. I want to keep on the good side of you guys who understand electricity, because I've been trying to figure out the power requirements for some radio controlled planes I've been trying to build and need all the help I can get.

Paul
Paul

 Patrick, thanks for the update, but please remember that watt is a unit of power and a watt - hour is a unit of energy.

LaceyB
LaceyB

Not entirely true. Bars were open starting at 4pm. You just weren't in them. Pity.

LaceyB
LaceyB

De-regulate to a company like "Dynowatt". It used to be like 6 cents per kWh. It's less than 8 cents if you aren't moving in like 6 mos. And do a contract. You have to call a number to pay, but cheap is cheap.

Amy S
Amy S

And everyone left town for the summer. The schools were out, the restaurants were closed. Very little industry transpired during July and August. Many Dallas residents had lake houses (way) out at White Rock Lake in the 1920's and 30's, or in Colorado.

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