Saturday, February 20, 2021

No, Conservatives, Texas Power Grid Collapse Wasn't Because Of Wind Turbine Failures

 Texas had a record breaking cold snap this past week as a result of the Jet Stream slumping way south of where it normally sits, and allowing a huge mass of arctic air to drop temperatures down into the range of -20C.  For a state that rarely sees 0F, that's shockingly cold.  As you have seen in the news, the power grid in Texas basically collapsed in the face of record cold and snowy conditions.  

In the wake of this, we have had numerous figures blaming this power disaster on renewable energy sources like wind turbines. Factually, even CNN is pointing out that this is utter nonsense.  Anyone who lives in a more wintery climate (like Alberta for example) is used to -20C or colder temperatures not affecting much of anything.  

So, why did the Texas power grid collapse so violently?  DailyKOS published an analysis this week which walks through the combination of policy going back to the days of electrification in the 1930s, ego, greed, and what ultimately is a fundamental failure to safeguard the public interest by Texas politicians. 

Mechanically, the basic statement is that Texas has never bothered to spend the money needed to prepare their infrastructure for winter conditions, even in the wake of a 2011 weather event which resulted in rolling power outages. 

While it would be an enjoyable exercise to talk about the relative ease with which the technical problems could be solved, the politics are much more informative, especially with a conservative disinformation campaign gearing up to discredit "green" energy in the public mind. 

Texas' woes really started when the state decided to "go it alone" by not allowing its grid to interconnect with its neighbours.  This arose out of some conservative paranoia about "federal regulators".  As a result, the Texas power grid basically stands as an island in the North American power grid system.  It has minor interconnects with its neighbours, but none are adequate to do more than the most trivial of load balancing, certainly not enough to hold the grid up if a major collapse starts.  

Isolationism, combined with a deep rooted skepticism about climate change (funded by Texas-based oil companies), meant that a lot of executives in the Texas energy industry decided that taking protective steps to avoid blackouts was an unnecessary expense.  When a 2011 winter storm resulted in recommendations to winterize, those ideas quietly disappeared off the radar after a couple of more normal winters. 

Here in Canada, we are getting fed a steady stream of right wing propaganda that "renewables are unreliable".  Yes, there are days where the wind doesn't blow (although residents of Lethbridge, AB  might contest that); there are overcast days where solar isn't going to be as efficient, and so on.  I think we all know these as "self evident facts".  Yes, you need a range of generation options right now.  Nobody with any sense is saying you don't. 

However, politics being what it is, people with very deep pockets are pouring huge dollars into convincing you that renewable energy isn't the way to go.  Why?  Because their profits depend on burning fossil fuels for as long as possible.  They know, just as well as you and I do when we look at the hard science, that the bill for burning hydrocarbons for energy is coming due. They want to maximize their profits as long as possible. So, they pour money into disinformation spread through PostMedia, Fox News, and wherever else they own control. 

The "right" mix of energy sources is largely going to be a matter of engineering decisions, not political.  Arguments like those being put forth by Danielle Smith and other writers for PostMedia do us no favours by choosing to lie about the reality of what happened in Texas.  

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Alberta's Administrative Penalties Act: Justice More Expedient, or Justice Denied?

 In July 2020, Alberta passed a bill which makes sweeping changes to what it euphemistically calls "Administrative Penalties" (basically anything you might get a ticket for) and the way that they are handled. Bill 21, The Administrative Penalties Act, dramatically changes the scope of what police or other enforcement officials can do when they hand out tickets.  

First of all, a ticket is no longer a "summons" to appear in court.  It becomes an "administrative penalty", which is extremely broadly defined:  

Definition of Administrative Penalty

So, basically, this is just about anything up to, but not including being imprisoned. When you start considering that can include impounding your vehicle, seizure of property, imposing restrictions on your driver's license, etc., that's a lot of potential consequences. 

This legislation is a lot more slippery than merely giving police enormous powers over your life. 

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...