Picking Up The Pieces

Well, two weeks ago we were freezing our butts off. Two days ago, we are having to run the AC because it turned warm, muggy, and humid. And today it’s cold and rainy again. Welcome to Texas. Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes or a week or two, and it will change. Absolutely-freaking-guaranteed.

However, the damage that a week of sub-zero temperatures did to my neighborhood – the process of picking up the pieces is underway. For the civic stuff – a couple of burst pipes got taken care of by the utility company almost the instant that everyone thawed out. The one house in the neighborhood that burned is still a ruin: the FD had all their hydrants frozen on that night that it burned, couldn’t bring in enough water in the pumper trucks and so the house – which still stands, barely – is a total loss. The smell of burned wood lasts for at least two houses away. The pipes in and under my own house appear to have weathered through the storm all right – most of them are in the concrete foundation slab for most of their run, and the ones which come up through the exterior walls in various places were insulated sufficiently … and we left all the sink faucets and outside taps dripping, in any case. Yes, we have lived in places where this was expected. It also helped enormously that I had paid for a new round of blown-in attic insulation a couple of years ago, also that the new concrete siding was installed last fall, and the new and better-insulated windows had been installed a week before the Great Texas Freeze of 2021. All but the front bedroom, which was supposed to have been replaced with French doors, doors which unaccountably were not delivered with all the other replacement windows. So, it was not horribly uncomfortable inside the house during that week; we could boil water for coffee and tea in the morning and cook a hot meal at night on the propane grill on the front porch. Many of our neighbors also got by simply by having camping gear and propane on hand.

However, there are steps that we are going to take. Stocking up the pantry with canned and ready-to-prep foods is not one of them, as we have been doing that for years and will continue to do so. A stock of candles, matches, batteries of every dimension and all that … again, already done. What we will pay particular attention now is to get rechargeable lanterns and keep them charged, plus a really much larger stash of propane bottles (every outlet in San Antonio that we visited last week was totally out of propane in every conceivable form…) The Daughter Unit wants to explore getting a generator powerful enough to carry the house through the next outage. It may come to that once I finish paying for the new siding and windows. In the meantime, I look to a small but supposedly efficient rechargeable power source – meant for camping, basically.

It really shook our neighbors, I think – how fast we descended, even if temporarily – into Venezuela: erratic power, no water, dangerous roads, leavened with long lines outside the grocery stores and empty shelves inside. From talking to my neighbors and on the Next Door App, we all got by OK – through all the above workarounds.

Now comes the clean-up, which will be extensive and expensive. The week-long cold snap killed our gardens, even the things sheltered in greenhouse and garage, or covered. No way around it.  The live oak trees are shedding frost-killed leaves like mad. So are all those other trees. All the citrus trees in my neighborhood are covered in dead leaves and withered fruit. The semi-tropical, ornamental and heat-tolerant palm trees, the cycads, esperanza, cactus, agaves, and oleanders – all brown and shriveled. Deciduous fruit trees, which need a hard freeze to bear fruit – might just be OK, out of all this. Perhaps the larger specimens planted in the ground may endure, but most likely, we have lost everything in a pot or hanging basket. Another two or three weeks and I will see what has made it.

The one thing that all the neighbors that I have talked to agree on – is that renewable wind and solar power is as dead in Texas as our gardens. None of us will soon forget the misery of that week, and I don’t believe that Governor Abbott, or the Texas Legislature (in session since January) will forget – or be allowed to forget it, either. Discuss as you wish.

47 thoughts on “Picking Up The Pieces”

  1. The only negative about pipes in the slab is slab leaks which are a pain in the a$$. If the soil is subject to shifting, it’s a risk. I had one in my California house and it cost about $7,000 to reroute all the copper pipes. I had another but it was in a house I was renting from a doctor friend. Nice hardwood floor buckled giving us the clue. I didn’t have to fix that one.

    Years ago, I put a 440 gallon tank in the side yard of a beach house we owned. Totally illegal, of course, but I did it myself and covered it with a concrete slab. I filled it with diesel and we had all diesel cars at the time. It was around 1979 with the gas lines. I had a pump and kept the cars filled. An oil company that serviced a school bus yard a couple of blocks away filled it for us. Nobody seemed to notice the truck coming once a month. I was thinking about a diesel generator at the time. Propane is more popular (and legal) now.

    Good luck with the plants.

  2. Yep – some of our neighbors have had leaks in the slab, and a lot of the two-story places in our neighborhood have had to have foundation repair. Some of them were built partly on fill, with the result that one might expect. The soil is about eighteen inches of clay over caliche, but I think we have lucked out so far: ours is on solid soil and caliche, and since I stripped out all the carpets years ago and painted the concrete floors, I’d know about any cracks in it wider than hairline.

  3. Yup. Texas discovered what Germany, Netherlands, and other places had already learned (well, in the case of some of them, “experienced”, as they actually LEARNED *nothing*)… Wind is erratic and ok for a limited set of situations, but *gosh* *gosh* *gosh* **sURpRIse!!!!!** not something to be reliant on.

    In the immortal words of John McClane… “Welcome to the party, PAL!!”

  4. We knew the renewables were variable, and thought we had adequate backup for them. The scary thing was to have the thermal plants go down, too, and for reasons that aren’t yet crystal clear in all cases. Some failures are fairly straightforward matters of freezing equipment. Others are more mysterious. Other are straightforward but will be expensive to prevent if we’re ever to get that kind of cold again. If gas is going to turn out to be that unreliable in a severe freeze, we’ll need more coal and nuclear. The nuclear problem was fairly limited and shouldn’t be too hard to prevent: a frozen sensor gave a false warning that the water supply for the steam turbine was cut off.

  5. The daughter unit mentions a generator that will power the whole house – powered with what? Diesel? LP? Didn’t the nat gas system go down? I’m just curious what that sort of plan look like.

  6. One more question – did the farmers lose a lot of livestock? I know if it was Winter up here and we lost power that it would cause a huge nightmare getting fresh water to all of the animals.

  7. The big generators run on Propane, like Steve Hayward’s. I don’t know enough about zone rules for big propane tanks. When I was thinking of one, I was looking at places with 5 acres. We have one (acre) but I don’t know the law about Propane tanks.

  8. Dan, I don’t think the gas system went down – we have gas for the water heater, but that system is also dependent on electricity, I believe …
    And we’re on a very small urban lot, so no room for a huge propane tank like at my parent’s rural home.

  9. If gas should really be unreliable…and I doubt that it really is, my perception is that it has a very good reliability record around the country and for a long time…but if gas *is* unreliable, then the solution would be to use dual-fuel gas turbines in the power plants, the other fuel being oil, which can be stored on-site. Dual-fuel turbine have been in existence for a long time; I don’t know though if a retrofit kit exists for large turbines that were installed for gas-only, which would be most of them.

  10. Just repeating a story about the gas supply interruptions – no idea if this is the whole story, part of the story, or complete hogwash:

    Much of the gas coming out of wells has to be compressed to a suitably high pressure to enter a pipeline. And pipelines need gas compressors to move the gas along the pipeline from source to market. Those compressors used to be powered by gas — made sense, since the fuel for the compressor was right there. But — GREENIES! Burning gas creates the carbon dioxide which supports plant life and thus animal & human life. Hell No! CO2 Has To Go! To meet “green” mandates and reduce their CO2 footprint, pipeline companies switched from gas-fueled compressors to electric-driven compressors. When the electricity supply went down, the pipelines had to shut down as their internal pressure dropped. No electricity thus translated into no gas.

  11. We never lost our natural gas here in Austin. We were able to cook on the stovetop and have hot showers. Morale is built on hot food and hot showers. We had a simple meal on Tuesday night; a baked chicken leg quarter that my wife wrapped in foil and heated in a skillet, and Rice-A-Roni. A feast; I licked my plate clean.

    We learned a lot. More batteries for the flashlights. A generator. A propane heater. We plan on being more comfortable next time.

    Because folks, there is going to be a next time. Texas had it’s first corporate casualty this morning; the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, based in Waco, was handed a bill from ERCOT for $2.1 billion dollars for one weeks worth of electricity. Their entire cost for electricity in 2020 for 68 counties was $744 million. You see the problem. They flatly declined to pay the bill, as they knew their customers just couldn’t pay the massive rate increase required. Then they went to the courthouse. I suspect others will follow. I also expect ERCOT to fold as well. This is a significant issue. Someone is going to have to pay that $2.1 billion dollars back, but whom? There are a great many municipally-owned electric utilities in Texas, ranging in size all the way from Fredericksburg to San Antonio. The private companies such as AEP and Oncor are also going to be badly hurt.

    I live in Austin and buy my electricity from Austin Energy, which is a department of the City of Austin. How is the City of Austin supposed to pay a billion-dollar electric bill? The entire budget for the City of Austin is a billion dollars. Austin is doubly screwed; all the profit from Austin Energy, which was substantial, subsidized other city departments. That money has now vanished. And Austin didn’t cover itself in glory in terms of renewables. Austin purchased a biomass plant in East Texas a few years ago. It wasn’t running, as the decision was made to only run it in the summer. Austin invested heavily in the West Texas windmills, which were frozen. The glories of Green Energy.

    Texas is living in interesting times.

  12. @Roadgeek – Great that you never lost your NG. I live in the sticks but we are happy that somehow we have NG out here. We lose power when we have big storms, but have never had a drop in NG delivery. Its so reliable and it is amazing. You speak of hot showers – sanitation is the first thing that goes to hell in these types of emergencies. Those on wells were not as fortunate, I’m sure.

  13. Gavin…here is a marketing piece from Siemens on the benefits of replacing turbines or engines used for pipeline compression with electric motors:


    …mainly a cost-saving argument they are making; I believe you are correct about environmental mandates, one issue in some location is *noise*.

    Siemens also makes a reliability argument: electric motors fail rarely, it is true, but they don’t mention the vulnerability to electric power outages.

  14. Dan, I don’t think the gas system went down – we have gas for the water heater, but that system is also dependent on electricity, I believe …

    Unless it plugs into a wall socket (or is hard wired), it isn’t. My < 5-year-old water heaters don't need electricity to operate. There are power vent gas water heaters that probably do need electricity to operate but they have contraptions on the top instead of just a vent duct so they're easy to identify.

  15. I live in San Antonio. We were mostly lucky, though we lost water for a day. It takes electricity to pump water up into towers.

    We are remodeling a house, and I am trying to persuade my wife to put in a natural-gas-powered, standby generator. They work on propane as a backup. You can lose gas service, but I think it will be the last to go, and no solution is perfect short of having your own nuclear power plant, a responsibility I’ll pass on.

  16. The interesting thing to me is the persistence of the KGB inspired fear of nuclear power. It was a KGB operation in the 50s, aided by such leftists as Bertrand Russell and his “Ban the bomb” rallies. Jane Fonda and her “China Syndrome” movie in the late 70s added a bit. Scientific American, back when I still read it, added a worry about warming the ocean with nuclear plant cooling water.

    Harry Reid added the Yucca Mountain boondoggle that he blocked use of after it was built.

  17. Back when the Electricity Wars between AC- and DC- distribution, Thomas Edison used sleazy fear-based tactics to try & ensure the triumph of his system over the Westinghouse/Tesla AC system….including dubbing AC as ‘killer current’, getting the electric chain introduced for executions and making sure everybody knew it ran on AC, etc. In today’s social/political/media climate, he probably would have gotten away with it.

  18. Also, magnetic resonance (as in MRI, magnetic resonance imaging) was originally called *nuclear* magnetic resonance. I believe it was a smart marketing guy at GE who got the ‘nuclear’ part of the term dropped, otherwise, MRI scanners would probably not be in common use.

  19. Perhaps a stupid concept and question, but there are more clever people around here who might address it:

    What if a propane-tank supported generator for many individual homes fed back into the grid during emergencies?

    We know solar-with-battery systems feed “excess” to the grid, either reducing the bills or sometimes even earning home-owners small profits. But solar is not a reliable source during snow storms.

    We know whole-house generators sufficient to cover “base-load” during a complete outage will have excess capacity when, for example, the freezer and HVAC aren’t at the moment running.

    If say 1000 home generators ran full tilt all the time, tracked and sold excess watts to the grid, would it help the locality?

  20. Pouncer:

    I suspect that the reason for that not being able to be done is literal power politics. California has a lot of solar power, almost all fed directly to the grid. Their licensing discourages being able to run your home and just feed the excess into the grid because if you can run your home, you are not as much in their power. Probably similar dynamics would apply for home generators in Leftist run states. In Free states, it might be done for both solar and natural gas, noting that such would imply a battery storage capacity to smooth the switching out.

    Subotai Bahadur

  21. I remember when California passed a law that ended wide open “net metering.” The solar owner can only sell back power to the utility for a “wholesale” price that is half or less of the “retail” price charged by the utility. In AZ, I just got an estimate for a solar system and here, the net metering is within 2 cents of the utility price.

    David, I remember well when Nuclear Magnetic Resonance become MRI. A bit like how the EMI scan became the CAT scan.

    No mention in that Wiki article of EMI, the company that first produced them.

  22. Pouncer: “What if a propane-tank supported generator for many individual homes fed back into the grid during emergencies?”

    Setting aside issues about required volumes — propane has quite different combustion characteristics from methane, because they are chemically distinct compounds. Most water heaters (for example) come from the factory equipped to burn methane (natural gas, CH4). If a home is supplied instead with propane (C3H8), the burners have to be replaced and a sticker applied to the heater stating that it has been converted to propane.

    Also worth keeping in mind that any form of stored energy needs to be treated with a lot of respect — whether that is potential energy stored in a hydro-electric dam or electrical energy stored in a Greenie battery farm. Most large propane distribution tanks are located out in the countryside for safety reasons. Because propane is stored as a liquid under pressure, propane storage tanks are subject in extremis to “bleve” — boiling liquid evaporating vapor explosion. Videos are quite dramatic!

  23. In no particular order:
    Propane will store indefinitely, diesel 30-90 days without special precautions to control microbial growth and water accumulation. Diesel will also gel at low temperature unless that is addressed. The happy green bio-diesel content exacerbates both the microbial and gelling problems. Dual fuel propane/natural gas generators are common, switching is as easy as turning a valve which can be automatic. Output from natural gas is a little lower than propane, I’m pretty sure three fuel engines, that can run on unleaded, are available. A gas engine will be considerably less expensive than a diesel, especially in the small size needed for a house.

    All the problems of diesel are worse for heavy fuel oil. You don’t want to have to store it for long periods.

    You can’t feed power back into the system from emergency generators because there’s no way to control them and maintain synchronization. They would also be a terrible hazard to the crews trying to repair the lines. If you tried to run one while still connected to the grid, I imagine it would burn up very quickly, about like closing it into a dead short.

    Propane tanks very rarely explode, even when engulfed in a fire, the boiling propane keeps the tank cool, the flames from the venting is spectacular and why you want to be sure that it is sited some distance from structures. Unless the fusible plug melts, the venting stops as soon as the fire is controlled.

    The big driver of using motors ( usually around 10,000 HP) is NOX emissions, CO2 isn’t regulated yet. The cost of maintaining engines large enough for a man to stand inside is nontrivial and a big driver as well. IC engines are still maintained as backup in different locations, but placing a motor is much easier in developed areas. Gas systems tend to be more reliable since they’re not subject to the problems of an AC electrical system and they’re underground. If you keep stuffing gas into the pipe, it will eventually come out somewhere. Pressures can be increased to make up for a limited loss of pumping capacity down stream. People with actual experience are very underwhelmed with Siemens motors.

    Most systems have very limited natural gas storage if any. It normally flows from the wells to to the plant and into the pipeline. The wells seem to be the weak link, as that’s where most of the water that is commonly produced with the gas is separated. A lot of mostly exposed piping with water and it will freeze. With natural gas prices so low, there’s a limited amount of money to spend on something that might not be needed for the life of the well. Significantly increasing the cost of operating wells would lead to many being plugged until the price rose enough. The reliability of something that would sit for years or decades between uses is problematic.

    Most furnaces will not work without power, but a couple of KW or less will do for most. A genset big enough for electric heat would have to be a lot bigger and few places lost gas service.

  24. One issue, somewhat off topic, is why boats have gone to Propane from Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Propane in a boat requires a sealed box, vented to the outside for safety. Propane is heavier than CNG and will collect in the bilge. I restored a Cal 40 about ten years ago, M and it was frustrating to find CNG valve and gauge. Nobody uses CNG on boats anymore. Why is a mystery. I know propane has a higher specific heat and that makes sense on land. CNG is safer and we sailed to Hawaii with two CNG tanks and had enough leftover to sail back.

  25. It’s generally a good idea to structure your system so that outlier events benefit rather than bankrupt you. So you should be net long rather than net short stock index options. You should favor hills over flood zones for your house location. And if you run an electric utility you shouldn’t have uncapped liability for price fluctuations. Outliers happen even though it’s human nature to expect them not to.

    Many people think their business is a casino where they can ride out the occasional large loss because the long-term odds are in the house’s favor. The problem with the casino metaphor is that casino odds are defined a priori and artificial. A slot machine or roulette wheel really is going to generate results that fit a well understood distribution. A properly managed casino never goes bankrupt. But odds in the financial and natural worlds are often not so well understood. Market crashes and “thousand year” floods may occur more often than anyone expected. Then what? The traditional way to deal with such risks is to build excess capacity into the system, as with electrical grids, or to be more conservative than appears necessary with, say, mortgage applications. Green/”renewable” energy systems tend to go in the opposite direction, because the political incentive is to maximize the apparent short-run system efficiency. Less excess capacity = more and worse surprises.

  26. NMR vs. MRI

    Back in the mid ’70s when I worked as a research organic chemist for Squibb, our department bought an NMR spectrometer
    to confirm/determine molecular structure of compounds separated from reaction mixtures.

    One morning I took my prepared sample to run an NMR spectrum. Sample vial placed in the spinning apparatus, graph paper
    placed on the vacuum platen, hit the start button, then lean back and sip the 7-up with ice in the paper cup while the 45 minute
    run takes place. The 7-up was the antidote for the big head. Being only 24, I sometimes stayed out late at night. Don’t you
    know it, I knocked over the cup of 7-up, which immediately flowed into the vacuum platen. The recording pen immediately
    flat-lined. Oh boy! I broke the departments brand new, $250,000 instrument. To this day, I can still hear the hissing sound as my soda
    got sucked into the guts of the machine. So I went to tell my immediate supervisor what I had done. He laughed! Gave me a carton of
    Q-tips, asked my to get some de-ionized water and have at it. I water-swabbed the wet internals for a couple of hours, let it dry for a
    bit, good as new. Whew!!

  27. Jonathan,
    Nailed it in one.

    Back in the bad old days when utilities were regulated monopolies. The system worked thusly:

    The utilities were guaranteed their operating costs plus a minimum return on their capital investment. In the ’60’s this was usually around 8%. It’s what made utilities solid if unexciting investments. All they cared about was selling as much electricity as possible. Which didn’t happen if the system went down and you better believe they kept track of every penny of lost revenue.

    There is a catch. The return on capital, usually called the rate base, was from the moment the equipment was placed into service. The carrying and construction costs of projects like power plants that took years and even then could top a million dollars a day, were rolled into the rate base but only started to earn back when they were in service. This is what did most to kill nuclear. building a nuclear plant turned from being a big complicated job, to a sisyphean struggle where the rules were changed faster than the plants could be built. Many utilities were more or less bankrupted by the cost of building plants that never entered the rate base.

    Additions to the rate base had to be approved in advance by a public body, usually called a Utility Commission, based on load projections and engineering to protect consumers from underwriting unnecessary additions to the rate base. Unless it became politicized, it usually worked fairly well.

    Now the systems are divided into three or four groups of entities. One simply generates power and sells it the entity that bills the end consumer which is usually a purely financial operation. The other entities provide transmission and distribution on a fee for service model, passed on to the consumer. The “market” is supposed to keep everything working smoothly. This market has been distorted in various ways, most notably by mandating “green” energy as well as other political impositions. Like socialism, free markets exist in the imagination far more commonly than in reality.

    Back in the day, my father and the other engineers he worked with would have had one response to a proposal to add wind or solar:

    “Not on my system unless they also guarantee a minimum output and bear the cost of that as well.”

    Texas is maybe not quite as far down the road to perdition as California. This latest incident was resolved in a couple of days while the California debacle is beyond it’s second year just as I’ve been counting. The smart money says that the politicians are far more likely to make thing worse than better. We’ll have to see.

    As pointed out above, selling to a hostage customer and writing a big bill is not the same as collecting. My brother that lives off grid may be on to something. The reverberations will continue for some time, this is a classic example of a poorly damped system.

  28. }}} More batteries for the flashlights. A generator. A propane heater. We plan on being more comfortable next time.

    Suggestion (in addition to the above)

    1) Rechargeable batteries. Don’t last as long as alkalines but… see #2 & 3

    2) USB hand-crank charger. Worst case scenario you can at least recharge the rechargeables if you run out of alkalines.

    3) Solar USB recharger. For when you’re not in a hurry and it IS sunny out.

    P.S., there are some really nice, solid yang-tech 1k-Lumen flashlights that use both alkalines AND rechargeables (usually with either the 18650 or 26650 lithium). about 10 bucks from amazon. And another 10 for a pair of 18650s and a socket charger.

    P.P.S, #2&3 for phone recharging, too… perhaps some other stuff, as well.


    The term “tactical flashlight” (it’s bright enough to temporarily blind someone if you flash their nightvision in the face with it, so useful on some levels for defense)

    No alkaline here, but this is a useful alternative for some purposes.

    Also no alkaline, but exceptionally bright:

    Classic hand-spot design, fixed battery:

    Classic coleman camplight style

    They claim high lumens (1k to 10k), and probably overstate, but they are certainly bright as f***, and generally they’re pretty solidly made.

  29. }}} but I think it will be the last to go, and no solution is perfect short of having your own nuclear power plant, a responsibility I’ll pass on.

    I would HAPPILY be a test bed for a home-level micronuke… :-D

    }}} Harry Reid added the Yucca Mountain boondoggle that he blocked use of after it was built.

    That’s not really a boondoggle, except for Reid being a total libtard dick. If you’re going to have nukes, you’re going to have some higher-level waste you need to make “safe” for probably about 10k or so years. Glassification and storage in a salt-dome (which is the “quick description” of what Yucca was about) is clearly the best-currently-known possible method for doing that.

    }}} Also, magnetic resonance (as in MRI, magnetic resonance imaging) was originally called *nuclear* magnetic resonance. I believe it was a smart marketing guy at GE who got the ‘nuclear’ part of the term dropped, otherwise, MRI scanners would probably not be in common use.

    What, like “irradiated foods”? “Oh, noes, my milk has been made to glow in the dark!!” These are the same neoluddites who believe crap like Gasland.

    }}} Outliers happen even though it’s human nature to expect them not to.

    This is what is really so weird, because on some things this is true, others it’s total crap. Covid is, **now**, at least, exactly such an example. Unless you’re >55, any harm it does to you is a serious outlier, not a likely event, but everyone continues to act as though it was Kryptonian Leprosy. The manner in which people’s risk aversion applies to the Real World is often very disconnected with the Real World.

  30. If you’re going to have nukes, you’re going to have some higher-level waste you need to make “safe”

    Why is nuclear waste considered to be “waste”? Because it emits energy, unlike (say) coal ash.

    What do we call something that emits energy? Fuel!

    See where we could go with this?

    Nuclear so-called “waste” can be utilized to generate more power in a different design of reactor. But the Usual Suspects stamp their little footsies and say No! Because the same technology could be used to make the material for nuclear bombs. As if the lithium in their electric vehicle batteries is not dangerous.

    After the Collapse, people are going to be a lot poorer — and a lot more sensible. And the nuclear “waste” problem will go away, just like the CovidScam and the Climate Change Scam.

  31. OBH, the Yucca Mountain facility was only a boondoggle if there was no intent to use it. Reid and his kids pretty much control what goes on in Nevada and must have been aware that it would never be opened.

    The entire nuclear power story is one of lies and lawfare by idiots and probably by enemies like the KGB and the CCP. Will we ever get back to sane governance? I doubt I will see it. In my library I have an 1864 edition of “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” I think it is time to sit down and read it again.

  32. Advice taken, for stuff – thanks!
    We worked in the garden this morning, cleaning up stuff – and saw to my happiness that the dichondra cover is already putting out new green sprouts. So are the fruit trees, including the nectarine (which had already started with green leaves and blossoms before the Great Freeze. I cut back a lot of the apparently dead branches and found ‘green’ – so all in the garden is not entirely lost.

  33. If gas should really be unreliable…and I doubt that it really is, my perception is that it has a very good reliability record around the country and for a long time…but if gas *is* unreliable, then the solution would be to use dual-fuel gas turbines in the power plants, the other fuel being oil, which can be stored on-site. Dual-fuel turbine have been in existence for a long time; I don’t know though if a retrofit kit exists for large turbines that were installed for gas-only, which would be most of them.

    David, back in the day of regulated utility monopolies, they planned for the long term and to cover almost any emergency that could possibly shut down teh grid. I started my engineering career as a plant engineer at a Natural gas fired steam power plant in Colorado City TX in 1979. At that time almost all of TExas Utilities’ generation was gas fired with a new lignite unit coming online almost every year. When It got cold, the gas companies would curtail industrial/utility users, so the plants all had enough fuel oil stored to run for several days on no gas. There was also either a pipeline from a nearby refinery, or a rail spur coming in to allow delivery of more oil as needed. Usually a couple of days before, the operators would go around every boiler in install the oil spray guns into the gas burners while the plant was online, hooks up the lines from the pump and then pump in oil long enough to get the air out of the lines. After routine checks of all the freeze protection (heat trace) on the outdoor equipment (all of it was), the plant was ready for gas cutoff and subzero weather. THose plants weathered the 1986 cold snap easily and the grid was stable and able to handle the surge.

    Fast forward to the 90’s and deregulation followed by the separation of generation and T&D, the money boys took over running the utilities from the engineers and costs were cut to the bone. New combined cycle gas fired plants were built, and while they can be easily dual fuel, the green eyeshade guys nixed the idea of building a couple of million barrel fuel oil storage tanks for events thatonly happenedonce every 15 to 20 years. They also did not do heat tracing, while keeping the outdoor turbine decks and boilers. Then the politicans got into the act and started mandating the “green” crap. the retrofit for dual fuel is easy, but it will cost money and take time.

  34. Fast forward to the 90’s and deregulation followed by the separation of generation and T&D, the money boys took over running the utilities from the engineers and costs were cut to the bone.

    This is similar to what happened in California. A state legislator, who had made his money with the movie “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” got a bill passed that required separation of generation and distribution. Under Gray Davis, then governor, the utilities were not allowed to sign long term contracts with the power generators that they had been forced to sell off. The next step was for Enron to see an arbitrage opportunity and the spot market went crazy. Davis ended up recalled but the goofs were now in charge.

    California was sane until about then.

  35. And the money boys are still in charge.

    My cynical guess is that nothing effective will be done to prevent another re-occurrence of the Texas snowpocalypse and any legislative attempt at a fix will simply degenerate into more witless green mandates, more kickbacks to the politically connected, and more idiotic rules and regulations that make things worse.

    As usual I hope I’m wrong and I don’t live in Texas. Maybe Texas is still different enough to do better. But I doubt it.

  36. The “Money Boys” are still running Boeing and it took Iacocca to get engineers back in charge at Ford in the 60s. When Boeing moved headquarters from Seattle to Chicago (of all places !) I knew the same phenomenon was occurring. The 737MAX followed as day follows night.

    Maybe Texas will have enough sense to get utilities concerned about service to customers and not fantasy. I will see.

  37. Mike K,

    The country is ruled by fools.

    Boeing is a famous example of idiocy on the rampage, but it seems like just about every large American corporation has the same disease.

    I note especially GE, which spent something like $50 billion on stock buybacks, then lamented the “intractable” $40 billion pension liability to Wall Street media when the stock price still continued to crater. The same article noted that GE had declined to an also-ran third place in the sale of gas turbines for power generation. Crazy, but maybe they should have spent those billions on engineering, or even paying down that pension liability.

    My experience with Ford convinces me engineers have now been run out of that company, which is why we no longer own one- and I’ve read that GM recently fired most of its engineers, too.

    Shrug. Like most people, I voted for Trump, in part because he noticed something was wrong. But I was overruled by the same sort of folks who think heat trace is too expensive and stock buybacks are a good idea.

    It won’t end well, one way or another.

  38. No it won’t end well. As you said, when the legislature gets more involved they will pork it up even more and the money boys will still be in charge. They will buy off the politicians on both sides and all their efforts will merely put better pavement on the road to hell. I did not know that GEhad fell so far on the gas turbines. Another consequence of the globalists running things. Only 5-6 years ago they made the best combined cycle plants in the world. Boeing is another one. They used to be a significant part of America’s export balance sheet. Now we’ll be left with the government run airplane manufacturers like Airbus and the Chinese.

  39. There are certainly problems with the approach of having electricity provided by highly-regulated and vertically-integrated companies which have their rates set based on their total capital investment: they have little incentive to be efficient in their capital spending or to be innovative, and Political Connections are even more important for such companies than they are for businesses in general.

    The question is whether a market mechanism can be defined in which generation and transmission/distribution are separated but there are strong incentives for reliability. Apparently the PJM pool considers *guaranteed* output level a more important factor in pricing than does the Texas pool.

  40. There are certainly problems with the approach of having electricity provided by highly-regulated and vertically-integrated companies which have their rates set based on their total capital investment: they have little incentive to be efficient in their capital spending or to be innovative, and Political Connections are even more important for such companies than they are for businesses in general.

    I am reminded of the old joke about economists- they understand cost but not value. As Joe Wooten noted, those highly regulated and vertically integrated companies planned for the long term and to cover almost any emergency that could possibly shut down teh grid.

    Compare and contrast with today, where heat tracing exposed impulse lines just isn’t worth doing, according to our highly incentivized-to-be-efficient private corporations. Thus, huge numbers of Texans shivered in the dark- or worse- and odds are plenty of them have now turned against what they’re told are the ravages of free market capitalism. This is not a good thing, in my opinion. In fact I’d argue that the fans of a free market would be well suited to support whatever costs are needed to ensure that certain things don’t happen- things like having a significant fraction of your state’s electrical grid go dark at the exact worst possible time.

    But no, let’s ask Wall Street what to do- nope, no need. The answer will always be cut costs and send the savings on to them. Hence, GE, Boeing, Ford, GM, etc, etc. Funny thing- the closer we get to the free market paradise imagined by certain folks the more popular communism becomes- and in the United States no less, the country which was the rock upon which communism foundered during the 20th century. The free marketeers should ponder that, I think.

    The question is whether a market mechanism can be defined in which generation and transmission/distribution are separated but there are strong incentives for reliability.

    Creating an electrical grid that can remain operational despite a wide variety of problems- or resume operations quickly in the event of catastrophe- is a major accomplishment for civilization. If a market mechanism cannot be defined as you posit should I cease to expect that my lights will stay on? Am I being disloyal to capitalism to think that if I cannot expect my lights to stay on because of the sacred market forces- unlike the Americans of (say) 1975- then something has gone wrong? Why exactly was the era of the highly regulated utilities worse than now?

    I don’t think it was, actually. I’ll further note that the utilities of yore invested heavily in the innovation of nuclear power, only to have that blow up in their face when the luvvies of the green movement decided nukes were bad, because reasons.

    Again, this won’t end well. But it will end.

  41. I clearly identify with all the engineers on this site. My company was also impacted when the financial people took over running the company leaving the engineers trying to patch up all the dumb decisions.

    We have a gas/electric house and a wood fireplace. Made it thru with wood and gas. I also had plenty of rain barrels for toilet flushing. Hurricane supplies were handy but I do need to beef up drinking water storage. We had enough for our family of four but I am going to buy some “WaterBobs”. They seem to be pretty reasonable in price.

  42. Living in the middle of Alaska I’ve dealt with a bit of -50°F. cold weather and power outages over the last 50 years.

    A small gasoline powdered generator is quite adequate to keep a furnace firing with more than a few watts left over for some lights, etc. If you’ve a vehicle you’ve extra gas available you can siphon for the generator if needed.

    Diesel fuel’s only good for 90 days? I heat with #1 heating oil, which is basically diesel, and it seems to burn just fine after a year of storage. Of course I never ever use any of the heating oil to run my diesel tractor, such is probably illegal. None of my friends with Mercedes-Benz Diesels have either that’s definitely illegal!

  43. James O’Neil,
    No. 1 fuel oil is essentially kerosene and close to jet fuel in makeup. At one point you could buy #1 diesel here but I haven’t seen that for many years, the diesel sold in the lower 48 is all #2 and everywhere but Minnesota, contains at least 5% bio-diesel. I haven’t seen anything but #2 fuel oil down here either. Both would gel under your conditions if not completely solidify. Microbial contamination depends on a lot of factors, I’m pretty sure that bio content makes it worse but the little bugs are very resourceful. I’d make sure I had a spare filter which I’m sure you have. I’d think about having a way to circulate it through a filter during the summer to take care of water as well a any little beasties.

    Bio-diesel is also very variable. Kinder Morgan and Flint Hills have processes and controls that deliver a product with very little of the fatty acids that seem to be the real problem. The guy with a couple of barrels in his garage is another matter and probably doesn’t have the faintest idea what’s in whatever he produces. There are an awful lot of bigger producers that are about the same. Dealing with bio-diesel producers except the big players is strictly COD.

    It’s the work of a minute to specify that freeze protection should be down to whatever temperature and for as long as you desire. Designing it means translating that to watts per foot and inches of insulation and is a bit more involved. Confirming that the design was actually installed turns out to be surprisingly difficult. You’ll only know what might have been overlooked when it actually gets cold, and even then, if the wind is different next time, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. All it takes is money and time, but then, what doesn’t?

  44. The one thing that all the neighbors that I have talked to agree on – is that renewable wind and solar power is as dead in Texas as our gardens.

    Not dead yet.

    % of TX Electricity Production Coming from Wind
    Feb 20-March 4 31%
    Feb 9-19 9%
    Jan 9-Feb 8 26%

    For Feb 16-17, wind production bottomed out at 6% of TX electricity production.

    The cold spell was, as far as I can tell, unprecedented in size, time, and temperature. I looked at NWS data.



  45. If I may, from decades of Florida living, hurricanes and power outages:
    Propane is the answer; we don’t have widespread distribution of NG, if you have propane in a tank you control your own destiny. Usual code: 100 gallon tank or smaller, right next to the house is OK, anything bigger minimum 10 feet away. Pro Tip: Start at 250 gallon, 500 gallons is not excessive especially if some of it will be used for house heating. Propane distributors use propane-powered trucks so they will always run, FYI, the “delivery hose” on them is 75-100 ft, so put your tank where the hose can reach.

    Here we rarely need heat, and even then not much of it, so a couple vented through-the-wall propane heaters do it. 25-30K BTU/hr is about the size of a large suitcase AND DOES USE A FAN so it needs some

    Small gasoline generator. Honda EU2200 is plenty (2000 watts peak, 1600 steady run). Will do the fridge, the propane heater, and the propane tankless water heater. My gas whole-house furnace draws 865 watts at 120 volts so I could even run that on the Honda if needed. During the summer it will run a window AC. Smaller generators use less gas, storing gas must be considered. The small Hondas are super quiet. Very heavy chain and heavy padlock to prevent theft.

    Extension cords – do not buy anything less than 12 gauge, with PURE COPPER WIRE not “copper clad aluminum” from China, and nothing shorter than 50 feet. A pair fo 50 ft and a pair of 100 ft, all in 12 gauge copper would be about right. Heavy duty multi-outlet gizmos from Tripp-Lite or Belkin (easy to tell the good ones, they’re steel bodies and rated for at least 15 amps), forget the cheap plastic outlet strips from Walmart, Home Depot or Amazon.

    If you’re doing major remodeling, one outlet in each room that’s on a circuit supplied by an “alternate power source” – meaning “generator” – is really handy. Limited and very rare generator use you can get by with extension cords, otherwise National Electrical Code requires an approved transfer switch.

    Gasoline storage – genuine NATO cans, now made in Latvia to NATO specs – NOT the Chink knockoffs, they’re garbage and less than worthless. $80 each at Lexington Container for 20 liters (5.25 US gallons), get extra official NATO spouts, nothing else will fit (sorry about the $80 per, but you should have bought them before you allowed Uncle Sam’s EPA to ban them, they used to be $25). Pri-G for preservative, not Stabil. 10ml/5 gallons. Good for 2 years, but get a 4-pack of cans (saves a little on shipping) and rotate – empty one into your car every 2 months and refill with NON-ETHANOL gasoline ONLY – the ethanol screws up the seals in small engine carburetors (ask any landscaping outfit).

    Amazon sucks large rocks politically, but their Subscribe-and-Save for flashlight batteries is good. Energizer lithiums for AA and AAA, regular Energizers Max for D cell. Get 3D-cell LED Maglites, put Maglite wall clips next to doorways so you always know wher the flashlights are. Aimed up in the bracket the light will bounce off the ceiling providing general light. Establish a regular “battery inspection” procedure so you don’t get caught with dead or leaking batteries.

    Rechargeable batteries are great until there’s no way to recharge them. If you insist on rechargeables, get the white Panasonic Eneloops, they’re good for 2000 recharges, the black HD Eneloops good for only about 500. When you have electricity, it takes 6 hours to fully recharge a pair of depleted Eneloop AAs, I can replace the lithium AAs in a flashlight in 30 seconds. Your choice. Just remember what Terry Pratchet said: “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always gotten there first and is waiting for it.”

    Pro Tip: Buy a really, really REALLY good LED flashlight – Surefire, Streamlight or Elzetta, and yes, it will be expensive and use expensive R123A batrteries, quit whining, and always, without fail, meaning ALL THE @#%$ TIME have it on your body, with fresh batteries. Surefire makes a good belt holster for 1″ diameter lights. Dark sucks, and remember Pratchett’s dictum.

    Carry a knife. A $25-35 Kershaw 3″ lockblade folder is fine, get several, you will lose it now and then. Keep it sharp. You’ll be surprised how often you reach into your pocket for it to cut or open something.

    Hot water – get a tankless propane heater. And research “Zodi” – they make small propane-powered water heaters for camping. I wouldn’t be without one. FYI on the 1 lb propane cylinders – about $14 buys you a gizmo to refill them from a 20 lb propane grill tank. If you’re not smart – or careful – enough to do that, buy lots and lots of the little cylinders. Just sayin’. RE: that firewood thing (see below) – a large metal pot (minimum size 30 quart) and a rechargeable hand-held camping shower gizmo can be handy, if you can keep it charged.

    RE: solar charging – there are 100 watt and 200 watt “suitcase solar” kits available. The better ones cost more. Sorry….

    Cooking – have multiple methods, one of which includes “firewood.” Test your methods before you have to depend upon them. Pro Tip: get one of those 10 ft square “easy to erect” picnic shelter things AND a way to anchor it securely. It won’t always be sunny – or not windy – when you’re trying to cook outdoors. Anchor the table you’re cooking on, too, having a table blow over or get knocked over while the grill is running is not a good thing.

    Clothing – prepare for wet and cold, a little of each goes a long way. Have spares that are dry (plastic bags are your friend). Plenty of gloves. We rarely see temps here below 40F but that’s plenty cold enough to severely hamper doing any work outside efficiently.

    Lifestyle – plan for crap happening, test your plans, fix what didn’t work well, re-test. Do a family SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Go deep with the analysis – you won’t be able to prep against everything, but think it through all the way. Example: some pre-cut sheets of 6-10 mil Visqueen rolled up in the closet can be a life saver if a pipe breaks – it’ll be the difference between having a dry bed to sleep in tonight or sleeping bags on the living room floor for 2 weeks. Do you know where your water / gas / electric shutoffs are? If they require tools (gas and water meters do) do you have those tools? And know how to use them? If there’s an emergency, do you know the “shutdown procedures” for everything in your house, AND the “restart procedures”? Do you have a “household bible” – a binder with all the critical household info in it – which plumber to call in an emergency, what make, model and serial number is your refrigerator, furnace, water heater, etc., who does the best “catastrophe recovery” in your area for after a fire, flood, etc.?

    Do you have working smoke – and CO – detectors in EVERY room? Fire extinguishers? Do you have enough? Know how to use them? Are they the right type of extinguisher – different burning materials require different extinguishing methods (check with your local fire department, they probably have a “citizen training course” of some kind). Do you have a good first aid kit? Training in first aid, CPR, how to use an AED, etc. ? (Pro Tip: the Red Cross does a bangup first aid training course, the heart people do CPR and AED training, and also take a “Stop the Bleed” class (pro tip: North American Rescue is a reliable source for high quality brand name first aid and stop the bleed supplies, yes they’re pricey, the good stuff always is, be careful buying from Amazon because they have a lot of stuff that’s Chinese counterfeits, especially tourniquets. If you have natural gas is your meter equipped with an “earthquake valve”?

    There’s lots more, but that’s why you’re going to do the SWOT analysis.

  46. Propane tanks are fairly cheap and get cheaper per gallon as they get bigger. Many places, you can save money by buying in the summer. My brother has 2- 1,000 gallon tanks in the Colorado mountains that he fills in the summer.

    I’ve found the Duracell batteries best but will never buy Ray-O-Vac or house brand again. Decent lithium will hold charge a long time and don’t leak, they can be charged in a car. Power packs are a way to manage them as well. Having extras for flashlights is important. There are a lot of flashlights that will use both.

    Power packs are large lithium batteries and as far as I know are more or less unregulated. I’ve studied their characteristics enough to know there’s no way to tell the properly engineered and built ones from the ones that are waiting to explode just by looking. UL probably offers some assurance if you make sure the mark isn’t counterfeit. In theory, you can look up a product on their web site to confirm, but there are so many different model numbers and such it can be a real challenge. As with everything Chinese, they are made in batches and the one you buy next week might have the same name and model number while being built in a completely different place. To be sure, buying from Amazon is assurance of nothing.

    The flashlight you have when the lights go out is the best. I carry a little, cheap 1-AAA LED flashlight in my pocket and before that a pen Mag-Light, the down side is that I use it often and it’s occasionally dead. I don’t find much use for flashlights that can also direct anti-aircraft guns. A headlight with a broad and not over bright beam will make finding socks or changing a tire much easier.

    Finding non ETOH blended gas will be a challenge in most urban areas, it’s mandated for its very questionable pollution control properties. You may find it at marinas or out of pollution control basins. High density polyethylene cans should be perfectly adequate provided they are stored out of sun light, not overfilled and closed tightly. Especially if they’re rotated. Try to buy gas after May 1st and before October 1st, it will be “summer blend” and have a lower vapor pressure than “winter blend”. Make sure you have a way to get the gas into your car, unless you can hold a 40-50 pound can in exactly the right position for the many minutes it will take to drain, some sort of pump or siphon will be handy, rehearsal will make all the difference.

    Not much of this counts for me since I live in an apartment. I will be getting a propane camp stove and fuel.

Comments are closed.