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A Simple Response to Texas' Blackout Blues: Bend Over

A picture is worth 6,700 words. If you look around on our home page, you'll find "Blackout Blues," a story by Brantley Hargrove about North Texas' biggest electricity company, the EPA, money and lies. It's a good read. The gist of the story is simple: We're screwed.

How screwed? Well, the Texas Public Utilities Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversee the power grid in most of the state, right about now are looking at rule changes that they hope will alleviate the state's growing electricity problem: We need more. More costs money. And the companies with the power to make more are crying poor.

The PUC's agenda today says the commissioners will discuss "Proceeding Relating to Resource and Reserve Adequacy and Shortage Pricing." That proceeding just might include talk of ERCOT's recommendation regarding "Responsive Reserve & Regulation Up offer floor," which ERCOT commissioners approved back in December.

That, believe it or not, is some of the plainer English you'll find on the PUC's and ERCOT's websites. What does it mean? God only knows for sure, but according to the Texas Coalition of Affordable Power, a group of cities that keeps an eye on the electricity industry, the guys who own the power plants want the state to raise the limit on wholesale electricity prices and establish minimum prices for electricity they deliver when we need it the most. "... Generators are offering us 'a heads I win, tails you lose' vision of deregulation," the coalition's R.A. Dyer writes in a recent newsletter. Generators want more profits, which they say they need if we want more power.

Dyer points out that power generators are generally opposed to regulators poking their noses into pricing when prices are high. But now that electricity prices have dropped, they would very much like a little bit of regulation.

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This is, of course, a gross simplification of a complex business. Power company managers doubtless have good reason to believe that the way ERCOT and the PUC manage things inflicts costs on the companies that they should have a right to recoup.

Could be, could be. Not sure. Frankly, we've read Brantley's story plus a ton of other stuff and spoken to a few people about these rules. What have we learned? Free markets aren't really free; they belong to the guys with lots of money. (Knew that.) Also, when consumers depend on a system of arcane experts, back-door rent-seeking and clever business folk speaking in tongues, then those consumers better educate themselves.

And buy some lube.

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