For the one-year anniversary of the Texas Blackouts, we welcome back – for a record fourth appearance -- Meredith Angwin, the author of Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid. In this episode, Meredith explains why entities like ERCOT and other regional transmission organizations are “fatally flawed,” why Texas regulators should be incentivizing power plants to have onsite fuel, why offshore wind is “a tremendous amount of money,” the problems with trying to electrify everything, and why we should be thinking about the electric grid as an “orchestra.”
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And this is the one year anniversary today I'm gonna cast this forward February 15 is the one year anniversary of the Texas blackouts on that day. here in Austin, my wife Lauren and I were blacked out starting to aim for 45 hours. So we wanted to revisit the issues of reliability grids, RTOS, and the future of electricity with who else would be better to discuss these issues, then? My guest, Meredith Angwin. She is the author of the book shorting the grid, the hidden fragility of our electric grid. Meredith, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
Meredith Angwin 0:48
Delighted to be back. I always enjoy talking to you, Robert.
Robert Bryce 0:52
So you know, this is your the record setting, Meredith Angwin. This is the fourth time you've been on the power hungry podcast, we did one on the one year anniversary. And we had you on for the third time, because I think you were the most popular guest we'd had up to that time. So you're still one of our most popular guests and all of the 100 and some odd 160,000 downloads that we've had so far. So at this point, but Maren, if you've been on the show before, I'm still gonna have you introduce yourself, I gave the name of your the title of your book. Imagine nobody knows who you are. And you've arrived somewhere, please introduce yourself.
Meredith Angwin 1:27
Okay, I'm Meredith Angwin. And by training, and by my career, mostly EMS, I'm a physical chemist. And I work mostly on utility projects, such as pollution control, and corrosion control, and many different kinds of plants, nuclear, geothermal, and fossil, all of them. And then, when I moved in semi retirement, I moved to Vermont Yankee, I moved to Vermont, and I began fighting for the continuation of Vermont Yankee. And they were all these people were like, if we shut down for my Yankee, we're gonna have all these renewables. Well, I had worked in renewables. And I had also worked in nuclear. And I had a very clear idea that if we shut down for my Yankee, well, we'd have more fossil, nothing fossil is the edge of the world. But I mean, these people were like, no, no, it'll be so clean. So anyway, I began campaigning to keep Vermont Yankee open. And in doing that, I ended up with a block about Vermont Yankee. And that blog led me to realize that Vermont Yankee was part of a grid. Now, I always knew it was part of a grid. But you have to understand that if you're a materials person, you don't spend a lot of time wondering how the grid is being governed. But all of a sudden, I had to begin thinking about that, because I would read headlines in the paper or notes about Vermont Yankee. And I would be like, Oh, not allowed to delist from forward capacity auction, what? What does that mean? It wasn't something that was immediately obvious to me. And so anyhow, I began writing about the grid. And then some people who were in a group of the consumer Liaison Group that advise the grid operator asked me to join. And anyway, so I joined, I began finding out a lot more about the grid and how it operates. And then I decided that nobody knows how it operates. So it's almost like a black box. And, and the decisions that are made in closed rooms have huge effects on our lives. So I wrote the book shorting the grid, the hidden fragility of our electric grid, I really began to realize that people weren't taking care of the reliability the way they should, and that there was actually incentives for a non reliable grid in the sense as the power plants get paid better when the grid is at the edge of difficulties.
Robert Bryce 4:00
Right? Well, that's a great way to talk about what happened in Texas. And a year ago, where we, that we I'm saying, well, the ERCOT grid game almost well came to the precipice of total meltdown and potentially going to black start situation. So the what is, I know you live in New England, but I know you've also been following what's happened in Texas? What's happened over the last year? Are you encouraged by the policy moves that have occurred since the in the intervening 12 months? And is the Texas grid more stable, or more reliable, more resilient than it was a year ago? Well,
Meredith Angwin 4:39
from what I can tell about the Texas grid, they have done some winter pricing, but not as much as they should. And as a matter of fact, when they modeled it, I mean, if you want to look at a good article on it, there was a New York Times article around December 20 of last year, which was really a good article and And basically it said what I've been reading in more technical things that said, when the they were modeling can we get through the winter? They decided not to model the situation that it happened on February 15 of that year, they decided, no, that's such an extreme situation. We're not going to model that. And of course, if they had, it would be like, Oh, actually, if the same thing happened again, we wouldn't be able to get through the winter. But by leaving it off, they were like, well, you know, we've improved things and things are much better. And we'll get through the winter, assuming that thing doesn't come back.
Robert Bryce 5:36
Sure. Well, so you're, you're an expert on RTOS. You This is where you've been living for a while. And it's something that I think has really come to the fore about what you know, what ERCOT is and how it functions. Is the RTO model just fundamentally flawed. I mean, it seems to me that that's one of the things we've been arguing around and is there is there, if it is fatally flawed, what's the way forward?
Meredith Angwin 6:02
Well, I think it is fatally flawed, but that is because there is no place in it. Where somebody is accountable for grid reliability. There are various kinds of responsibility for grid reliability. There's a NERC who will do your operator training and has rules about about how you run your distribution system and substations. And ISO New England tries to keep things going on a daily basis, and do some planning. But if you ask ISO New England, you know what, what, what plants would you like to see? Or what were you like to ban? They would say, Oh, I'm sorry, resource adequacy, what plants are on the line? That's, that's the state's business. And if you ask the state's Well, you know, the states are responsible for resource adequacy. Now I got us. And then if you ask the states, they would say, Well, yes, we are responsible for resource adequacy, but you understand we can plan something. But when you get right down to it, if it doesn't include the auctions in ISO, it's not likely to happen. So I consider as a state, I consider that the ISO is responsible for resource adequacy. So you see, the thing is that everybody has some responsibility. But since nobody's accountable, since nobody has all the responsibility, it's just a chance for everybody to point fingers and have losses, and I gather, you're having quite a few of those.
Robert Bryce 7:38
That would be the understatement so far. There are 100 and I had a piece in Forbes a little while ago, 131, insurers have sued ERCOT and the generators, I don't have a final tally of all the personal injury cases, but it's what are they called the MDL, the multi district litigation that's now been consolidated in Houston for all the personal injury cases. And then of course, there's the bankruptcy litigation around gritty and more particularly around brass electric, corporate Brazzers Electric Cooperative. So, you know, the the, the the amount of money at stake here is just massive, in addition to the cost that consumers in this state are going to have to bear because of these securitized costs. But let's talk about that, because you and I talked on the phone a while back when I was working, in fact, working on this issue of insurance and litigation, or cod is claiming sovereign immunity from all this litigation. Our last question directly. So is the RTO. A sovereign entity? Is it part of the state? What is it?
Meredith Angwin 8:45
I don't know what it is. And I'm going to tell you that I think he defines itself depending on what it wants to do. But in the meantime, we can Connecticut recently had a forum on grid reliability to what Connecticut is a stated the Connecticut legislature has a two houses senate and house and they each have a Energy Committee, okay. And the those two houses energy committees got together and held this forum on grid reliability. And because they are concerned with it, and there have every reason to be concerned, because as I said at the beginning of my book, you know, we become dependent on oil and on LNG deliveries here to keep the grid operating in the winter and those are both rather rather touchy just in time and who knows situations. So anyway, the Connecticut legislature held this meeting and I was the first speaker they and and then the second speaker was Gordon red wildly of a Have I started doing good? Yeah. Now, the thing about Gordon's talk is, you know, he said what I would have expected him to say in general. And, but but it was very interesting when we were supposed to issue. So talk for about 20 minutes. And we did. And the other 40 minutes or so was for the different committee members to ask us questions. And so we had to, we had a bunch of questions. Well, you know, Gordon began, began to ask some questions. And he says, Well, you understand we're not a regulator, you know, you can't, we were not responsible that way, like a regulator we are, we are like an LLC, we're like another utility. And I said, Oh, really? I guess. But I mean, this is, I mean, you understand, I don't pretend to be a lawyer, I got good enough at, for example, reading a FERC. Ruling to get an idea of what was going on. But I mean, my background is absolutely material science, utilities, and so forth. So if you ask me, exactly what defines a utility, and whether is ISO New England, a regulator, they make many decisions that are similar to what a regulator might make, they may decide. For example, they have to make a decision. If there's a whole bunch of like a wind turbines that want to get into the interconnection queue, they may or may not let them all in not mainly on the basis of like, whether the lines in the area that Turbans are proposed are adequate, or they need to be built out later. So these are all decisions that if if it was a little state, without an RTO, those decisions would be made by the PUC, the PUC might say to the wind turbines, actually, you can get on in three, four years. But first, we're going to do a build out of the transmission, or they might say, the build out or transmission to that neck of the woods for too expensive, sorry, you know, but they would they would be regulators in that way. They would be a, you know, stop or go stop or go. But the Gordon VanderWaal he said, we're not a regulator, you know, you can't and and so someone Someone was asking, well, how come the states can't affect the ISO New England decisions? And it says the electrical off officials are rarely part of any group that is involved in the ISO New England decisions, and isn't in fact, the governors have been really kind of in a rebellious mood about not having a seat at the table about electricity decisions. And you know, so as a New England said, Well, we're we're, we're not a regulator. And and so someone said, Well, who do we call? And tell? You know, I mean,
Robert Bryce 13:07
sounds exactly what we're saying. Right?
Meredith Angwin 13:10
And you know, the answer, Gordon rule, his answer was, and so correct answer. I mean, he's, he's a smart man. He said, FERC, you have FERC, holds open hearings for coals. Ask for input on a coming ruling. You can send an email, you can send in a letter, you can go to FERC. FERC is like in Fiddler on the Roof. You know, if somebody says, What's the blessing for the Tsar? And they? And the answer is, Lord, Lord bless and keep his are far away from us, you know, the Russian saying, God is too high in czars too far, you know, nobody's gonna help. But what I'm saying is that, I really think that go to a big agency in Washington, DC, and they'll answer your concerns. I mean, I don't think that's the way to do it. I mean, you know,
Robert Bryce 14:11
why, if I, if I can interrupt here, because I mean, what comes to mind as you're saying, this narrative, is that what I've been thinking about him that and actually talking about in my speaking engagements, that after the meltdown at ERCOT, the buck doesn't stop anywhere, that there's no, there's there's no will the ERCOT is just saying, Well, we're the, as one person told me, Well, no, they're just kind of a state sponsored cooperative, but they're not. But ERCOT doesn't get any state appropriations, they don't get any money from the state they collected from the market players. Right, but they're regulated by the state and directed by the state. But does that make them a part of the state? And so I think that the the court decisions on this sovereign immunity question are really going to be important because if the state says the court say, No, you don't deserve sovereign immunity, who's gonna pay well Well, it's gonna be the consumer, of course,
Meredith Angwin 15:03
well, consumer is going to pay whether ERCOT gets off the hook or not, because there is no source of big money for these kinds of things except the consumer, if somebody makes it, even something that's really something good, you know, like, we're gonna start a big energy efficiency product program in this state, and people are going to be able to pay, get their houses set up for winter, and it's all going to be underwritten, you know, who's going to end up paying for its consumers? I mean, you can say, Well, no, the utilities will pay, they're unlikely to be taking it out of their profits to run this program for the state
Robert Bryce 15:47
said unlikely Yes. It's not gonna happen is
Meredith Angwin 15:54
it's gonna be another expenses that utilities pass on to the consumers. And and you know, that there's a fantasy somehow, that these big organizations have tons of money to do these things. Now they're taking our money, your money, whatever. But you understand your sovereign immunity question is really interesting one because you are least a state. What I'm trying to say is the state either has given or kind of position, which it has sovereign immunity or desert. We're multiple states. And so you can say, well, it's just a consortium. It's like a co op. I mean, it's like a dairy Co Op. It's like Cabot Creamery. It's
Robert Bryce 16:36
Oh, right. Well, well, that's a good point, too. Because your point, you know, you said what Van Wylie said, well go, you know, his reference was what we are problem, we'll go talk to FERC. Well, in Texas, because ERCOT is not interconnected. Not right, not regulated by FERC. So there's no, go talk to FERC excuse here, this is the buck again, the buck doesn't stop anywhere. And that's what that's why they're they mean, this could be the lawyer Full Employment Act here for the next few years on sorting out the liability in the in the one year, we will act now. We're about one year and counting in the wake of the blackouts that I mean, you know, depending on who's whose math, you believe, 70 billion 130,000,000,002 100,000,000,700 people dead? I mean, this, the costs here are just staggering.
Meredith Angwin 17:22
Yes, they are staggering. And I will say that you aren't subject to FERC in many ways, and and certainly about this financial stuff, but you are subject in other ways, because there are FERC regulations on safety and stuff that are for every every every every power plant and and transmission system, I mean, that you don't really run into them very much. I don't know much about them, I want to say is that, you know, I wrote something about the Texas blackouts. And I said, nobody's responsible reliability. And someone says, I work at Newark, and we're responsible for reliability. And somebody else answer said, Look, you don't use the word reliability, the same way ordinary people do. Ordinary People say it's reliable, if I can turn the lights on, you learn it and use it as the bulk power system is operating as expected most, you know, or whatever. And, and the rules are being followed and so forth. And and he said, and then he said, I encourage you to look up the the New York rules on reliability, and you won't see end users really being referenced.
Robert Bryce 18:35
Well, it's interesting. I'm glad you brought up NERC because that's one of the things that I've been looking at. In now. You were last on the power hungry podcast, I think in June of last year, June of 2021. And one of the things that's come out since we talked is the the NERC era reliability risk or Yarrow reliability risk priorities report in August 12, August 12 of last year, and it said that I'm quoting here, America's electric generation capacity quote, is increasingly characterized as one that is sensitive to extreme widespread and long duration temperatures as well as wind and solar droughts. And then as an amazing graphic where they show the the risks and the high risks low risk, and the highest risk, the number one highest risk issue, they list there is changing resource mix. So here's NERC which you know, I'm glad you brought it up because the North American Electric Reliability Corporation identifying as I read it, too much wind and too much solar as a reliability risk. It seems pretty plain to me how they're you know, they don't say it exactly that way. But the wind and solar the but these extended droughts on wind, that's what we're seeing in Europe, isn't it?
Meredith Angwin 19:52
Yes, we are seeing that in Europe and you know, we can the weather is unpredictable thing. If you think about it One of the problems is that California is under drought. Now, you may say, well, California, its global warming, but I mean, it may be but whether it is or not, California has had periodic droughts for a really long time. And so, you know, California doesn't have the hydro it would like to have right now. And I would like to say that, in my book, insuring the grid, I talked a lot about the different groups that are influencing the decisions made on the grid about resources and about payments and about how much renewables are on the grid, renewable portfolio standards, renewables effects, the grids, and, and all that. And I didn't write much about NERC and I didn't write much about external, external market market monitors. Every RTO has an external market monitor. And there's a lot of things with NERC, that NERC says. But when you get right down to it, as far as I can tell, the market monitors are advisory, they write things. And then later on, after everything goes south, they people will say, hey, the Market Monitor warned us about this. But if I put that in the book, I would have to do a research project called Market monitors don't affect the outcome. And I was like, I'm not ready for that research project. I've already got about five research projects, putting this book together. I mean, it has to be 100 footnotes. I mean, it wasn't research project, major kind of a years years of research. So what I'm trying to say is I there are things that are set up the NERC and the external market monitors that are supposed to be taking care of some of this, but they don't they're basically advisory. And so
Robert Bryce 21:59
because they don't have any authority, there's no, there's there's no enforcement authority. And therein lies the one of the key issues, I think, that I see so far in Texas, and I was on a panel with the next to Peter lake, the new chairman of the Public Utility Commission, he said, Well, we're, we're enforcing these rules and the rest of it. But as I look at the ERCOT resource mix, and what's in the queue to be connected, it's essentially all wind and solar, Meredith, I mean, you know, some, you know, if all of these projections are right, by the end of next year, the ERCOT grid could have more installed wind and solar than it has all types of natural gas fueled combustion in generation for open cycle combined cycle and reciprocating engines. I mean, the ERCOT grid seems like it's headed for yet more capacity for wind and solar, but no dispatchable thermal capacity, is it? What do you what do you make of that?
Meredith Angwin 22:53
What Why should you be different than the Northeast? What's your problem? The Northeast, the northeast, for it is actually it is all it's all wind, solar batteries, and there's, there's like 15,000 megawatts in the queue to be connected. Now all of it won't be connected. They never it all doesn't get connected. These are all right post, right. But when you get right down to there's 800, or 900 megawatts of thermal, and the other 15,000 is either wind or solar or batteries
Robert Bryce 23:31
will come any of that. So well. Let's talk about the siting issue, because you know, I care a lot about these land use conflicts, and I've been writing about him for a long time. But you're in Vermont, you it's impossible to build wind in Vermont. And that Smith is, you know, it's a mutual acquaintance of ours, and they're no wind projects pending in Vermont. And and it's incred incredibly difficult to build any large scale renewable projects in all of New England. So I mean, it is the will. So that's an observation, what's the plausibility that they're going to build offshore wind in New England?
Meredith Angwin 24:07
Well, it's, it's pretty possible but if you've heard me saying so it's a tremendous waste of money. I mean, the Block Island when turbans went in and but they haven't been really performing up to snuff and and, you know, if you get into conversations with people who know a lot about, about reliability and stuff, they're they're like, What are these people thinking? They don't they know that salt water is very corrosive, and they put something in salt water in the windiest place possible, but this is not going to be good for it. I mean, you know, I mean, there's a limit to material science. I'm not saying we've hit the limits, but for example, if you have if you have a heat engine, the higher temperature, the higher the temperature of the hot side of the heat engine and anything can be your car's a heat engine, a gas turbine is a heat engine, a nuclear plant is a heat engine. Jet is a heat engine, they all run by the fact that heat gets turned into mechanical work. So if you the rules for for heat engine systems, the high the highest temperature on the hot hot side is, is one of the biggest determinations of efficiency. Well, at some point, you can't get a temperatures any hire because you melt off all the metal. I mean, there are limits that the world puts on what we can do and, and in my opinion, putting a delicate, the balance structures out in the ocean to be blasted by as high wind as possible is not a situation for longevity.
Robert Bryce 26:01
Will someone get Sue? So why does this get so much hype? Because there is a staggering amount of hype around by the governors of the various, you know, Northeastern states. The New England states saying Oh, in New Jersey, Massachusetts, so we're gonna build, you know, 10s of gigawatts of offshore wind. Why? Why is this notion so popular?
Meredith Angwin 26:22
Well, the notion is popular, because you include really many people in New England really want us to be, quote, clean to have lots and lots of renewables, and then the renewables run into trouble, you know that they run into trouble, you can't cite them, you can't build them, and you've got this problem with them. And that problem with him, if nobody wants him in my backyard, he put them offshore, then you have your list of renewables, and we're going to be really clean and green. Yeah, wonderfully clean and green. But, you know, in other words, it's all a matter of trying to avoid putting renewables where someone will object to them. Another thing is that, in general, if you want to build a table, connecting an offshore wind turbine to the shore, it is not as big deal not as many people are going to fight that cable, as are going to fight a transmission line, I'm sure. So you know, if you put some wind turbines up in, in, in in the White Mountains, or in the foothills of the White Mountains, and then you have to put some transmission lines there, that'd be a big deal. But you know, as I say, there are many reasons where society wants wind turbines offshore, what I mean is,
Robert Bryce 27:54
right, out of sight, out of mind, yeah, out of sight, out
Meredith Angwin 27:57
of mind, and look at all the the the great energy we're getting, and and but but it isn't, it isn't reasonable. I read something really depressing recently. And it said that, if you begin forgetting about solving the real problems in front of you begin making up problems to throw your resources at this isn't good. So, you know, it is not a way to for society to thrive.
Robert Bryce 28:31
And that's it. Go ahead. I'm sorry.
Meredith Angwin 28:34
No, I was just thinking that, you know, we could build, we could build nuclear plants, okay. And they would be onshore and they would provide a lot of power. And, and they could help society thrive. But there's no percentage of doing that compared to winter runs. Because first of all people think wind is, is lovely. And in other words, all bunch of perceptions about winter events compared to nuclear. And somebody is gonna say, oh, Meredith, come on nuclear, so dangerous. So I have, I could give you a whole a whole list of all the reasons it's not so dangerous, but I'm not going to do that. I'm just saying that there are other options. Besides, if there's even wind turbines onshore, if it wasn't impossible to build this transmission lines from Quebec, if we could ever put one in. You see, there's a lot of a lot of things like that, though, if you pardon me saying one thing about transmission lines. In recent months when it's been very, very cold, or very cold in Quebec, Quebec has been importing power from Ontario in order to save power to New England because Quebec has Quebec has a lot of people who are using resistance heating, electrical heating. And so under this very, very cold or very cold snap, they can't actually provide everything to their people and to our people without importing. And this kind of worries me as a New Englander, because what I'm saying is like, Okay, now they're doing that. Well. Meanwhile, back in Ontario, the large nuclear plant, Pickering is up for refurbishing. Well, I hope that I hope and I think that it's going to be refurbished and stay online. But what is it? Is it? What is it isn't will Quebec be will Ontario still be able to explore to correct in cold weather? And will England New England get power from Quebec and cold weather? All of a sudden, here I am in New England and I I'm not worried about Pickering, just because I like nuclear I'm worried about because it might be part of my winter reliability, whether that plant is running or not.
Robert Bryce 30:56
You know, as you're saying, this mare to me, well, a couple of things, I want to come back to the transmission issue and the White Mountains. But what you're describing is a short squeeze, right? That suddenly everyone's gonna look around, say, well, we don't have enough, we need to get some more. Right. But that was what happened in ERCOT. Right, a short squeeze where no, there was an idea will have all this capacity, but it wasn't available. But I want to shift to talk a little bit about Europe, because, you know, our bias today was talking about what happened in Texas in the one year anniversary. But in the past year, what we've seen in Europe has been just remarkable that the whole continent is in crisis. So you coined the term, the fatal trifecta, the over reliance on renewables over reliance on just in time gas and over reliance on imports. Does the trade does does the fatal Trifecta describe what's happening in Europe now?
Meredith Angwin 31:48
I'm pretty much um, you have to add some other things too. And that is that Europe has political issues that that that we don't have, you know, in other words, people may not want a gas pipeline here, but nobody has anything against Pennsylvania. We don't want to be dependent on Pennsylvania, we're New York, we can't be dependent on Pennsylvania. That doesn't happen. But on the other hand, if you're in Europe, and you have the whole bloody history, for since at least 1870. People don't want to be dependent on Germany or Russia. I mean, they really don't. And, and it's wonderful that Europe has had peace. And I think it's wonderful. I mean, it you can't even begin to think about how many people have have died in Europe in the wars. And so, but while it has peace, people are still not willing to go and go like, well just hand it over to the Russians, you know, we're headed over everything to do the German. So let's back out of them. Well, how what could possibly go wrong?
Robert Bryce 33:09
Well, in that's an interesting point, because it's something I've thought about quite a lot in the last few days. And it's this particularly your issue about imports. And what about, uh, you know, the issue of energy security. And you and I've talked about this, and it's one of the things that's clear in the wake of the market, and, you know, disaster was the plants that did the best that had the most resilience, during crunch time with the plants that had on site fuel. And that's, excuse me, a long way to get to the point where you know, that what's critical, it seemed increasingly clear to me and your your point on over reliance on imports, as part of this is that if you want energy security, you damn well want that energy source to be close to you. You don't want it to be far away. And the further away it is, the more vulnerable you are. Does that make sense to you?
Meredith Angwin 33:59
Oh, yes, it definitely does. It definitely does. And the best kinds of power plants do keep oil on site, no oil, or, or I'm sorry, oil, or coal, or Uranium, Uranium is the top best. But what I'm saying is, fuel on site is tremendously important and valuable. Because whatever's going on, if you have fuel on site, it'll take you a while to run out of it. And that means that you have some options and how to get some more. But if you are having fuel delivered just in time, like through a gas pipeline, then if there's a valve problem on the pipeline, or a compressor problem on a pipeline that happens fast and you don't have an option of what to do next, and even even supplying oil to a gas plant. One of the things that work corn fed while he was saying, which I hadn't really gotten into my head before, is that if you have to supply oil to dual fuel plant, and you have to do it in real time, it's going to take two to three oil trucks per hour. And those oil trucks are pretty busy with home heating oil. I mean, what I'm trying to say is that even oil can be just in time if you're not storing it, which is why the winter reliability projects were so important. The ones I wrote about my book and so forth, where I saw New England pay to have oil stored on site at the beginning of the winter.
Robert Bryce 35:49
Well, and that makes sense, because too, I mean, you know, if it's in the winter, and it's crunch time, not only are those trucks going to be in demand to deliver to other locations, but the roads were gonna probably be bad as well. Right? So then that's much more of a common occurrence in New England than it is here, say in Austin, Texas, but that I hadn't thought about the just in time issue with fuel with oil. But I know for because I've been in meetings, but in some some utilities in Kansas are talking about having massive on site diesel fuel available and large reciprocating engines to make sure that they have reliability, because they're not going to go through this again. But that was the part about I think it's important to Well, let me ask it this way. There's been a lot of criticism of the gas companies, and particularly the big gas pipelines, energy transfer and, and Kinder Morgan and some of the others that made a killing made a killing during winter storm Yuri, what's your take on that? I mean, is it that were was that just because they were the right place? The right time that because they were able to take advantage of the short squeeze? Who's to blame for that part of it?
Meredith Angwin 37:01
Well, you know, it's a, it's a very interesting question. Because if you're a classical economist, you might say, yeah, they made a killing. And because they made so much money that you knew gas pipelines will go into, too. And then eventually everything even now, the trouble is that a new gas pipeline isn't the same as everybody's buying apples. And so New orchards are going in, nobody will stop you from putting an apple orchard on your property. But a lot of people will stop a new gas pipeline. And so, you know, to some extent, I think they were just well, taking advantage of the fact that gas prices were just skyrocketing, because everybody wanted it.
Robert Bryce 37:51
Well, and that's, yeah, fair enough. I mean, there's no doubt. But the other thing that occurs to me, as you say, that was there's an old saw, and maybe you've heard this before in the utility business, it's easier to move molecules than electrons. Yes, absolutely. And well, can you explore that as have you? Are you familiar with that expression?
Meredith Angwin 38:09
No, you it's a statement. But I, I don't have enough background in it to really explore it a lot. Because the thing is, if you're in New England, you can't move either. Okay. The pipeline, you can't build the transmission line. So from my point of view, it's no easier to move this than that. But I will say that it is some extent moving molecules is easier, because, you know, we couldn't import electricity from Tobago, but we can import LNG. We can't. We can't import electric electricity from
Robert Bryce 38:50
the road from Russia, but you can bring in oil or somewhere or Saudi Arabia, right. Yeah. Well, let me talk about that about the moving electrons, because you mentioned transmission lines and transmission lines are very hard to build. Now, there was a lot of talk in Texas, and of course, about the building of the credit lines to accommodate wind and the big growth in wind in Texas. And the cost was, I don't know, 7 billion $10 billion, something like that. But it's almost Well, you mentioned the White Mountains before and New York wanted to and Massachusetts want to bring in hydropower from Quebec. But it was I think, in 2018, The New Hampshire siting board to turn down the project to move put a transmission line through New Hampshire and more specifically through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. So you said it yourself, you can't build anything in New England? What's, excuse me? What's the possibility that you're going to be able to build hydro high voltage transmission to bring hydro from Canada into New England or New York?
Meredith Angwin 39:54
Well, maybe into New York, okay, but not into New England. It's just I don't think it's going to happen everything we do everything people do. I mean, they say, Look, you know, we're gonna bring it, it's, it's gonna be, it's gonna be a cable, sunken Lake Champlain, which goes down pretty far, pretty south. And then after that it'll it'll join up with existing transmission line it's going to be you're going to
Robert Bryce 40:21
go into the Hudson River, you know,
Meredith Angwin 40:23
and and it gets, it gets turned out anyway because you know, it's like, oh, it's evil, it's evil. People are solving impossible problems, because the problems are all in their head. I shouldn't put it that way. They're solving problems that make them feel virtuous to solve them. And they're not solving practical problems, like how do we get the electricity? You see?
Robert Bryce 40:51
Well, so well is that then, you know, as you're saying this, and I've been, I've finally gotten some solid numbers on on transmission line capacity that's been built over the past decade or so. And it's, it's minimal, right? And meanwhile, these high voltage high renewable scenarios are claiming, oh, well, we'll just double triple the quality, you know, the amount of high voltage transmission in the US, which is just nuts. I mean, it's just simply not going to happen. But am I right to think, Well, if that's the case, if we can't build more high voltage transmission, well, that's a break on renewables, a big break on renewables and build big build out of renewables. But it seems to me it means then that the only way forward, the only way if we're serious about carbon is putting more nuclear plants in because we can put them and attack and connect them to existing transmission. Does that sound right?
Meredith Angwin 41:41
That's absolutely true. I mean, I think, new nuclear, connected to existing transmission. And then just, um, he said, you know, if you want to build a power plant of any comment, what I mean is like a nuclear plant, or a coal plant or whatever, in general, you need a space, a body of water, and a railroad. Okay. I mean, except for a gas plant, where you also need a pipeline. But what I mean is you can find that connect collection of things, many, many places, and and many places that would really like you to come and put a plant in that pot, employ a couple 100 people and pay a lot for the school system. And the taxes, you know, compared to that transmission lines and pipelines are very, very hard. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 42:39
Well, certainly, zip back. I know, we're kind of bouncing around here. But I'm curious as well, about what? Well, I want to ask about shorting now. Because now the book has been out for almost a year and a half. Is that right?
Meredith Angwin 42:53
No, it's amazing. It seems like it's just yesterday that it got published.
Robert Bryce 42:57
Well, so I want to ask a personal question. Is it now that you've been on the podcast now, four times, which is, you know, thrilled that you could do it, especially now on the one year anniversary of the Texas blackouts? But did could you have predicted that your life would take this kind of turn? I mean, because you're your grandmother, you're in your 70s. And now you've got a book that, by the way, I think I probably sold as many copies of your book, as I've sold in mind, because I always talk about
Meredith Angwin 43:22
it. Let me thank you, you know, that when I was giving a class at a little OSHA, which is kind of a extension program connected with, with Dartmouth College, and the two recommended books I have for the class was your yearbook on the question of power, and my book, those were the two books I recommended. And I found that the question of power book gives you a context worldwide for the use of electricity and what kinds of systems are set up or not set up, like in Lebanon, to get electricity to consumers? And then and then my book is, is is about how bad choices make a fragile grid. Yeah, how. Yeah, it is a little amazing to me, but the thing is that I didn't I really wrote it because I felt it was something people needed to know about. I would hear all these conversations about renewables or how we got to build this or how we have to afford that and, and I thought, wow, I mean, how's that gonna work at the auctions? And I would say that and they go like, their auctions are no, you know, so what I'm saying is that I felt that people in order to make good decisions about the grid had to really think about what's going on with the auctions and the RTO.
Robert Bryce 44:56
But I wanted to but I wanted to come back to you, you know, personally because I know, you know, I looked at the book before you published it, and I was, you know, but now all these many months later, is this your third career? Fourth career? Could you have predicted it? I mean, it's just kind of it's pretty remarkable. As someone, I'm just gonna say it bluntly, you know, as an you're not a journalist, that's not your background. And yet, your book has been cited over and over you're, you've achieved a level of kind of celebrity I'm not, you know what I mean, this sincerely, and I'm not not trying to flatter you here. But it's a pretty remarkable turn in your life, isn't
Meredith Angwin 45:37
it? Well, it is. And I think the the, the, the thing that did it was really, that I was bringing to light an area that people knew nothing about, I mean, people just,
Robert Bryce 45:51
but that they knew it was important. They use important,
Meredith Angwin 45:55
but they really didn't know anything about it. And when people were, I mean, you know, when is the guys from ISO New England come to talk to the Energy Committee for an hour or two, the Energy Committee is usually left is pus, I mean, not because the guys from ISO New England are trying to communicate they are. But that because it's complicated, and and people end up just being sort of puzzled. There's something going on, they don't know quite what it is. They don't know why they don't know quite what it is. The fact that there are no Sunshine laws on the grid, they don't have to tell you that I emphasize in the book. And anyway, so I yeah, it has been a very interesting. I. There's a there's a I guess it's a blog, it's called Manhattan contrary and have you ever heard? Yeah, sure. Of course, anyway, my head contrary, and I don't agree with a lot of things they say. But they're very good about energy. I mean, this is my opinion, okay. And they're very good about energy things. And one of the things that he had a recent blog post about was an analysis of some of the build back better things, and and who had actually done the good analysis of it. And he said, interestingly, the three good analysis were all done by retired engineers. And now why retired engineers? Well, the thing is, they have the background to look at it. And they don't have a boss to satisfy
Robert Bryce 47:35
no career, no code, no career risk,
Meredith Angwin 47:37
no career risk, there's no career risk, they can say absolute truth of what they do the calculation. And if the calculation comes back that everything's going to happen, the politicians are lying to you. Nobody's going to fire them. Nobody's gonna say, well, our company looks pretty bad when you write that. It's just write it.
Robert Bryce 48:00
That's interesting. I need to look that up. The I know, Francis Minton is the is the writer at that Manhattan contrarian. But let's so now, well, but congratulations on your success. So I won't dwell on that. But it's just been remarkable to see how you've gained traction in this very wonky field. But it was all I think, partly because you just had to write the book. It was, you know, I've talked to a lot of people who said, Oh, I want to write a book. I said, Well, unless you have a absolute hair on fire, desire to do it, don't because it's unbelievable. unbelievably painful process.
Meredith Angwin 48:38
Yes, it is. And there's so many different aspects of it that can be painful, like, for example, you know, there's this the structure of the book, I mean, exactly what do I want to say? I mean, there were sections in the book that I wrote, and I decided, no, you got off track here. And I threw him away. I mean, 1000s of words. It's painful. Yeah, it's very painful. But I mean, I wanted to have a coherence. And the thing is that as a human, I mean, I don't have that I have don't have complete coherence. So I went off on a tangent about something. And I thought it was really important. And I looked things up. And then I thought, no, it will, it won't move the ball forward. So yeah, it you really have to be dedicated to doing it. But once you are dedicated to doing it, at least in my case, it was very enjoyable in many ways, because for example, when I was writing my blog, I write something and then the next day something, you know, meanwhile, in another part of the forest, you know, and I have to switch to whatever that was because it was in the news or, and in this time, I could just go like, okay, you can follow this out. You can follow this out you can look at the rural lace, you can You can go deep on this one, because it's a really good example. And that was a pleasure. I mean, the whole writing thing was, was, in many ways, extremely painful. Because it, you know, when I began writing it, I had no idea how long have an end up taking me? I mean, it took me years and you know, but there was a lot of pleasure in in, in cracking the important parts, at least, I felt about
Robert Bryce 50:34
Yeah. Well, I think we can both agree that with that old line, it's better to have written?
Meredith Angwin 50:40
Yes, yes, yes. Right.
Robert Bryce 50:43
Yeah, but the writing is hard. So let's, we talked a little bit about Europe. And maybe we can come back to Europe. But I want to, you know, we started with Texas, and and to me what's critical now, in thinking about the US electric grid as a whole, which is not it's not a whole, it's a very diffused and very segregated bunch of different entities and different RTOS state organizations and so on. What do you think of the Biden administration's plans for the grid, the where they say they will decarbonize the whole grid by 2035? Get rid of all coal, oil, natural gas? Is this even plausible? What's your take on how the national discussion is going? And particularly with some of the climate activist groups, and the ones who are trying saying we need to electrify everything? What's your take on those that those that push?
Meredith Angwin 51:34
Well, the first thing is that electrify everything is, in my opinion, a very bad idea. Because people need backup. I mean, in other words, if you if you want to electrify everything, and also give everybody in every kind of situation, including apartments, a little wood stove, okay. But if you can't manage that, maybe you shouldn't electrify everything, because otherwise people are going to be really stuck when there's no electricity. And, you know, that's one thing. The other thing is, that is it, the, I think the idea is that you can make these big plans, and people are going to be excited about it. And so there's going to be a feeling that the country is moving forward, and, and so forth, by making such big and quick plans. But I think there's a danger in that, because if the plans really can't be done, then there's going to be a reckoning, and I don't think that people are going to be happy, you know, at the worst, they're just going to feel like they were fools, you know, that they devoted to something that couldn't be done. Or the bad news is to decide that it couldn't be done because of those bad people over there. You know, the, the Republicans, the Democrats are northerners so people who are in the oil and gas industry, that people that are the renewables industry, there'll be some group that everybody will be on their case.
Robert Bryce 53:19
Well, so why is that idea so popular, then? Because there is a lot, and I do mean, a lot of money and momentum behind the groups that have that are pushing this agenda. What is it? What's driving it?
Meredith Angwin 53:35
Well, I mean, I, I'm not a political commentator, but I can say that when I was, when I started out my career, I really wanted to be in renewables. And I went into renewables. And I just thought they were so great, because they were renewable, you know, and they and and one thing about a renewable setup, in general, is it, you don't have fuel being delivered, you know, there are no coal trains or no pipelines. And I mean, it's a very appealing idea, and it wouldn't be an appealing reality, if they were steady enough, and there was enough of them. But that, isn't it. And I also think that we we have this sort of, we can do anything feeling and and it isn't that we shouldn't have it. But we are not actually gods and Superman, we we are bound by laws of physics, we are bound by how much money we have, you know, deficit spending really huge levels often doesn't end well. I mean, I'm just saying we should be. We should be who knows what we should be. I think that Having achievable goals is really important. And having goals that aren't achievable is very, very unlikely to lead to long term happiness. I mean, I don't know.
Robert Bryce 55:19
We'll look, let's see, let me go back to Europe then because this seems to be this unachievable goals. The, as I put it, that why is Europe heading toward the energy ditch too much investment in renewables and not enough investment in hydrocarbons and traditional generation? Is that is that that they staked too much of their future on weather dependent renewables? Is that it? How do you see the European crisis?
Meredith Angwin 55:44
Well, there's all kinds of things going on in Europe. I mean, it's, it's a larger country. So we've got France that was being kind of pushed around by neighboring countries to close down some of their, their nuclear plants. And, and was getting a lot of kind of pushback that anybody who had that many nuclear plants was probably endangering the whole country, the whole continent. And they've kept their nuclear plants but but the thing is, it's only recently that they decided to add some. Yeah, no.
Robert Bryce 56:18
crisis, the crisis, the crisis sure seemed to clarify their thinking on this didn't Yeah,
Meredith Angwin 56:22
that's right. I mean, and then, then, then you have Germany that has a, I don't know how to put it a very romantic view of of how it's going to live. It's going to be, you know, I mean, you know, there everybody's going to be in their little enclave with their private. When turban and they're, they're not going to be dependent on other people. I don't know it. I don't understand the whole German thing about why they wanted to get rid of nuclear and, and are happy to keep coal. I mean, I can't, I can't get my mind around it. So I don't. And then we got we've got Poland and is eager to get away from coal and go to nuclear. So that's a very, that's so your basic unified choices. And I don't know why, though. Germany has managed to put itself into the position of the moral leader on energy. It isn't a moral leader on energy in my books, anybody who's digging up that many villages to get coal, and shutting down nuclear plants isn't a moral leader, in my opinion.
Robert Bryce 57:54
Yeah, well, I agree with you. I don't I don't get it. I mean, I just really don't get it. And and the fact that now, there are so many, you know, very, very prominent and powerful environmental groups or Well, activist groups, I've quit calling them environmental groups, activist groups in the US pushing to emulate Europe's policies in the wake of these disasters that are ongoing and the crises ongoing and also the crises in in in Texas in California. So I'm talking to my friend, Meredith Angwin. She's the author of shorting the grid, the hidden fragility of our electric grid, you can find her on Twitter at Meredith Angwin. And her website is Meredith angwin.com. So are you planning to write another book, Meredith with people ask me this? So I'm gonna ask you and I hate that question. But you know, I'm,
Meredith Angwin 58:45
I have an idea for another book. But at this point, I don't feel like I have the ability to write it. What I mean by that is that I don't know how to manage my time well enough to put the time away to write it, I might not have a lot. I might have a lot of podcasts. And I mean, in the last few days, I mean, I gave my course on the grid, and I was on the, the, the Connecticut legislator thing with Gord Wiley and then then we've, I also a bunch of people from Dartmouth class at Dartmouth wanted to interview me and I mean, I love it. It's fun to get the word out all this way. But I would have to sort of say, Okay, I'm not doing this stuff anymore, because I really have to write and writing really takes everything I have. It just takes everything I have I I have to I have to keep in mind the structure I have to keep in mind why we're one little thing could be objected to like for example, maybe I'm writing About inverter problems on the grid, and then I think, okay, you better be sure about this because somebody is going to look it up and somebody who knows, solar guy's going to be really upset. And, you know, so I found the biggest structure to the smallest detail. It just takes a lot of thinking. And I can't seem to do that thinking, unless unless I stopped doing interviews and stop. All that sort of thing.
Robert Bryce 1:00:35
Yeah, no, that that rhymes with what you know, my experience is that I have to have large blocks of unstructured, free time. And I can't even you know, if you phone calls or a few things that are interrupting the day, it just kind of like, can't can't quite do it. Well, so we've been talking for close to an hour, Meredith, and I appreciate you coming back now, on the podcast. And, you know, we we've talked many times in the in the year since the, since the blackouts hit Texas. So is the cure just a couple of more questions, and then we'll stop. But is the cure for Texas, then to incense on it part of the cure, then, to incent on site fuel for power plants? Who is that one of the ways to ensure resilience and reliability? That would
Meredith Angwin 1:01:18
be absolutely great. And it would work pretty darn well. And Texas can actually do it. Because Texas doesn't have to be fuel neutral. It's not under FERC. It's not multi state. Nobody's nobody can, nobody can object to Texas could could refuse to build coal plants used to build nuclear plants, it could refuse to be a wind turbines. It couldn't send fuel on site. It can do all these things, because it's a state. I mean, I don't want them to refuse to build nuclear plants or coal plants or whatever. I'm just saying that it's a state and it can do these things. Because
Robert Bryce 1:01:56
Because FERC can't intervene, and the state and the RTO are the same.
Meredith Angwin 1:02:01
And the other thing is that if you have a state, it will tell you that anybody will say, well, resource adequacy is the state's business in unfortunately, in an RTO area, it may be the state's business, but the state hasn't got the power to do everything about it. But in Texas, the state does have the power, at least as far as I can tell, in Texas can say we're doing resource adequacy, and we're doing it right. We're essentially people to keep you on site.
Robert Bryce 1:02:32
Right. Yeah, I you know, that's one of the things that I think is clear, but it's the the legislature, well, you saw probably Berkshire Hathaway Energy approach the state and said, well, we'll, we'll build a bunch of power plants, we'll store fuel on site, just, you know, pay us $10 billion, or something like that. It was on that order. And the state said, No, thank you and go away. So just the last couple of things, Meredith. So you know, I asked these questions. What are you reading now in your, you know, we both are busy a lot, but what what are you reading? What, what's what's caught your attention lately?
Meredith Angwin 1:03:07
Well, I was so happy that you asked this question, because usually, I don't know what to say I read all sorts of things. And then I'm like, what, but I'm very proud to say that I just finished reading that class smells, energy and civilization. Alright. It's a really long book. Like, we haven't finished Warren Piece. To say that I just finished reading that book. And it was very, it was a tiny thing that was, at first I thought, oh, no, it's just going on and on. And then I realized that he was like a postulate Pantelis, paging, all these little dots, and then it ended up with the picture. And if you It took me a while to, I mean, you know, we're going through, for example, and energy and civilization, how much could a Roman horse pool compared to a medieval horse compared to a modern horse? How much horsepower? Do these different horses at different times in society have? And you know, this apart? I mean, it's going like, do I really need to know this, but then realize that the point he's making is that we have perpetually not just the industrial revolution or anything. We are perpetually trying humans to get more energy to accomplish our needs. If it's building breeding bigger horses, inventing a better plow. Using seed drills, we're trying to get more energy for our needs all the time. And all of a sudden, I thought, well, that's the point. It isn't just the different horse harnesses and it isn't just the, the all the little menu chains that he you know, mentions it is it is It is the whole picture. And so I'm very pleased that I read it and I place it, I finished it, and I'm not reading it again. I'm not going to sit down and reread it.
Robert Bryce 1:05:12
Interesting. I like your point there the plantillas. So I haven't made that connection before. But Vaslav SMIL is the George Surat of the
Meredith Angwin 1:05:25
I didn't say his name, I thank you for
Robert Bryce 1:05:28
no problem. But if you want another book by by smell that I think is actually his best book. It is the inventions that made the 21st century I'm missing. I'm messing up the title, but it's a fairly short book, but it's the you know, it's very good. Excellent. I'm a big fan of Lotsof SMIL. And I've met him once. And he's a he's a, he's an interesting character, I should probably have him on the podcast. But he's also not an optimist. I would put it that way to put it mildly. So last question, then, Meredith, what gives you hope? I mean, we've we've talked many times, I've asked you this question. Now you're on all the other three times you've been on the podcast, but your your I would say your life has changed a lot in the last, you know, year and a half. What gives you hoped these days?
Meredith Angwin 1:06:13
Well, you know, it's hard for me to tell what parts of my hope because my life has changed and what parts of my hope are, because the world has changed. And what I mean by that is, I am getting a lot more invitations like to talk to a student group at Dartmouth that they've never done that before. And I've been fired five miles from Dartmouth for the past umpteen years, you know, to to talk to a legislative committee. You know, I don't want to just begin going through some list of where Magnus has been invited. But it is interesting to me that so many people are interested in the topic of the grid, or another thing, for example, our friend, Mr. Penny, he, he was he was new barbarian. And now he has begun a new with a new blog. I guess it is.
Robert Bryce 1:07:13
Grid brief? Yeah. Yeah, grid briefs.
Meredith Angwin 1:07:15
And all of a sudden people are, are are looking at the grid, and many of them are using terms that I'm pretty sure they learned in my book. I mean, I can't guarantee it. But as far as I know, it's the only book out there with some of those descriptions in it. And I just really, so it gives me hope that people are paying attention to the grid, and not just kind of like, I love nuclear, nuclear. No, I hate nuclear. I love solar. No, I hate so they're looking at it as an orchestra, which is what it is, it's a big thing that has to work together. And, and I just really like to see so many things that are grid oriented coming up. And of course, I like to be invited to them too. But even if I'm not particularly invited, I'm like, okay, okay, because look, I might write another book, I might not write another book, I might clear my schedule. And I or I might not. But it pleases me that there might be other people who will write books about the grid and how it's being managed in me, you might say, oh, there'll be rivals. I'm not worried about rifles. Now, I'm not trying to become rich on having written this book, I'm just saying, I want it to be a new topic, and I think it's getting there.
Robert Bryce 1:08:41
I really like what you said about the grid as an orchestra. Because I've thought about that, you know, excuse me that one of the failings of policymakers is to is that their lack of understanding of seeing the grid as a complex system as a complex network, and that it has to be understood as a complex system and a complex network that cannot be allowed to fail that it just is got to be 100% reliable, and everything else is second to that command. But you have to understand is a complex network first before you can kind of get your mind around that as my is my bias but I'd like I like your idea of the orchestra better because it or equally well because it implies the need to create a coherent sound are coherent a signal, I guess, if we're gonna really at 60 hertz
Meredith Angwin 1:09:39
coherent and very steady and very reliable. And that's really important. I mean, if it if it begins dropping of below 60 hertz, things can go bad or gets
Robert Bryce 1:09:53
below 59.4 hertz as it did at 2am on February 15 2021. Yes, we can have some very Bad things happen. Well, listen, Meredith, it's always great to talk to you. My guest again has been Meredith Angwin. She's the author of shorting the grid. The hidden the hidden fragility of our electric grid. You can find her easily on the interweb Meredith angwin.com Or at Meredith Angwin on Twitter. Meredith, thanks again for being on the power hungry podcast.
Meredith Angwin 1:10:18
Thank you for inviting me.
Robert Bryce 1:10:21
Alright, thanks to all you had podcast land. Tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast until then, see ya.