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ERCOT Woes // India Bans Wheat Exports // This Week in Utility History: Appliances and the Age of Growth


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which stewards the Lone Star State's grid, called for power conservation throughout the state over the weekend.

As we covered earlier, Texas was anticipating a heatwave that seemed likely to strain their grid. In spring, temperatures are usually milder, making it prime time to schedule shutdowns for repairs. The heatwave interrupted that. On May 5, ERCOT requested generators postpone their planned outages (and any outages underway) for maintenance until after this weekend. ERCOT assured the public it would not ask them to conserve electricity usage.

But the weather has persisted. The high heat has Texans reaching for their thermostats to crank the AC. Reuters reports, "Record temperatures have pushed up demand for air conditioning, contributing to soaring wholesale prices this week. The call for residents to conserve came after prices soared to more than $4,000 per megawatt hour (MWH) in Houston briefly on Friday afternoon, from less than $6 MWH earlier."

That afternoon, six gas plants tripped offline. ERCOT issued a request for conservation. "This afternoon, six power generation facilities tripped offline resulting in the loss of approximately 2,900 MW of electricity. At this time, all generation resources available are operating. We’re asking Texans to conserve power when they can by setting their thermostats to 78-degrees or above and avoiding the usage of large appliances (such as dishwashers, washers, and dryers) during peak hours between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. through the weekend."

It's unclear what brought the gas plants offline.

Some are using their failure to celebrate renewables and trash gas plants.

There was even a brief moment of wind and solar collaborating to keep the grid humming, as prophesied by so many activists for the last few decades.

Mitch Rolling of the Center of the American Experiment sees it differently.

ERCOT's summer outlook can't be good. It's adding about 13 GW of solar to its grid over the year and vanishingly few new thermal units. Its problems aren't new. Eleven years ago, Alex Epstein gave a talk at Texas A&M warning of the "green blackout" that could happen in Texas if its policy trajectory continued. It has.

India Bans Wheat Exports

On May 13, India placed a ban on wheat exports. This will deprive the market of yet more wheat during an already lean period inaugurated by the Ukraine war.

The Indian government claims that its food security was under threat. The ban is not total. Bloomberg reports, "Exports will still be allowed to countries that require wheat for food security needs and based on the requests of their governments, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade said in a notification dated May 13. All other new shipments will be banned with immediate effect."

"The export ban was expected but not so soon. The wheat price rose over 50% in a week for premium quality meant for exports. This was caused due to high export and domestic demand which was further exacerbated by heatwave crop loss," Rahul Chauhan, director of agriculture commodity research firm India Grain, told SPG.

India's not alone. Many governments want to ensure their local food supplies as prices continue to surge. "Indonesia has halted palm oil exports, while Serbia and Kazakhstan imposed quotas on grain shipments," reports Bloomberg.

Some are looking to Australia's wheat output for relief. But supply chain logistics are straining exporters. A "lack of truck drivers in the continent due to COVID and skill shortage coupled with a large export program has put a squeeze on Australia wheat markets," reports SPG.

This Week in Utility History: Appliances and the Age of Growth

This Electrical Word issue from May 18, 1953, catches the utility industry in its aggressive, pro-growth stance.

This issue centers around electrical appliances and what role they played for utilities--specifically, how electrical appliances would impact load and demand. The short answerappliances hiked load and demand up by a lot. Appliances had become cheaper and the drive to create the "electric home" was shared by utilities and suburbanites alike.

It was a win-win. Utilities got to sell more electricity, companies like General Electric got to hawk their wares, and housewives found themselves freed from daily toils. The cover article of this issue details various appliances--dryers, washers, dishwashers, vacuums, etc.--and how much electricity they require. This was the backbone of the consumerist-growth ideology. It made the post-war consensus possible.

And everyone expected it to last. Utilities were generally conservative in how they approached things--they were sensible engineering types after all. So they focused on what was reliable and known. The advertising from this issue, of which the image below serves as but one example, reflects that. Growth needed dependability because the nation depended on growth.

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Crom's Blessing

The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, Greece. (1955)