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  • The Fatal Trifecta Comes to Oklahoma // Gov. Newsom Asks FERC for Nat Gas Price Probe // FBI Thwarts Neo-Nazi Grid Attack

The Fatal Trifecta Comes to Oklahoma // Gov. Newsom Asks FERC for Nat Gas Price Probe // FBI Thwarts Neo-Nazi Grid Attack

The Fatal Trifecta Comes to Oklahoma

High gas and electric bills are hammering Oklahomans and they're mad as hell about it.

“This must be the most horrendous case of price gouging ever,” a resident told Oklahoma Watch. “Oklahoma Natural Gas should have sued these companies instead of just passing on the bill to the customer with the ‘Ho-hum. It’s the customer’s problem now’ attitude.”

How did this happen? First, Winter Storm Uri clobbered the state and spiked gas prices. But that's not all. "Natural gas prices were above average the rest of 2021, and then spiked again last year after Russia invaded Ukraine," reports Oklahoma Watch. "The combination of weather and geopolitical events have left Oklahoma customers on the hook for billions in fuel costs." Infrastructure problems have also played a role--namely, freezing equipment and difficulties getting natural gas into pipelines during extreme cold weather.

The public blames utilities, lawmakers, regulators, and the former Attorney General, Mike Hunter. The state's utility companies have found themselves on the back foot, fending off criticism for being unaccountable for the increased costs passed on to customers. Financial pain has led some Oklahomas to question the regulated utility model. Hunter had vowed to investigate what was happening with natural gas prices, but left office before he could conclude the investigation. John O'Connor, Hunter's replacement, doesn't appear interested in pursuing the matter.

But Oklahoma's energy mix might also be a major reason for the high bills. "Oklahoma is proud that its in-state electricity generation is over 40% wind and over 40% natural gas," Meredith Angwin, author of Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid, said in an email. "However, that also means Oklahoma electricity prices track natural gas prices closely, which is not good when natural gas prices soar. There are many factors in the Oklahoma story, but certainly a more diverse grid (with nuclear as baseload) would have helped keep the lights on and the prices down."

Oklahoma has left itself vulnerable to what Angwin calls "the fatal trifecta"--over-building renewables, over-reliance on just-in-time natural gas, and over-dependence on neighbors for imports.

Gov. Newsom Asks FERC for Nat Gas Price Probe

High wholesale natural gas prices have been jacking up the electricity prices in California; Governor Gavin Newsom wants the federal government to do something about it.

"Since late November 2022, wholesale natural gas prices throughout the West have risen to alarming levels that greatly exceed prices in the rest of the country," Newsom said in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "Electricity prices in the FERC-regulated California Independent System Operator Market and Western Energy Imbalance Market have similarly escalated because electricity prices are directly affected by wholesale natural gas costs."

Newsom concludes the letter by asking FERC to investigate what's been making the gas market so funky--anticompetitive behavior, price manipulation, or "other anomalous activities." Perhaps constrained supply in the midst of rising global demand for LNG might fit into that last category. Low gas storage, pipeline constraints, and a colder winter (for California) have also played a role.

California's major utilities support Newsom's request, as they don't set the price of gas.

"State energy regulators are scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday to examine the causes and impacts of the elevated gas rates," reports Bloomberg. "Last week, state regulators voted to speed up payouts of credits ranging from $90 to $120 to help offset high utility bills."

FBI Thwarts Neo-Nazi Grid Attack

Two suspects, Sarah Beth Clendaniel and Brandon Clint Russell, have been charged in federal court for planning to shoot up five Baltimore Gas and Electric substations. The FBI believes the attack was racially motivated, as at least one suspect is a member of a neo-Nazi group.

Their goal was to "completely destroy" Baltimore. Had the couple succeeded, the resulting outage could have been disastrous. “The planned attack and intended consequences [sic] is mostly feasible," Kevin Perry, former director of critical infrastructure protection at Southwest Power Pool, told Utility Dive.

The FBI has assured the public that there are currently no known threats. The agency is working closely with BGE, state, and local investigators to ensure the grid is secure and resilient.

"Domestic terrorism targeting energy infrastructure is on the rise in the United States," reports Oilprice.com. "Late last year, two power substations in North Carolina were attacked by gunfire, knocking tens of thousands of people off the grid for almost a week." On Christmas, vandals sabotaged grid infrastructure in Washington state, leaving 14,000 residents without power over the holiday.

According to the Department of Energy, 2022 saw 25 attacks on energy infrastructure in America.

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