Texplainer: Why does Texas have its own power grid?

From: For The Ignorant Left (the-ig...)

Basically, Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with you
guessed it the feds. But grid independence has been violated a
few times over the years not even counting Mexico's help
during blackouts in 2011.

Why does Texas have its own electric grid?

Texas' secessionist inclinations have at least one modern
outlet: the electric grid. There are three grids in the Lower 48
states: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection
and Texas.

The Texas grid is called ERCOT, and it is run by an agency of
the same name the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT
does not actually cover all of Texas. El Paso is on another
grid, as is the upper Panhandle and a chunk of East Texas. This
presumably has to do with the history of various utilities'
service territories and the remoteness of the non-ERCOT
locations (for example the Panhandle is closer to Kansas than to
Dallas, notes Kenneth Starcher of the Alternative Energy
Institute in Canyon), but Texplainer is still figuring out the
particulars on this.

The separation of the Texas grid from the rest of the country
has its origins in the evolution of electric utilities early
last century. In the decades after Thomas Edison turned on the
country's first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, small
generating plants sprouted across Texas, bringing electric light
to cities. Later, particularly during the first world war,
utilities began to link themselves together. These ties, and the
accompanying transmission network, grew further during the
second world war, when several Texas utilities joined together
to form the Texas Interconnected System, which allowed them to
link to the big dams along Texas rivers and also send extra
electricity to support the ramped-up factories aiding the war

The Texas Interconnected System which for a long time was
actually operated by two discrete entities, one for northern
Texas and one for southern Texas had another priority: staying
out of the reach of federal regulators. In 1935, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which
charged the Federal Power Commission with overseeing interstate
electricity sales. By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities
avoided being subjected to federal rules. "Freedom from federal
regulation was a cherished goal more so because Texas had no
regulation until the 1970s," writes Richard D. Cudahy in a 1995
article, "The Second Battle of the Alamo: The Midnight
Connection." (Self-reliance was also made easier in Texas,
especially in the early days, because the state has substantial
coal, natural gas and oil resources of its own to fuel power

ERCOT was formed in 1970, in the wake of a major blackout in the
Northeast in November 1965, and it was tasked with managing grid
reliability in accordance with national standards. The agency
assumed additional responsibilities following electric
deregulation in Texas a decade ago. The ERCOT grid remains
beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, which succeeded the Federal Power Commission and
regulates interstate electric transmission.

Historically, the Texas grid's independence has been violated a
few times. Once was during World War II, when special provisions
were made to link Texas to other grids, according to Cudahy.
Another episode occurred in 1976 after a Texas utility, for
reasons relating to its own regulatory needs, deliberately
flipped a switch and sent power to Oklahoma for a few hours.
This event, known as the "Midnight Connection," set off a major
legal battle that could have brought Texas under the
jurisdiction of federal regulators, but it was ultimately
resolved in favor of continued Texan independence.

Even today, ERCOT is also not completely isolated from other
grids as was evident when the state imported some power from
Mexico during the rolling blackouts of 2011. ERCOT has three
ties to Mexico and as an outcome of the "Midnight Connection"
battle it also has two ties to the eastern U.S. grid, though
they do not trigger federal regulation for ERCOT. All can move
power commercially as well as be used in emergencies, according
to ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark. A possible sixth
interconnection project, in Rusk County, is being studied, and
another ambitious proposal, called Tres Amigas, would link the
three big U.S. grids together in New Mexico, though Texas' top
utility regulator has shown little enthusiasm for participating.

Bottom line: Texas has its own grid to avoid dealing with the

Got a question for Texplainer? E-mail us at
[email protected].


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