Images of Texans shivering without heat, electricity and sometimes water and food last month were heartbreaking. The weather event was very unusual, but such things happen occasionally around the country. Arizona’s weather is pretty predictable, even if that is unfortunate during the summer months when we bake. That said, we also have a more reliable utility system that usually protects us from the extremes.
Much has been said about how reliance on wind power was a factor. That certainly was not the only reason, but the fact remains that Texas now lacks some of the traditional power generation that could have helped sustain customers during the winter storm. The state’s power grid is also more isolated than Arizona’s.
Executives of Arizona utilities testified before the Legislature last week in what might be called due diligence by state lawmakers. What they said basically is that Arizona is in a better position because of its infrastructure but that it should not be taken for granted. That is a welcome message on both counts.
The Arizona executives said Texas could have better regulated its utilities. More competition in utilities is something that is advocated periodically, but the idea has plenty of downside.
Unlike in Arizona, Texas utilities generally do not own their own power plants. Here, utilities have more incentive to plan for problem times, and they hedge with fuel contracts that stabilize prices. Some of those plants run on natural gas. Arizona also has a strong, reliable supply of nuclear power.
Arizona was affected somewhat by loss of natural gas supply caused by the Texas freeze. Yet Southwest Gas has a liquid natural gas storage facility near Tucson that protected the company from some of the price spikes and disruption in supply. A potential underground site for more such storage exists near Eloy and has been discussed for years. Now would be a good time to discuss it further.
Arizona also is moving toward more use of renewable electricity, but utilities and regulators here seem more in tune with the importance of having backup than have those in Texas and California. And that is a good thing for Arizonans.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.