Featured Letter

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 5:00pm

Can Texas Happen on Block Island?

To the Editor,

We have all heard about the double-barreled crisis in Texas, where the electric system collapsed in the face of an uncommon weather event. It is hard not to ask whether such a devastating failure could happen on Block Island. While we cannot foresee every possibility, our electric utility’s answer is: No, it will not happen on Block Island.

Two problems helped create the shutdown in Texas: record-breaking cold, and supply and price. The Block Island Utility District has built our system to be resilient for both.

For backup supply, we maintain the pre-cable diesel generators and a supply of fuel on the island. In this way, we are insulated from a failure by the New England grid system or a cable interruption. In addition, the New England grid system has, itself, built mechanisms to have additional supply on call if needed. Like any insurance, this back-up has a price. Block Island pays nearly $500,000 a year in capacity charges to help support supply resiliency. We are therefore confident that electricity supply is not a major risk. People sometimes ask if the wind turbines are a direct back-up supply source. Sadly, for a variety of technical reasons, the wind turbines cannot serve that function.

Texas utilities have also experienced price spikes during this crisis. Limiting price risk and fluctuation is a major concern for any utility. Here, the Block Island Utility District has taken two steps to prevent—or greatly reduce—the risk of price fluctuations. The BIUD has supply contracts that guarantee a fixed price for power more than a year forward. The risk in those contracts is quite minimal. We continue to evaluate our power procurement plan to minimize risk, get favorable pricing and, increasingly, move to renewable resources. The other problem that burned some Texas consumers involved those who signed up for their own supply contracts without understanding the risks. The BIUD does not allow individuals to buy their own power because we believe that any potential for savings is outweighed by the risks to consumers. In fact, we have received an exemption from the Rhode Island rules on direct consumer power purchasing.

I hope this gives all BIUD members confidence that our system is carefully constructed to protect us. Something will surely go wrong at some time, but we keep looking for ways to make our system as resilient as we can.

We always welcome members’ ideas and comments!

Jeffery M. Wright
Block Island Utility District