The Fatal Trifecta Comes to Oklahoma

From Grid Brief

By Emmet Penney

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.