From the Annals of the Power Grid – In 1936, the first power line built under the program of the Rural Electrification Administration was powered up. The 58 mile line near Bartlett brought electricity within reach of nearby farms and ranches. The REA was created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 with the goal of bringing electrification to rural areas. When created only about 2 percent of the farms and ranches in Texas (and about 10 percent nationally) had access to electricity. The REA was primarily a lending agency under its enabling statute that was cosponsored by Texas Rep. Sam Rayburn. The Bartlett line was made possible by a $33,000 loan to a group of farmers. It is almost impossible to overstate the impact of the REA in raising the standard of living for vast numbers of rural residents who had never had access to electricity. By 1965, only 2 percent of Texas farms and ranches were still without electricity.
Slate reports on the “only in Texas” phenomenon where electric power was actually cheaper than free this week.
In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, the mighty state of Texas was asleep. The honky-tonks in Austin were shuttered, the air-conditioned office towers of Houston were powered down, and the wind whistled through the dogwood trees and live oaks on the gracious lawns of Preston Hollow. Out in the desolate flats of West Texas, the same wind was turning hundreds of wind turbines, producing tons of electricity at a time when comparatively little supply was needed.
And then a very strange thing happened: The so-called spot price of electricity in Texas fell toward zero, hit zero, and then went negative for several hours. As the Lone Star State slumbered, power producers were paying the state’s electricity system to take electricity off their hands. At one point, the negative price was $8.52 per megawatt hour.
Impossible, most economists would say. In any market—and especially in a state devoted to the free market, like Texas—makers won’t provide a product or service at a negative cost. Yet this could only have happened in Texas, which (not surprisingly) has carved out its own unique approach to electricity.