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What caused the Texas Blackouts? 

Ask them to support proven and reliable energy sources that keep our bills low and protect Minnesota families from blackouts.

Contact your legislators

Texas and California bought into wind and solar energy, but when they needed electricity the most, their residents were left in the dark.

The Texas blackouts killed dozens of people. Now Minnesota politicians want to make the same mistakes with more wind and solar mandates! 

Remind your legislators that Minnesota winters require RELIABLE sources of energy.

Demand Reliable Energy!

Dear Legislator,

I’m writing to share my opposition to proposed legislation that would increase renewable energy mandates in Minnesota. These short-sighted mandates will make Minnesota families more vulnerable to the catastrophic power outages recently seen in Texas and California and will permanently increase my energy bills. I am especially worried about rising energy bills because of the economic downturn from COVID-19.  

Two recent experiences prove that renewable energy mandates can be a matter of life and death. Last summer, California experienced rolling blackouts during a heatwave that knocked out power to millions of people and caused power outages at 39 hospitals during a global pandemic. Two weeks ago, more than 4.5 million Texans experienced rolling electricity blackouts in a polar vortex because the state is too reliant upon unreliable wind generation and natural gas. More than 40 people died, some of them children, after losing power for days during freezing temperatures.

We were lucky in Minnesota because our utilities currently have a balanced energy resource portfolio that includes reliable energy resources such as nuclear and coal. What would happen in the future if the legislature votes to eliminate the 24-7 resilient resources that have protected our families from oppressive heat or extremely cold weather for decades in this state?

Thousands of Minnesota families are already worried about their high energy bills after natural gas companies announced bills will likely be $400 higher after the polar vortex. Our energy bills will be even more unaffordable if we shut down affordable and reliable coal plants and rely even more on natural gas power plants, that are vulnerable to price spikes, when weather-dependent energy sources like wind and solar don’t show up to work. 

Our communities in a northern climate cannot depend on California-style energy policy. Instead of mandating more wind and solar on to Minnesota’s grid, legislators should put reliable energy first. They can do this by legalizing new nuclear power, allowing large hydroelectric power from Canada to qualify as “carbon-free,” and creating a clear path for carbon capture. 

Please support proven and reliable energy sources that keep our bills low and protect Minnesota families from blackouts, giving us reliable, affordable, and environmentally friendly energy for decades to come. 

Sincerely,

Your Name

Demand Reliable Energy!

No Blackouts like California and Texas!

Helicopter De-Icing Wind Turbine: Caribou Wind Farms, Canada

Could it happen in Minnesota?

Texas Blackouts Frequently Asked Questions

The most obvious reason for the rolling blackouts in Texas is there was not enough electricity supply on the grid to meet demand. Why that electricity demand went unmet has been a matter of debate.

We've created the FAQ below to sort out the facts from fiction on the Texas blackouts.

Didn't Texas have blackouts because its grid is isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal regulations?

While ERCOT's isolation from other regional power grid does prevent Texas from importing power during events like this, being connected to other grids would not have helped in this specific circumstance because rolling blackouts were also affecting the 14-state Southwest Power Pool at the same time as the Texas blackouts, meaning these states would have had no excess electricity to spare during the Texas emergency.  

Areas of the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO), the grid system to which Minnesota belongs, also had blackouts in the Southern region, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Southeast Texas.   






This means even if Texas had been hooked up to other regional grids, it would not have been bailed out by them during the blackouts because you can't import power from states that don't have any to spare.

California experienced blackouts in August of 2020 for this exact reason. California is connected to other states but still experienced blackouts because it has shut down too much of its reliable nuclear and natural gas plant capacity and is overly reliant upon electricity imports.  California was connected to other states, but AZ and NV didn't have any power to spare, so California went dark.

The lack of reliable generation capacity in California was not a result of poor planning. It resulted from political decisions that led to the shutdown of the state's nuclear and natural gas plants in favor of wind and solar, despite warnings from the California grid operator that there would be a supply shortfall if there were a region-wide heatwave.  








Politics trumped physics, and the people paid the price.  

Being interconnected with other states on a regional level does not necessarily mean that Minnesota will be less subject to blackouts in the future. Our whole region will be at greater risk of the rolling blackouts seen in California, Texas, and SPP if we continue to close down our reliable coal plants and rely on greater amounts of wind and solar without enough reliable natural gas, nuclear, or hydroelectric power available to fill in the gaps.


Didn't all energy sources have problems? 

Yes, absolutely. All types of power plants struggled during the polar vortex, but the extent to which certain types of power plants failed and the reasons different plants failed are very important.

Wind generation struggled because some wind turbine blades were covered in ice, but the biggest factor limiting electricity production from wind turbines during the Texas blackouts was low wind speeds, which greatly reduced electricity output when Texans needed the energy the most.

Solar fared well during the day, but it could not generate electricity at night when temperatures were lowest, and demand was highest.

One of four nuclear units in Texas had a water intake pipe that froze, preventing water from entering the plant and causing it to shut down.  The three remaining units performed well.

Natural gas plants experienced problems getting gas because of frozen natural gas infrastructure, which caused natural gas production in Texas to drop.  

Power outages affecting natural gas compressor stations in the Permian Basin, one of the largest oil and natural gas producing regions in the world, had a profound effect on natural gas infrastructure, hampering the delivery of the fuel to power plants that needed it.  We are still learning the extent to which this limited supply, but it may have played a more significant role in the supply problems than freezing infrastructure.

Another problem contributing to shortages of natural gas for power plants in Texas was the competition between electricity generators and home heating systems for natural gas. Home heating gets the first priority, so some plants couldn't get the gas they needed to generate electricity.

Coal plant outages occurred because some plants were down for scheduled maintenance and some plants experienced weather-related issues, but other plants "tripped offline" to keep the plants from becoming permanently damaged as demand for electricity outstripped supply.  Natural gas plants also tripped offline during this time.

 
 What does it mean when plants "trip offline?"
 

The most important thing to know about the electric system is that the supply of electricity must always match demand within a very narrow band of frequency.


It's a little like the process of turning the dial on an FM radio (for those who remember them) to get the clearest signal. Turning the dial too far in either direction causes the sound to get fuzzy. Turn it even further, and the channel is changed entirely.

 
In the United States, the electric grid operates at a frequency of 60 Hertz. If the demand for electricity on the grid outstrips supply, it causes the frequency to dip. As the frequency dips, big power plants, like gas turbines, coal, and nuclear plants, try to fix it by ramping up production by spinning faster. This increases the torque on the shaft and blades and leads to wear and tear on the plants.


Irreversible and catastrophic damage can occur when the imbalance becomes too great. Therefore, power plants have built-in safety mechanisms that cause them to "trip" offline or disconnect from the grid. Unfortunately, "each generating plant that goes offline to avoid damage puts more stress on those that remain, causing them to go offline one at a time," according to Bloomberg.  These factors led to an accelerating cascade of outages.

 
In Texas, electricity demand was forecast to be enormous. Natural gas supply problems and a decline in generation from wind turbines meant there wasn't enough electricity to meet demand, leading frequency to drop.  The negative impacts of the frequency drop could have been avoided if ERCOT had initiated rolling blackouts sooner, restoring the frequency of the grid and keeping large coal and natural gas plants from tripping offline.

Didn't natural gas fail worse than renewables?

Conventional power plants did not fail as badly as wind turbines. When we look at the capacity factors (the percentage of electricity a power source generated compared to its theoretical maximum) of all generation sources in Texas, wind and solar are clearly the lowest during the period from February 15 through February 17.  

You can see average hourly capacity factors by source: nuclear 76 percent, coal 39 percent, natural gas 38 percent, solar 24 percent, and wind 12 percent. As a result, nuclear, coal, and natural gas accounted for 91 percent of electricity generation during this time.

At their lowest hourly generation, nuclear plants delivered 74 percent of their potential, coal 34 percent, natural gas 33 percent, wind 2 percent, and solar 0 percent.

You can read more about plant performance here.  Center of the American Experiment's analysis of plant performance was cited in the Wall Street Journal.

Renewable advocates claim conventional power plants performed worse than renewables, citing the loss of about 25 gigawatts (GW) of conventional generation (natural gas, coal, and nuclear), compared to the loss of around 18 GW of wind generation, as you can see in the graph showing ERCOT data below.

As we've already discussed, some conventional power plants "tripped offline" due to low frequency, although we're still not certain what percentage of outages were caused by this. Losing capacity due to tripping isn't a power plant failure. It is a grid operator error.

To the extent that power outages occurred due to frozen natural gas pipelines, Texas should look for strategic ways to winterize natural gas infrastructure to prevent this from happening in the future. This analysis should also consider that winterizing plants can make them more difficult to operate during the summer (the normal peak for Texas) because it inhibits a power plant’s ability to discharge heat.

These engineering challenges absolutely must be discussed in the coming months. However, the fact of the matter is you can winterize a gas pipeline and thermal power plants, but you can't make the wind blow.

Didn't wind outperform expectations during cold weather?


Some renewable advocates have claimed that the wind is "reliably unreliable" and that we plan around the fact that the wind likely won't show up when we need it most. This boils down to saying, "We know that renewables rarely show up when we need them, so why are you upset they didn't work?" This is a weak excuse for having low expectations from wind and solar when the energy was needed most. The fact of the matter is wind produced little power during the blackouts. Furthermore, why should we build more wind and solar if we know they don't work when we need them?

Even if we want to entertain the weak excuse, wind still underperformed other generation sources. The table below shows performance by fuel type in Texas for February 15, 2021, vs. what the Texas grid operator, ERCOT, expected would be available.  Looking at the "Ave % of Dependable" column, we see that wind performed at 45 percent of its expected dependable capacity (which was already low) established in the Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy (SARA) report produced by ERCOT.


Nuclear, coal, and natural gas power plants operated at 80 percent, 63 percent, and 62 percent of their expected capacity, respectively. Unlike wind, solar greatly outperformed expectations in the SARA analysis but still only had an "Ave Capacity Factor" of 16 percent. Solar was also unable to generate electricity at night when demand was high.



Would winterized gas infrastructure have prevented the blackouts? 


No. Winterized gas infrastructure would have greatly reduced the severity of the blackouts, but Texas didn't have enough reliable capacity online to prevent them entirely.
 
The graph below was created by Dr. Brent Bennet from the Life: Powered, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).  It shows the forecast electricity demand with a dotted line and electricity generation from different energy resources in stacked colors during the weather event.


Even after assuming no outages at the coal, natural gas or nuclear plants operating earlier in the week, and twice the actual output from wind (to approximate generation if half the fleet had not iced over), the graph shows there would still have been more than 24 hours of continuous rolling outages Monday and Tuesday. The situation would not have been as dire, but it still would have been very difficult to manage.
 

Why doesn't Texas have enough reliable capacity? 


According to Chuck Devore of TPPF, in the past five years, Texas saw an increase of about 20,000 megawatts of installed wind and solar capacity, but it also experienced a net loss of 4,000 MW of natural gas and coal-fired powerplants.  This means increasing electricity demand was met with a decrease in reliable supply compared to 2015 values. The results were devastating.

 
Why did Texas close build so much wind and solar and close down reliable capacity? 


Texas didn't have enough reliable capacity to meet the demand for electricity because its wholesale energy markets are broken by subsidized wind and solar, which have reduced wholesale prices and pushed reliable generators off the grid. Texas market rules don't require that power plants be reliable, so wind and solar have a massive advantage in the ERCOT wholesale electricity market.

 
This isn't a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory, either. It is something the wind and solar associations in Texas bragged about in 2018.   PV Magazine, a publication that discusses trends in solar technology, wrote an article in 2018 outlining the findings of a joint study of the Wind Solar Alliance of Texas.  
PV magazine began their article by saying: 

"There is a lot to chew on in The Economic Value of Renewable Energy to Texas, a new report by the Wind Solar Alliance. In addition to numbers on jobs, reduced pollutants, and projected numbers for economic development, there are also figures for revenues to local governments and landowners, all in the cornucopia of economic benefits brought by these two resources.

 
However, perhaps the most interesting thing in this report – which represents the latest joint effort of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – are the numbers on how wind, and to a lesser degree solar, are bringing down wholesale power prices and making them more stable.

This speaks to not only how renewable energy is ushering in a new era of super-cheap electricity, but also provides the secret to how wind and solar will increasingly drive more expensive and uncompetitive conventional power plants off the grid in wholesale power markets."

 
There are a few things to unpack in this first section. First, wind and solar are bringing down wholesale power prices in Texas, but prices have not become more stable. They have become much more volatile.

 
During the blackouts in February of 2021, electricity prices hit the $9,000 per megawatt-hour price cap for multiple days, as you can see in the graph below.  The day after the blackouts were over, power prices were negative.
 

The most important part of this paragraph is this sentence: "but [the report] also provides the secret to how wind and solar will increasingly drive more expensive and uncompetitive conventional power plants off the grid in wholesale power markets."

PV Magazine continues:

"In Texas in 2017, this was not a small amount of wind and solar. The 20 GW of wind and 1 GW of solar made up 17.4% and 0.8% respectively of the electricity consumed in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid represented quite a volume of resources bidding in at next to zero.

Particularly when coupled with low gas prices, this is bringing down the cost of generation. As shown in the figure below, at 40 GW of demand and a gas price of $3.50 per MMBTU, even 10 GW of wind and/or solar keeps the bid price just below $30 per megawatt-hour. This prevents not only the most expensive gas plants – such as less efficient simple-cycle plants – from clearing but also most of the coal plants in the fleet."

The graph above shows different power plants bidding into ERCOT's energy market. Each plant bids in a price based on the marginal cost of generating electricity, and the lowest bidders clear the auction and get to run (see the plants in the black rectangle). Renewables (in green) displace the coal and natural gas plants (brown and blue), removing them from the auction. Eventually, this can deprive them of enough revenue for them to shut down, which is bad during a polar vortex.

 
“This is just the beginning. Texas continues to add more wind every year, and ERCOT has estimated that the state could put online 13 GW of solar by 2030. This will ultimately mean more hours where coal and gas plants are not operating, and more retirements of conventional generation. [emphasis added]”
“While the report focuses on Texas, it is not hard to extrapolate this scenario across the entire United States. Significant volumes of wind are present on the MISO grid, and New England saw its first "duck curve" day where mid-day net demand fell to a lower level than overnight demand due to high levels of solar.”
“It is important to note that the zero marginal cost of wind and solar generation will not discriminate between types of plants, knocking off whatever plants are the most expensive and must run the most to pay off their loans. This is why much of the 110 GW of gas plants planned for the United States may become stranded assets, if utilities and developers insist upon building them."

 
Subsidized wind and solar are allowed to participate in the Texas energy market but have no responsibilities to be reliable when needed. This is very bad because it allows them to essentially "dump" power into the market and drive reliable generators, the so-called "uncompetitive conventional power plants," off the grid.
This is like China dumping steel into the U.S. market to drive our domestic plants out of business. Then when Texas needed the power most, wind and solar faced no penalties for not showing up.

 
Can battery storage replace the need for natural gas, coal, nuclear plants? 


No. A recent study from Wood Mackenzie on battery storage concluded there would be around 741,000 MWh of battery storage on the grid globally by 2030.  In 2019, Texas used 494.7 million MWh, meaning the estimated total of global storage would be able to satisfy about 0.15 percent of Texas' electricity consumption in that year.  This equates to just 13 hours' worth of storage.

This amount of storage would not be sufficient to provide energy during a future cold snap if wind and solar perform as they did in February of 2021. It would also be an incredibly scary situation to be in. The odds that Texas would be the home of all the battery storage built globally between now and 2030 are also exceedingly low.

 
What lessons can Minnesota learn? 
While Texas and 14 states in the SPP were suffering from rolling blackouts, the regional grid to which most of Minnesota belongs, the northern portion of Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), was able to keep the lights on because it has a large fleet of coal-fired power plants to lean on when times are tough.
According to a February 15 snapshot of data on the MISO website, coal produced 52 percent of the electricity consumed in MISO. Natural gas provided 28 percent and nuclear 12 percent. During this time, wind generated just 4.2 percent of demand, and solar only 0.3 percent.

 
What's worse, wind provided only 3,521 MW of electricity, even though it could have produced 22,000 MW. This means wind produced just 16 percent of its potential output when we needed the electricity most.

Over the course of the entire week, it was the coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants that carried the electric load, while wind and solar were occasional contributors.
Unfortunately, the coal plants won't be around to carry the load much longer. Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, and Great River Energy have all announced their plans to shut down these reliable power plants and build wind, solar, and natural gas.

 
This is a very bad idea, because unlike coal or nuclear plants, which can store months' worth of fuel on-site, natural gas relies on just-in-time delivery from pipelines. As we saw in Texas, if the supply of natural gas is disrupted by problems producing or transporting the gas, it can lead to shortages that result in blackouts or wild price spikes.
Minnesotans will get a small taste of these price spikes this year, as natural gas utilities in the state estimate heating bills will be $400 higher due to skyrocketing prices during the polar vortex alone.  

 
The problem of volatile natural gas prices will be much worse when the coal fleet is gone because it means our electricity system will be extremely reliant upon natural gas when it's not sunny or windy. This situation will put us at greater risk of rolling blackouts and huge cost increases if natural gas prices soar.


The graph shows the current grid mix in Minnesota versus what it will likely look like on a low wind and solar generation day in 2035 when the state's last coal plant is set to retire.  

Natural gas will be expected to more than triple its electricity generation output during these events, and home heating demand will likely soar. The competition for just-in-time delivery of natural gas will harm consumers and leave them more vulnerable to a Texas-sized energy failure.

 
The grid would be even more dependent upon natural gas if our nuclear plants also close down.


Conclusion 
Texas tried to meet rising electricity demand with increasing wind and solar capacity and falling levels of reliable capacity. The results were predictably terrible. Unfortunately, Texas planned to fail by structuring its power markets to favor renewable energy at the expense of reliable electricity generators. Texas needs to implement reliability standards to ensure this never happens again.

 
The best way to make sure the lights stay on in Minnesota is to keep our coal and nuclear fleets running as long as possible. Unlike natural gas systems, these power plants can store months of fuel on-site, and they can operate regardless of weather conditions.

 
Gradually replacing our existing coal plants (after they have reached the end of their useful lifetimes) with new nuclear plants would be the best way to maintain our fuel diversity, ensuring reliable, affordable energy in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Taking the same approach as Texas, but expecting different results, will lead to terrible consequences.


[1] Chris Six, “Southwest Power Pool Explains Rolling Blackouts Across 14 States,” Ozarks First, February 16, 2021, https://www.ozarksfirst.com/local-news/local-news-local-news/southwest-power-pool-explain-rolling-blackouts-across-14-states/.

[2] Brandon Morris, “Limited, Periodic Power Outages Occurred Across the Entire South Region,” Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator, February 16, 2021, https://www.misoenergy.org/about/media-center/miso-implemented-most-severe-steps-in-its-emergency-actions-to-protect-grid-reliability/.

[3] Kavya Balaraman, “’We’re in a bind’: California Braces for Rolling Outages as Heatwave Continues,” Utility Dive, August 17, 2020, https://www.utilitydive.com/news/were-in-a-bind-california-braces-for-rolling-outages-as-heatwave-contin/583679/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] U.S Energy Information Administration, “State Data Profile: California 2020,” https://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/California/state_tables.php.

[6] Mike O’Shea, “Breaking Down the Texas Winter Blackouts: What Went Wrong?,” Wood Mackenzie, February 19, 2021, https://www.woodmac.com/news/editorial/Breaking-down-the-texas-winter-blackouts/full-report/.

[7] Russel Gold, “Texas Power Outages to Drag Into Third Day as Deep Freeze Persists,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/texas-power-outages-after-deep-freeze-prompt-governor-to-urge-probe-11613513090.

[8] Mike O’Shea, “Breaking Down the Texas Winter Blackouts: What Went Wrong?,” Wood Mackenzie, February 19, 2021, https://www.woodmac.com/news/editorial/Breaking-down-the-texas-winter-blackouts/full-report/.

[9] Rachel Adams-Heard et Al., “A Giant Flaw in Texas Blackouts: It Cut Power to Gas Supplies,” Bloomberg, February 19, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-20/a-giant-flaw-in-texas-blackouts-it-cut-power-to-gas-supplies.

[10] Benjamin Storrow, “How Coal Failed in the Texas Deep Freeze,” E&E News, March 18, 2021, https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063727799.

[11] Peter Coy, Ercot’s 711-Page Training Manual Tells a Power-Grid Horror Story,” Bloomberg, February 22, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-22/ercot-s-711-page-training-manual-tells-a-power-grid-horror-story.

[12] Bill Magness, “Review of February 2021 Extreme Cold Weather Event,’ ERCOT Presentation, February 24, 2021, http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/key_documents_lists/225373/Urgent_Board_of_Directors_Meeting_2-24-2021.pdf.

[13] Mitch Rolling, “Grading the Reliability of Energy Sources During the Texas Power Outages,” Center of the American Experiment, February 19, 2021, https://www.americanexperiment.org/wind-energy-fails-grading-the-reliability-of-energy-sources-during-the-texas-power-outages/.

[14] The Editorial Board, “More Green Blackouts Ahead,” The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/more-green-blackouts-ahead-11614125061.

[15] Wade Schauer, “Updated Ercot Outage Data Feb 10-19. You’ll need to manually type in the URL from the image into your browser bar to download. Twitter won’t let the link open directly,” Twitter, March 12, 2021, https://twitter.com/WadeSchauer7/status/1370454639326367745?s=20.

[16] Wade Schauer, “Comparing how ERCOT thought different techs would perform during winter peak conditions to how they actually performed on 2/15/2021 ...,” Twitter, February 16, 2021, https://twitter.com/WadeSchauer7/status/1361873629340835840?s=20.

[17] Electric Reliability Council of Texas, “Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy Analysis,” November 5, 2020, http://www.ercot.com/content/wcm/lists/197378/SARA-FinalWinter2020-2021.pdf.

[18] Dr. Brent Bennet, “Forget About What Broke: The Texas Blackout Was Inevitable,” Life:Powered, March 3, 2021, https://lifepowered.org/forget-about-what-broke-the-texas-blackout-was-inevitable/.

[19] Chuck Devore, “Chuck Devore: Texas’ Blackouts- Here’s the Truth About Why They Happened and What We Have To Do Next,” Fox News, March 2, 2021, https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/texas-blackouts-why-happened-truth-chuck-devore.

[20] Wind Solar Alliance of Texas, “The Economic Value of Renewable Energy to Texas,” TXP Inc., Fall 2018, https://windsolaralliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/TXPIdeaSmithsReport-FINAL.pdf.

[21] Christian Roselund, “Renewables Reduced Wholesale Power Costs by $5.7 billion in Texas,” PV Magazine, November 6, 2018, https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2018/11/06/renewables-reduced-wholesale-power-costs-by-5-7-billion-in-texas/.

[22] Energy Online, “ERCOT Real-Time Prices February 10, 2021- February 24, 2021,” LCG Consulting,” http://www.energyonline.com/Data/GenericData.aspx?DataId=4&ERCOT___Real-time_Price.

[23] Rory McCarthy and Le Xu, “WoodMac; Global Energy Storage Capacity to Hit 741 GWh by 2030,” Greentech Media, September 30, 2021, https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/woodmac-global-storage-to-reach-741-gigawatt-hours-by-2030.

[24] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “State Data Profile: Texas,” https://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/Texas/state_tables.php.

[25] Mike Hughlett, “February Cold Snap Could Cost CenterPoint Customers Additional $354, Plus Interest,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 17, 2021, https://www.startribune.com/february-cold-snap-could-cost-centerpoint-customers-additional-354-plus-interest/600035082/.

[26] Energy Information Administration, American Experiment Projections