Texas power outages and an unexpected deep freeze has ignited a heated debate over Green Energy. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Texas Power Outages
Go Nakamura of Reuters reports: “Millions of Texans braved their third day without heat on Wednesday following a punishing winter storm that has killed at least 21 people, as icy conditions threatened to hamstring the country’s second-largest state and surrounding region for days. Some 2.7 million households were without power, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity which has come under increasing fire for a massive failure of the power grid.” Here’s what both sides are saying and why this story matters:
What Conservatives Are Saying About Texas Power Outages
Conservatives and right-leaning commentators believe the winter freeze in Texas highlights the shortcomings of green energy policies.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board takes Texas Governor Greg Abbott to task for sounding like California Governor Gavin Newson in shirking responsibility and passing the buck. According to the WSJ, Governor Abbott should instead look to his own state’s green energy policies which forced an over-reliance on wind energy. Since wind and sun are intermittent and unreliable, those green energies require a baseload generation capacity run on fossil fuels. That baseload was overwhelmed when, due to frozen turbines, the wind contribution to total electricity generation plunged to 8% from 42% a week ago. The WSJ blames the George W Bush administration for initiating the incentive scheme that led to an overreliance on intermittent sources of energy, like wind. That scheme, in the Editorial Board’s view, has become a trend with successive administrations that will have dire consequences. They write, “…the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is supposed to ensure grid reliability, but under Barack Obama it promoted renewables over reliability. Democrats opposed efforts by Trump appointees to mitigate market distortions caused by state renewable subsidies and mandates that jeopardized the grid. On present trend, this week’s Texas fiasco is coming soon to a cold winter or hot summer near you.”
Robert Bryce elaborates on the necessity of natural gas in Forbes. He says, “the natural gas network is essential because it can deliver big surges in energy supplies during periods of peak demand.” Bryce maintains that an over-reliance on electricity increases the fragility of our system and “… the domestic natural gas sector can deliver surges of the fuel that are, in fact, lifesaving. That is due, in large part, to the fact that we can store vast amounts of gas and only tiny quantities of electricity. In short, our electric grid simply cannot deliver the massive amounts of energy needed during the winter to keep us from freezing to death. That means we need to keep burning natural gas. If you prefer to rely on batteries, be my guest.”
Lastly, in The Hill, Stephen Moore also blames Texas’ grid problems on “the political left’s war on fossil fuels,” and “renewable energy mandates” that require 20% to 30% of a state’s power supply to come from wind and solar power.” Moore cites Germany as a cautionary example since they “wisely ditched the all-in green energy movement” they initially adopted in the early 2000’s. Now, Moore continues, “as a polar vortex has hit Europe, the Germans are getting much of their energy from … coal.”
The right is adamant that we must correct the incentive scheme that has led to dependence on unreliable green energy sources.
What Progressives Are Saying About Texas Power Outages
The left believes that green energy sources are just one of the multiple factors that have led to the electricity problem Texas is dealing with now.
As Timothy O’Brien writes in Bloomberg, “… after the grid failed during the 2011 freeze, industry observers pointed out that power plants of every stripe in Texas weren’t properly winterized and would need to be to avoid future outages. Were they winterized? Apparently not.” O’Brien maintains that Governor Abbott “built a grid meant to run leanly, without the kind of power reserves that utilities have traditionally kept on hand to meet unexpected surges in demand. That’s fine — unless an unexpected surge arrives, like a Tyson roundhouse.”
In TIME, a trio of authors quote the senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid: “We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event.” According to O’Brien, wind only accounts for 13% of the lost capacity, a view generally confirmed by Rice Professor, Daniel Cohan who said “… the performance of wind and solar is way down the list among the smaller factors in the disaster that we’re facing.”
Umair Ifran also makes the case in Vox that Texas’ power issues cannot be blamed on one single factor. The Texas grid “draws on a diverse range of power sources in a competitive market. The largest source of electricity in Texas is natural gas, followed by wind and solar, coal, then nuclear. The state is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the US.” Ifran sees a state energy regulator that attempted but ultimately failed to model an extreme weather event: “… the state was only expecting to lose about 8,600 megawatts in power generation over the winter, with a peak demand of roughly 58,000 megawatts. That forecast was far off the mark from the 34,000 megawatts that went offline and the peak of 69,000 megawatts in the recent winter storm.” Still, Ifran concludes, “it’s too reductive to blame any individual factor like intermittent renewable energy, fossil fuel generator shutdowns, decrepit infrastructure, or inadequate planning,” Ifran contends, “rather, it’s a combination of multiple cascading failures that leaves millions of people in the dark.”
The left sees a Republican attempt to scapegoat green energy for a problem that is far more complex, and largely the result of an unexpected extreme weather event.
Local outlets in Texas highlight how the Lone Star state is split on who or what’s to blame. In The Texas Tribune, University of Texas Professor Michael Webber says, “Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” while Rep. Dan Crenshaw argues that “this is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source. When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn’t there when you need it.”
The Dallas News Editorial Board labels the catastrophe a regulatory failure since there is an existing “law requiring power plants to file plans with regulators on their annual preparations for winter weather. The regulation didn’t prevent this week’s outages.”
The Fort Worth Star Telegram Editorial Board concurs. They believe “the failures here are spectacular and obvious. In November, ERCOT proudly announced that the state had sufficient energy supply for the winter. The excuse will likely be that no one could have predicted this storm. But it’s been evident for more than a week that a brutal cold was coming, and ERCOT officials were saying as late as Thursday that the system was ready. How can they have been so stupefyingly wrong?” The Editorial Board says “these cold snaps are not that rare. After the 2011 debacle, a thorough federal review found that parts of the Southwest have suffered these events at least every five years.”
Like the national media, Texans are citing numerous factors, but seem slightly more focused on the role of ERCOT, the non-profit entity regulating their grid.