By Allan Wall, February 19, 2021
This is not a typical February in Texas.
The state was hit by a late winter storm, bringing freezing temperatures, ice, snow, and power shutdowns.
As of February 17th, there were still close to three million homes and businesses without electricity.
The shutdowns sparked a debate about Texas energy production (mostly fossil fuel but now some renewable energy) and the proposed federal Green New Deal, which would rapidly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Texas is famous for oil production. In recent years, wind and solar energy have been developed as part of the mix. And why not? Texas has a lot of wind and a lot of sunlight, so it’s logical to exploit such energy sources.
I recall a trip I took through the desert of western Texas, with the interstate running parallel to a high ridge full of wind turbines. It was impressive.
But how reliable are those wind turbines in an unexpected winter storm? Are there wider lessons about a proposed Green New Deal? Or, was this just a Texas problem?
Texas Governor Greg Abbott jumped right into it in an appearance on the Sean Hannity show. Quoth the governor of the Lone Star State: “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure that we will be able to heat our homes in the winter time and cool our homes in the summer time.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, (D-NY), on the other hand, tweeted that, “The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you *don’t* pursue a Green New Deal.”
An NBC article points out the problem with wind and solar energy is storage and that gigantic batteries must be developed to store the wind and solar energy produced.
Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw (pictured), who represents the 2nd District (parts of Houston), discussed the issue in a series of tweets. You can read the entire thread, which includes replies disagreeing with Crenshaw, here .
Crenshaw’s summary: A mix of over-subsidized wind energy and under-investment in gas power means we didn’t have enough base load energy for a massive spike in demand. Also, Texas infrastructure isn’t designed for once-in-a-century freezes.
Representative Crenshaw points to three problems:
- Frozen Wind Turbines
“West Texas had wind turbines that had to be de-iced … existing storage of wind energy in batteries was also gone … batteries were losing 60% of their energy in the cold.
- Nuclear also got too cold
“We only have 4 nuclear units in TX, near Houston and Dallas. One of the reactors near Houston turned off due to a safety sensor freezing. No problem with the reactor. But the lack of the sensor forced the plant to shutdown, as a precaution. (On another note, this shows how safe nuclear is. Lots of safety precautions.)”
- We don’t have enough natural gas online. “We didn’t run out of natural gas, but we lost the ability to get it transported. Pipelines in Texas don’t use cold insulation – so they froze. Every natural gas plant stayed online … gas and coal brought a stable supply of energy, but still not enough … Bottom line: fossil fuels are the only thing that saved us … If we were even *more* reliant on the wind turbines that froze, the outages would have been much worse.”
Once again, this storm was not typical. So much of the equipment, generators, and infrastructure weren’t ready, regardless of whether they were powered by fossil fuels or renewable energy.
Of course, many regions that are colder than Texas are more likely to be prepared for this sort of severe weather.
Another factor that’s being mostly ignored is population.
Texas has a large and rapidly-growing population, approaching 30 million. It has the second-biggest population in the country. It’s the state with the fastest-growing population and a higher growth rate than the U.S. at large.
Much of this growth is driven by immigration. More people means more demand for energy. It’s obvious.
Texas has much to consider in planning for its future energy policy.
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