Texas energy commissioner says grid spending placed green politics over reliability

By Commissioner Wayne Christian, Railroad Commission of Texas on 2/19/2021
Wayne Christian, Railroad Commission of Texas
Wayne Christian, Railroad Commission of Texas

Everything is so politicized these days that it is tough to decipher facts from opinions about what happened this week with the winter storm.

It’s easy to blame ERCOT — and yes, their actions led to the blackouts in part — but the full story is much more complex. One night of bad decisions would not have had such devastating consequences had it not been for decades of poor policy decisions prioritizing unreliable renewable energy sources at the expense of reliable electricity — something Texans now know is essential to our everyday lives.

I have seen a lot of media reports claiming the issue was a decrease in power generated from natural gas, but when you look at the numbers that is just not true.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the hourly average of net power generation from gas went from 17,602 mw before the storm (2/1-2/12) to 33,310 during the storm (2/12-2/17), meaning generation from natural gas basically doubled as demand increased. (1)

Many are blaming fossil fuels because "wind power was expected to make up only a fraction of what the state had planned for during the winter."(2) This is the problem. Investments in infrastructure are paid for by electricity customers and taxpayers, and our state spent more than $7 billion to build out the CREZ Transmission Lines for wind and solar generation.

This means resources that could have otherwise been spent making our grid more resilient to weather — or adding reliable generation from natural gas, nuclear, or clean coal to keep up with increasing demand for electricity — were instead spent on building out transmission lines for intermittent forms of energy that were "never expected" to perform during times like these.

The issue isn't the existence of renewable energy, but that it has displaced reliable generation that makes up our "base load," not through natural market forces but through massive subsidies and punitive regulatory policies from progressives in Washington, D.C. In 2009, “coal-fired plants generated nearly 37 percent of the state’s electricity while wind provided about 6 percent. Since then, three Texas coal-fired plants have closed… In the same period, our energy consumption rose by 20 percent.”(3)

Everyone loves to tout the phrase “all the above” — until it includes energy sources perceived as “dirty,” like coal, or "scary," like nuclear. However, these energy sources are both extraordinarily safe and dependable in adverse weather conditions like Texas is facing now because one of their key features is on-site storage. If the "all the above" wind and solar advocates are serious about anything more than receiving subsidies, why are they opposed to nuclear, which can produce massive amounts of energy with a ZERO carbon footprint?

There is no single reason we are in the mess we are in now; it is a multifaceted perfect storm. However, every time the government picks winners and losers in business and innovation, it is the average citizens that lose. This week was a wakeup call that there is more to energy policy than the politics of climate change.

1) https://mcusercontent.com/ec5dd75d998816c4f8464c9a5/files/8f37e5af-7b57-45ad-9dbb-4c7f7d0eb850/EIA_Data.xlsx
2) https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/16/texas-wind-turbines-frozen/
3) https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2020/august/ercot.php

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