This week, millions of Texans struggled to stay warm amidst rolling blackouts that cut off power across the state, limiting access to heat and safe drinking water. While Texas legislators seek to blame renewable energy sources, it is actually their inability to champion alternative clean energy on a large scale that will cause future problems should climate change lead to more winter storms in a state that is known for its semiarid climate.
Though Texas has experienced winter storms in the past, meteorologists acknowledge that this year’s storm has resulted from a breakdown in the polar vortex, an event that has been happening more often due to climate change. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott went on Fox News to blame the state’s use of wind and solar energy as cause for the state’s power shutdown, linking the use of renewable energy sources to the Green New Deal.
“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said, according to the Washington Post. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”
Former Governor of Texas Rick Perry echoed Abbot’s views, writing on the website of the US House of Representatives Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy that wind and solar energy are not reliable power sources.
“If wind and solar is where we’re headed, the last 48 hours ought to give everybody a real pause and go wait a minute,” Perry said, referring to reports of power outages across Texas. “We need to have a baseload. And the only way you can get a baseload in this country is [with] natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”
Currently, renewable energy sources make up a third of lost power on Texas’ energy grid, while the majority comes from thermal energy sources like gas and coal, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s electric grid operator. ERCOT also forecasted in November of last year that wind energy would make up less than 10% of the overall winter capacity in Texas.
This year’s winter storm brought record-low temperatures to Texas, which stressed the state’s energy sector. Wind turbines froze because they were not properly prepared for such frigid temperatures. This is not an inherent problem with renewable energy sources, though, as many have pointed out that wind turbines in places that are used to freezing weather, such as Greenland, can safely operate because of necessary winterization measures, which Texas did not seem to apply to its own turbines.
Governor Abbott has called for an investigation into ERCOT’s grid failure as critics point to the lack of winterization measures and zero reserved power for failing generators. But while Abbott asked the federal government to approve a state of emergency for Texas (and it did), he and other Texas politicians are still eschewing the idea that the state would benefit from federal regulations.
In 2002, the Texas Legislature opted to deregulate the electricity industry and open it to competition. Today, there are over 70 electric providers from which Texans can choose to purchase energy plans, with some offering renewable energy consumption options. This decision also came from the desire for Texas to escape federal regulations on its energy grid, an act that prevented the grid from getting the support it needed this past week.
Perry said that he thinks the federal government should help states make informed decisions about “where to invest in weatherization, transmission, and energy storage technology to make their grid more resilient,” according to the blog on McCarthy’s website. However, he stopped short of acknowledging how help from other states would have benefitted the Texans who are living with freezing temperatures and no power if Texas was still on a federally-linked grid.
“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry said, just days after the federal government approved Governor Abbott’s request to issue a Federal Emergency Declaration to provide Texas with the funds and resources to save citizens’ lives.
By embracing the Green New Deal, Texas could ensure its renewable energy sources are properly prepared for winter storms because, again, climate change will lead to extreme weather conditions in the future. A main component of the Green New Deal is sourcing 100% of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power, as well as digitizing the nation’s power grid.
One could look at Vermont as an example. In 2011, Vermont set a goal to meet 90% of its energy needs from renewable sources. Critics look at the high cost of the initiative — almost $33 billion — but supporters say to look at the job growth in the clean energy sector and the savings that consumers will have from the transition, according to the New York Times.
It has long been in the tradition of Texas legislators to count pennies when it comes to progressive policies, even when climate change initiatives are estimated to save the nation money in the long run. For so long, Texas’ independent energy grid was held up for allowing consumers to participate in the free market economy. But if Texas was part of the national power grid, it could have used power from other states to support its overused system today.
As more people suffer through this deadly storm, Texas legislators must ask themselves what is the true cost of rejecting clean energy. Lives are being lost, but all they can say is that they won’t support socialism.