The Arctic blast that left millions of Texans in the cold as wind turbines froze also sent shivers down the spines of those convinced that the rolling blackouts offer a chilling glimpse of the future under President Biden’s green-energy agenda.
Despite its status as a major oil-and-gas producer, Texas relied on wind for 23% of its electricity in 2020, but about half of that capacity went offline Monday after freak winter storms, record snow and frigid cold iced the West Texas turbines.
The deep freeze also interrupted the flow of natural gas, which provides nearly half the state’s electricity, but the specter of Texans huddling in their non-electric cars and burning charcoal for heat placed in sharp relief the Biden administration’s push for a fossil-free future.
“It’s California writ small, because California has been experiencing these kinds of blackouts for five years now, the so-called rolling blackouts,” said H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the free-market Heartland Institute. “And this is what Joe Biden wants to take nationwide.”
Mr. Burnett, who lives near Dallas, said the rolling power outages have resulted in his family’s electricity being turned off for seven hours and turned on for 90 minutes. He has stayed warm by wrapping himself in a buffalo blanket that he has owned for 14 years but had never used — until now.
“It was 45 degrees in my house this morning,” said Mr. Burnett. “It’s crazy, and it’s all due to politics.”
Mr. Biden’s slew of first-week orders included canceling the Keystone XL oil pipeline, halting oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands, and promising to convert the federal vehicle fleet to electric as part of his ambitious plan to reach net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050.
Such an achievement would all but eliminate coal, oil and natural gas in electricity generation, a climate milestone that critics say would make the U.S. grid less reliable and lead to more power outages by depending on intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind.
“Fast forward 10 years, and everything is solar, everything is wind, and you have this type of event,” former Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “It’s 9 degrees in Round Top, Texas … and if you don’t have power to keep you warm, you’re going to die.”
In Houston, police reported Tuesday that a woman and child died of carbon monoxide poisoning after running their car in the garage for heat. Two others were hospitalized.
“I mean, there are countless lives that can be lost with this type of reckless adhering to a philosophy that quite frankly is not scientific,” Mr. Perry said.
Gregory Wetstone, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, argued that the problem lies not with green energy, but with an outdated U.S. electricity grid.
He said Congress needs to approve legislation expanding and improving the high-voltage transmission infrastructure to “prevent dangerous, widespread power outages from becoming the new normal.”
“The challenges are not due to the energy transition; they are due to an outdated grid that’s incapable of handling an increasing number of climate-driven extreme weather events,” Mr. Wetstone said in a statement.
Even though Texas is awash in oil and natural gas, the state Legislature established a renewable portfolio standard in 1999 of an additional 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and 10,000 megawatts by 2025, which it met in 2009.
Anthony Watts, who runs the skeptical Watts Up With That website, said that “the weather itself is unusual, but along with that, wind power has doubled since 2015 in the state of Texas, and they’ve been very reliant on it,” while taking coal-fired plants offline.
“it’s a multifaceted problem that’s going on here, but I will say this: Had they retained the coal plants, they probably wouldn’t be in such a bad situation, because you have a stockpile of coal typically sitting next to a plant,” said Mr. Watts, Heartland Institute senior fellow for environment and climate.
He said that “coal plants are resilient to this sort of a problem, and what they’ve done basically is traded green energy for reliability in Texas, and it’s really strange, because Texas is one of the most energy-rich states in the nation, if not the most.”
In Texas, a combination of plunging temperatures and flagging electricity generation forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to begin rolling blackouts early Monday after the epic cold put all 254 counties into a winter storm warning for the first time in state history.
More than 4 million Texans were left without power Tuesday, prompting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to order an investigation into ERCOT, which operates the state’s independent electrical grid, declaring the review an emergency item for the state legislature.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”
The operator said Tuesday that it had directed local utilities to restore power to 400,000 more households, but Texans may not be out of the woods yet.
Another winter storm was slated to hit the south-central United States on Tuesday evening, bringing several more inches of snow and to northwest Texas, including Dallas, and bringing freezing temperatures until Friday, raising fears about another round of blackouts.
ERCOT president Bill Magness said Tuesday that the outages were the result of the spike in demand amid freezing temperatures and the reduction in supply from the breakdown of electricity sources, describing the combination as a “perfect storm.”
“We’ve never seen a winter storm, a winter event, anywhere close to that,” Mr. Magness told KXAN-TV in Austin. “So we’re seeing extraordinary demand, and on the supply side, that storm has caused a lot of challenges for the people who make the power. Wind turbines can freeze off in the freezing rain. Solar cannot work well when it’s covered in snow or when there’s cloud cover.”
In addition, he said that “natural gas plants and other kinds of coal plants can have breakdowns associated with the high winds and cold that comes in from an extreme event like this.”
Texas leads the nation in electricity generated by wind power, but the turbines in states like Iowa, which saw about 1,500 households hit by rolling blackouts, are better equipped for freezing weather.
“In Texas they’re experiencing ice, whereas we’ve just experienced cold and snow,” Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for MidAmerican Energy, told the Des Moines Register. “Also, our wind turbines likely have colder operating parameters than many turbines in southern areas.”
Unlike other states, Texas operates its own power grid, called the Texas Interconnection. The Eastern Interconnection and Western Interconnection serve the rest of the lower 48, but the massive storm has increased demand across the region.
Mr. Magness said local utilities upgraded their winterization technology in 2011, the last time the state was hit by power outages, and that “we did see improvement.”
Former Trump Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette argued that the outages underscore the need to protect the reliability of the grid by pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy.
“What we’re seeing today is an avoidable tragedy,” Mr. Brouillette said Tuesday on Fox Business. “The important thing about what we are seeing in Texas today is that we need diverse energy supply.”
⦁ James Varney contributed to this report.