There are a few things worth knowing and keeping in mind about the cold snap this week in Texas that killed at least 30 people and left millions in cold darkness.
First, and most importantly, this was not a natural disaster; this was a man-made disaster caused by decisions of the state government in Texas.
While it’s typically Democrats who favor unreliable energy, the fascination with wind power has been a bipartisan disease for some time. Almost 20 years ago, then-Gov. Perry decided to care more about fashion and political correctness than reliability and a sustainable electric system. He decided that Texas was going to lead the nation in wind power, which, with help from Gov. Abbott, it now does.
Does that matter? Yes, and not in a good way. Last Monday, wind-generated electricity was operating at about 10% of its capability, and it provided almost no electricity to the Texas grid because the turbines had frozen.
For comparison, initial data suggests that natural gas-fired generation ran at about 62% of its capability; coal operated at 63% of capability, and nuclear operated at 80% of capability. That all happened despite the fact that the contribution of natural gas was less than expected because parts of the system — wells, processing plants, and pipes — froze.
Unfortunately, the ascendance of wind power in Texas came mostly at the cost of losing coal-fired generation, which as recently as 2014 provided one-third of the state’s electricity and now provides just one-sixth.
In short, because of the inherent limitations of wind power, and the temporary problems with natural gas, Texas needed, and did not have, sufficient coal-fired generation.
Unlike wind, coal can be counted on during cold snaps. For example, the Midwest System Operator, which runs the electric system for 15 states — including Minnesota and Wisconsin on down to a slice of Texas — and some of Canada, has reported that more than half of its generation last Tuesday came from coal. They experienced no crushing systemwide blackouts, and they routinely manage to provide electricity during the coldest moments and the longest winters in the United States.
Second, the good news is that fixing some of the problem is easy. Lots of cold weather states have natural gas systems that are insulated from the effects of truly cold weather that stays in place for months.
The fundamental problem with wind power, however, is not fixable. Its unavailability for wide swaths of the day and entire seasons is well-known to those who operate the grid. It is not a bug of the technology; it is a feature.
More transmission might help, but only if it connects Texas to reliable power like weatherized natural gas or coal. Hooking up to more wind is not a meaningful solution.
Third, the other good news is that what happened in Texas exposed the fiction of wind power that folks like Messrs. Perry and Abbott, the environmentalists and the media have been spinning for years. Wind power is never going to be the backbone of a reliable, affordable electric system because it can’t be.
Two final thoughts are worth noting.
First, the blackouts in Texas and California were caused by the decisions of state governments, utility commissions, and grid operators that are no better, worse, or different than those in your state. That means, absent a change, you should expect this sort of thing to eventually come to your neighborhood.
Second, Team Biden would like all cars in the United States to be electric vehicles by 2035, and for all electricity to be mostly wind and solar by that same year. Given the blackouts in both California and Texas that managed to destroy lives, homes, and economies, you should ask yourself who do you really trust to make the decisions about energy that affect your life — you or the government?