Texas governor blames renewables

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pinning his state’s recent power grid troubles on renewable energy, even as data from the grid operator shows failures at fossil fuel-fired plants contributed far more.

“Electric generators are expected to provide enough power to meet the needs of all Texans. When they fail to do so, those generators should shoulder the costs of that failure,” Abbott wrote in a letter to commissioners on the state’s Public Utility Commission yesterday.

In this instance, however, Abbott was referring to wind and solar power, not the many natural gas plants that tripped offline during the February cold snap that left millions of Texans in the dark for several days.

“He got it completely backwards: nuclear, coal and gas failed in February and again a few weeks ago, yet he bills them as ‘reliable,’” saidMichael Webber, chief science and technology officer for ENGIE and an energy professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

While the cold forced Texas wind turbines to shutter or produce lower capacity, data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the state’s grid operator, showed that far more fossil fuel-fired power plants, largely natural gas, failed. That was in large part because those power plants weren’t weatherized to keep running in extremely cold temperatures.

And just last month, when ERCOT asked Texans to conserve energy during high-demand summer days, the major contributing factor was more fossil fuel-fired power plants being offline for maintenance than expected.

Politics vs. reality: Nonetheless, Abbott and other Texas Republicans have blamed renewable energy for grid troubles, insisting those resources aren’t as “reliable” because they are dependent on the weather.

Texas has largely been a success story on renewable energy thus far, becoming a powerhouse for wind and solar despite not having the aggressive climate goals that California, New York, and other liberal states do.

Abbott’s letter proves it could be difficult to move past the politics of pitting one energy resource against another. The Texas governor is asking the PUC to penalize renewable energy, charging fees if those generators can’t provide power all the time. Meanwhile, Abbott is calling on the PUC to further boost natural gas, coal, nuclear, and other non-renewable energy generators, directing reliability-based “incentives” toward those resources.

The politics threaten to overshadow the more mundane but significant steps energy analysts say state and federal regulators should be taking to ensure a reliable grid, such as weatherizing power plants, building out transmission lines, increasing energy efficiency, and improving electricity planning.