Playing the Blame Game; Let’s Talk Texas’ Grid Failure
Whether Texan or not (my parents just made the move a few weeks ago — rough timing, sorry dad), you have likely heard that the typically moderately-tempered state faced 30 year record lows this February and has been placed in a state of emergency by President Biden. Besides record amounts of snow and ice, which Texas was ill prepared to handle, the real issue for the 150 million people currently effected is the failing of the electric grid.
What began as hours and has stretched into days, Texas politicians have called for investigations into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) as blackouts continue while people suffer through freezing temperatures. Texans are calling for accountability into how the State managed to be so unprepared, leading to a number of varying reports and opinions as to exactly how Texas found itself in this position.
Initially, some were quick to blame freezing wind turbines, with US Rep Dan Crenshaw R-Houston saying “This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source. When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn’t there when you need it.” While partly true, the real answer isn’t quite so simple. ERCOT stated in its report that 16 gigawatts of renewable energy — mostly wind turbines — were offline; however, 30 gigawatts had been lost to thermal sources — gas, coal, and nuclear energy. This prompted Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at UT Austin to comment, “Texas is a gas state. Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.” While he believes all of Texas’ energy resources are to blame, senior director at ERCOT, Dan Woodfin, agreed telling reporters “It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system.” This is largely due to the fact that natural gas plants don’t have readily available storage onsite and rely on a constant flow through Texas’ pipeline system.
Still, those opposed to renewable energy are choosing to place the blame primarily at the feet of wind turbines. Gov. Greg Abbott initially stated that wind turbines were indeed to blame, going on to politically utilize this information to oppose the Green New Deal. He has since clarified that fossil fuel sources were contributing to the problems with the grid when describing the situation Monday afternoon.
What is clear about this very convoluted and still fluid situation is that people — both those in positions of power and not — often choose to believe the information that serves his or her best interests. Facts are only as good as interpreted, and one must consider all sides, trying our very best to ignore our own personal biases, to truly comprehend the reality and make progress.
Jake Greenwald, Business Development
As of today ERCOT is still unable to predict when outages might end. When pressed, senior officials stated, “an indeterminate amount of time, maybe a month”.
Glenn Hegar, a Republican state senator at the time, authored a bill that required the state to track how well prepared the electric grid is for extreme weather. Even with the best of intentions, he recently stated “While the issues that are plaguing our electric grid system in this disastrous winter storm are complex, I am extremely frustrated that 10 years later our electric grid remains so ill-equipped for these weather events.”
If you or a loved one has been affected by power outages check out this interactive map to stay up to date.
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