Texas governor blames wind power for power outages, experts disagree

Snow around the Texas Capitol building. Photo credit: Jno.skinner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

A recent Arctic blast, which impacted many US states and not the least the state of Texas last month, has led to severe blackouts and loss of power.

The Texan grids and power stations had to roll out blackouts and Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, and several other republicans used this as an opportunity to attack wind power,  and discredit renewable energy, and even suggested the outages were a direct consequence of the Green New Deal – a policy proposal put forward by some Democrats (but not yet voted upon). The reality is that successive Texas Republican governments have over the last few decades aggressively invested in wind power making the state the highest installer of wind power in the US. It is in fact an energy technology that enjoys broad public support in Texas whether you accept climate change is happening or not.

The real cause of power outages 

With some places experiencing temperatures as cold as -19 degrees C, some wind turbines did have  to be turned off during the outage, however a bigger source of energy disruption was that gas and oil operators could not deliver oil and gas due to frozen over pipelines, gas plants could not operate and “renewables only accounted for 13% of the outages. Experts have argued that even though some turbines stopped spinning because of the cold weather the technology should not be blamed for that, but rather poor infrastructure and  mismanagement. 

Social media supporters did not hesitate to share images of wind turbines working in colder climates who frequently get as cold as Texas did last month.  

Infrastructure issues

Brian Vad Mathiesen, a Professor of Smart Energy Systems at the University of Aalborg, Denmark explained that wind turbines should not shoulder the blame for the blackouts. He explained that the outages were much more down to bad legislation, ownership models and worn out old electricity distribution grids. He explained that with better planning and forecasting this issue could have been avoided.

He further added: “It appears that wind and solar power produced more electricity this week than they were expected to produce, but at this time of year, that’s a relatively small part of the expected statewide generation. Generation from gas and coal plants was far below expectations causing supply to fall as demand rose. How much of that is bad design and how much was operator error is still to be sorted out.”

And Jesse Jenkins an assistant professor and an energy systems engineer at Princeton University chimed in with an article in the New York Times with an overall point arguing that the outages were a direct result of the state’s failure to insure against extreme weather. Dr Jenkins writes: ‘Texans aren’t accustomed to temperatures in the teens. Neither is the state’s energy infrastructure, which failed this week as record-breaking cold drove skyrocketing heating demand and widespread failures of power plants, gas pipelines and wells.’ 

On the issue of whether wind and solar was to blame Dr Jenkins said: ‘Texans rely on natural gas for two-thirds of their winter electricity supply, and failures across Texas’ natural gas system are the biggest cause of current outages. Wind and solar provide valuable energy throughout the year. But grid operators know not to count on these resources for much output during tough conditions, and these energy sources represent just 11 percent of Texas’ winter capacity needs. In short, wind and solar are reliably unreliable.’

Many experts had been arguing that Texas as the only state in the US not being connected to the US grid bears some level of responsibility. 

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