The brutal cold snap that crippled Texas’ power system and spread to other states, leading to blackouts in over four million homes and businesses, highlighted the growing vulnerability of the grid to increased dependency on less reliable sources of energy like wind and solar, an expert told NTD in an interview.
Jason Isaac, a former state representative and current director of Life: Powered, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said that the power crisis spurred by the recent deep freeze exposed the fragility associated with the global push to ditch “reliable” fossil fuels in favor of “unreliable” renewables.
“Reliable is our nuclear, our natural gas, and our coal,” Isaac said. “Natural gas and coal can ramp up or ramp down on demand,” he said. “They’re what’s referred to as ‘dispatchable energy.'”
“Our ‘unreliables’ produce electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. And then they freeze up at really cold temperatures, too,” he said.
Isaac suggested that the surge in “unreliables” amounts to a subsidized takeoff of politically correct, but economically incorrect sources of energy.
“Unfortunately, we’ve subsidized and depend too much on virtue signaling and really given these unreliables incredibly huge benefits over the last decade, and now those chickens are coming home to roost,” he said.
Isaac said that the Council of Texas reported Monday that over half of the state’s windmills were completely shut down due to the recent deep freeze, which has seen temperatures plunge below zero.
“These windmills are frozen, they’re completely shut down, and the rest of them are barely producing electricity,” Isaac said, adding that, at last check, only around 10 percent of their installed capacity was generating electricity.
“That means if we had that kind of low number for natural gas, or coal or nuclear, we would have almost the entire state without electricity right now, but fortunately, we have reliables,” he said.
The cold snap has also disrupted oil and gas deliveries, however, with more than a million barrels a day of oil and 10 billion cubic feet of gas production shut while pipelines have declared force majeure and massive refineries have halted gasoline and diesel output, according to Bloomberg.
After millions in Texas lost electricity, Southwest Power Pool, the operator of the power grid spanning 14 states ordered utilities to start implementing rotating power outages.
“In our history as grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” said SPP’s executive vice president and chief operating officer Lanny Nickell, in a statement.
Calling it a “last resort,” Nickell said imposing the Level 3 energy emergency alert, which calls for rolling blackouts, had to be done to protect the power grid.
“It’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude,” he said.
In a follow-up release, SPP said that it had restored full load to its 14-state region as of 2 p.m. Central Time but that, due to high load demand and persistent cold weather, the system would likely fluctuate over the next 48 hours between a Level 2 energy conservation alert and a Level 3 emergency that calls for rolling blackouts.
President Joe Biden has declared an emergency in Texas in connection with the power crisis. Under the measure, FEMA has been authorized to mobilize its equipment and resources to help alleviate the impact of the emergency, while protective measures for mass care and sheltering, as well as for direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott on Feb. 12 warned Texans to brace for a winter storm “unprecedented in Texas history” as he declared a disaster for the state. He urged Texans to reduce their energy usage as much as possible in order to conserve power.
“Every part of the state will face freezing conditions over the coming days, and I urge all Texans to remain vigilant against the extremely harsh weather that is coming,” Abbott said in a statement. “Stay off the roads, take conscious steps to conserve energy, and avoid dangerous practices like bringing generators indoors or heating homes with ovens or stovetops. Our emergency response to this winter weather requires a collective approach between state agencies, local officials, and Texans throughout our communities to ensure the safety and security of the Lone Star State.”
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit organization that operates the state’s power grid, suggested that residents set their thermostats to 68 degrees or lower where possible, close shades and blinds to reduce the amount of heat lost through windows, turn off and unplug nonessential lights and appliances, and avoid using large appliances such as ovens and washing machines.
Isabel van Brugen contributed to this report.