Texas Republicans Make Renewable Energy a Political Punching Bag

A wind farm in McCook, Texas.

A wind farm in McCook, Texas.
picture: Delcia Lopez / Al-Monitor (AP)

Texas is on the way to development — that is, energy use. This week, amid sweltering temperatures, the demand for electricity on the state grid has soared to a level Its all-time high on Wednesday, to reach 80,000 megawatts of demand. This represents eleventh The time the demand record was broken this year alone.

Texas consumers were allowed to keep their air conditioners running this week. But last week, the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the grid, asked consumers about both Monday And the Wednesday To conserve energy during another intense heat wave.

When Grid topped and groaned under pressure, and as widespread and fatal systematic failures during the freeze in February 2021 be talk on everyone’s mind, sustainable energy Again It has become a political hotspot in this controversial election year. Texas Republicans, aided and abetted by the conservative media, are quick to blame renewable energy for Texas’ problems at any time. Appropriate. Last week, while ERCOT was struggling for power while the wind was low, conservative outlets liked it The Washington Times And the Fox State how the “windmill-based power grid” was “stress”[ing]. Editorial from The Wall Street Journal last friday arrogant pronounce That “unreliable renewable energy [is leading] to a blackout” in Texas.

It’s hard to tell The role of solar and wind energy in Texas’ energy mix. Some days wind and solar seem to maintain the grid, while other days low winds and cloud cover mean the grid is bogged down. Will this summer’s blackout be the fault of renewables?

No matter what Republicans may say, wind and solar are doing an amazing job of powering ERCOT this summer as intended. In the first six months of this year, wind and solar energy have provided scored 36% From power to the grid. Saw a particularly hot day in mid-June nearly 40% Of the state’s energy mix coming from wind. Solar has enjoyed a particularly strong growth spurt in Texas in recent months: T.here right now triple Solar on Earth this summer where there were 18 months ago. Often these energies are complementary to one another, beginning when the other is declining.

“When the wind dies during the day, that’s when the sun produces the most energy,” said Joshua Rhodes, a researcher at the University of Texas, Austin Energy Institute. Rhodes said that renewables that provide so much energy are also helping to offset the astronomical gas price hikes plaguing power providers around the world, keeping prices in Texas lower than they would otherwise be.

Renewable energy issues On the network is not new. “Sometimes wind and solar are the backbone of the grid and produce a lot of energy, but sometimes the wind dies,” Rhodes said. “We know thisWe’ve had winds at ERCOT for 20 years or more. It’s not like this is a surprise.”

The healthy grid system will be able to meet the demand when wind and solar energy are offline. This means providing reliable base-load power such as natural gas, nuclear power or coal. (There’s also a promise of batteries to store all that extra renewable juice: California made some Incredible gains in adding utility-wide batteries to its network This year.) But there is a deep Problems with the Texas grid in particular preceded the explosion of renewable energy.

First, the state does not give its aging electric fleet any breaks. Texas Power plants, already suffering years of underinvestment, are being asked to operate essentially non-stop this summer in order to meet demand, PresentsInability of operators to make repairs.

“Like the rest of the United States, we have an old fleet of power plants,” Rhodes said. “They are kind of like humans – they need time to rest. If you just ran, you would run out of energy at some point, versus running at a more moderate pace or taking a break now and then. We don’t let them do that.”

We’ve seen what happens when severe weather hits a heavily strained grid — albeit in cooler temperatures than Texas is sweating right now. In 2021, a winter storm It caused a perfect storm of strange weather and grid failure, as demand for power rose beyond expectations and the aging and stressed grid suffered during the cold. (Republicans Try to blame wind energy At that time too – though Large-scale failure of natural gas During the storm.) In the aftermath of that disasterIn Texas, lawmakers passed narrow repairs to the ERCOT system, including preparing power generators and transmission lines for cold weather and shaking the ERCOT Council. Abbot later announce That “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

But the Legislative Council ended up leaving a file Many Of the possible reforms on the table that could have made real progress in screening the network Issues. For example, lawmakers could have mandated the construction of more backup power plants or let the grid purchase electric powerrgy from other countries during peak demand. ERCOT is also what is known as an energy-only market, which means that energy producers only get paid for the energy they provide on a daily basis.instead of capacity markets, which pay resources for simply being available; Converting ERCOT to a capacity market model was also on the legislature table for consideration in the wake of last year’s storm.

Ed Herz, professor of energy economics at the University of Houston, said there was “not a lot of transparency” as to the quality of the reforms that were actually made in the aftermath of the storm. “at this point, Everyone is politically appointed, and every meeting of the Public Utilities Committee with the CEO of ERCOT sounds like a rhetoric of controversy. The governor is clearly very concerned about the impact of the blackout on his reelection.”

This may explain the right wing’s eagerness to portray renewable energy as the villain rather than confrontational The intricacies of the failed Texas network. Abbott faces a heated race for the governor this fall, and opponent Beto O’Rourke has already taken network issues as a key talking point, vowing to make Serious changes to ERCOT. Meanwhile, Abbott took some capacitor the heat From angry Texans who were so Energy conservation demanded during the high temperatures last week.

There is an opportunity for the network Make During the summer is fine, rescue Abbott is a political crisis. But as temperatures continue to rise and may continue to rise, Herz and Rhodes say anything could happen.

“It’s not hard to imagine a hurricane coming in, and a cloud cover coming, even — God forbid — smoke from wildfires can destroy solar energy and disrupt wind patterns,” Herz said.

All this shame over technologies that work exactly as they are intended and help the network survive isn’t just an illustration of how energy can be a political weapon. But it’s also a good reminder of the energy transition facts.

“ERCOT relies on renewables — wind and solar need performance to keep the lights on. We can’t keep up with all that demand with traditional forms of energy,” Rhodes said. “And we have to make sure we have enough capacity. We need to be clear about that, because if we don’t, this won’t bode well for the energy transition we need.”

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