In case you don’t already know, my wife and I moved to Austin, Texas during the pandemic. Things are great, here, and we love our new home state. Then it snowed. We haven’t had power for 3 days, and a friend offered us the opportunity to warm up, get showered, and recharge our devices. Not what we expected, but we are better off than some others. As of Tuesday, there were 4 million Texans without power, with temperatures below freezing.
Texas, it should be noted, has its own power grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) that is not connected to other regional grids. Because it does not cross state lines, it is not subject to federal regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
There is a lot of blame to go around for this turn of events, but those who have blamed renewable energy, specifically wind, for the blackouts, are working with bad information. Only about 25% of Texas’ energy is produced by wind. ERCOT reported that at least 30 gigawatts (about a third) of power fueled by natural gas, coal, and nuclear went offline along with 16 gigawatts of wind power. Overall, wind produced more power than expected during the blackouts.
The unprecedented cold weather in Texas is giving Biden’s team some ammunition in making the case that countering climate change is an urgent issue that we need to address now. The power grid in the United States needs to be prepared for increasingly unprecedented weather and natural disaster events caused by climate change or more places will face similarly untenable situations.
The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) pointed out that because the Texas grid is entirely shut off from other grids, it couldn’t draw power from other regions. It could become more resilient to future crises if it expands to interregional power lines in the future.
The Biden administration had prioritized the energy grid prior to the Texas outages. It will likely include money for transmission lines, weatherization, battery storage, and other improvements. Although it is an expensive proposition, so is the entire state of Texas being shut down, according to Melanie Kenderdine, principal at the Energy Futures Initiative.
For now, the White House is staying out of the fray, and quickly approved the request for an Emergency Declaration for Texas, which makes federal aid available, and authorizes FEMA to coordinate emergency relief. There will be time to debate the details of modernizing the power grid once the lights are back on.