Blaming the Wind for the Mess in Texas Is Painfully Absurd

by on February 19, 2021 · 0 comments

in Energy, Environment

By Bill McKibben / Reader Supported News – The New Yorker / February 18, 2021

Sometimes, all you need is a map. In the wake of this week’s power failures in Texas, which have left millions without heat in subfreezing conditions, right-wing politicians and news networks decided that the emergency was down to “frozen wind turbines,” a phrase that has now been repeated ad infinitum on all the various ganglia that make up the conservative “information” network.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which has managed to be wrong about energy and climate for more than four decades, put it like this:

“Gas and power prices have spiked across the central U.S. while Texas regulators ordered rolling blackouts Monday as an Arctic blast has frozen wind turbines.”

Governor Greg Abbott took time out from failing to deal with the emergency that had imperiled many in his state to tell Fox News that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”

Not to be outdone, on Tuesday afternoon, Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican who represents Texas’s second congressional district, including parts of Houston, tweeted that “this is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source.”

The Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, who is “known for his right-wing Facebook posts that have, in the past, spread misinformation and amplified conspiracy theories,” the Texas Tribune reported, “also posted an unvarnished view of wind energy on Facebook: ‘We should never build another wind turbine in Texas.’ ”

The usual responsible voices eventually responded with a large amount of data showing that Abbott, Fox, and the rest were completely wrong.

Failures in renewable-energy generation accounted for a small percentage of the outages. The biggest problems were in “thermal”—which is to say fossil-fuel—generating plants and systems; simply put, natural-gas pipelines froze in the cold, as even Governor Abbott admitted. His own energy regulators at the ill-named Electric Reliability Council of Texas explained that “it appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural-gas system.”

Or, as Michael Webber, an energy-resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, put it, “gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now.” (A nuclear power plant also went down, likely as a result of freezing temperatures shutting down cooling systems or sensors.)

I’m glad that there were plenty of authorities to try to set the record straight, but, of course, the truth was still searching for the winter boots in the back of the garage by the time the falsehoods had spread across the Internet. It’s particularly annoying because the bad-faith nature of the whole idea should have been obvious to anyone with an iota of geographical knowledge.

Besides Texas, the biggest producers of wind power in the country are Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, and California.

Except for California, all these places are situated to the north of Texas, and deal with much harsher winters. The idea that wind turbines cannot deal with cold weather is, prima facie, ridiculous: countries with huge wind-power installations include Germany, France, and Italy, all of which have managed in the past to host the Winter Olympics—and Italy is planning to host them again, in 2026.

People have developed plans for building giant wind farms in Greenland to feed the European Union and the United States. If cold weather somehow made it impossible for wind turbines to operate, you would think someone would have noticed by now.

Cold weather can, however, make it hard to operate wind turbines if you don’t plan for it— installations of “cold-weather kits” prevent icing and freezing— and it appears that the Texas authorities didn’t plan for much. State officials, it turns out, had been gleefully tweeting at California authorities for months, making fun of them for not planning well enough to prevent brownouts when heat waves struck the West Coast. But tweeting— and a deep and abiding faith in markets to solve all problems— seems not to have been a good strategy when faced with a severe cold snap.

A cold snap that, by the way, seems likely to be linked to the jet-stream collapse that comes when you warm the Arctic, as we have been doing by burning large quantities of fossil fuel. If you wanted to do something about that, you’d need more wind turbines. Funny about that.

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