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Texas Republicans turn renewable energy into a political punching bag

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Wind farm in McCook, Texas.

Wind farm in McCook, Texas.
A photo: Delcia Lopez/Monitor (AP)

Texas is on the rise – that is, on the bust with energy consumption. This week, sweltering temperatures have skyrocketed demand for electricity across the state’s power grid. all-time high on Wednesday, reaching 80,000 megawatts of demand. It notes eleventh once this demand record was broken only this year.

This week, Texas consumers were allowed to leave their air conditioners on. But last week, the Electricity Reliability Board of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid, asked consumers of both Monday as well as Wednesday to conserve energy during the next heat wave.

How the mesh creaks and groans under pressure, and as massive and fatal system failures during the February 2021 freeze. are fresh in everyone’s memory renewable energy sources again become a political flashpoint in this contentious election year. Texas Republicans, supported and abetted by the conservative media, are always quick to blame Texas’ problems on renewable energy. comfortable. Last week, when ERCOT was fighting for electricity in light winds, conservative media such as in Washington Times as well as Fox proclaimed that “an energy grid dependent on windmills” “burdens[ing]”. Editorial from the Wall Street Journal last friday said smugly that “unreliable renewable energy [is leading] blackouts” in Texas.

hard to define the role of the sun and wind in the Texas energy mix. Some days the wind and sun seem to be saving the grid, while light winds and cloudiness on other days mean the grid is failing. Will there be power outages this summer due to renewables?

Regardless of what the Republicans may say, wind and solar are doing a great job of providing power to ERCOT this summer, as expected. In the first six months of this year, wind and solar power provided record 36% power to the network. One particularly hot day in the middle of June almost 40% energy balance of the state coming from the wind. Solar has experienced a particularly strong growth spurt in Texas in recent months: Tright now three times more solar power on earth this summer was 18 months ago. And these energies often complement each other, working when the other does not work.

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

Renewable Energy Issues nothing new on the grid. “Sometimes wind and solar power are the workhorse of the grid and produce a lot of power, but sometimes the wind dies,” Rhodes said. “We know itwe have wind in ERCOT for 20+ years. It doesn’t look like it’s a surprise.”

A healthy grid system will be able to meet demand when both wind and solar power are off. This means providing reliable base power such as natural gas, nuclear or coal. (There’s also the promise that the batteries will store all that extra renewable juice: California made a little incredible strides in adding utility scale batteries to their grid this year.) But there are deep problems with the Texas power grid in particular that preceded the renewable energy explosion.

First, the state does not take breaks in the work of its aging electric fleet. Texan power plants, which have already suffered from years of underfunding, must operate virtually non-stop this summer to meet demand, ensureOperators have little ability to repair.

“Like the rest of the US, we have an aging fleet of power plants,” Rhodes said. “They are a bit like humans – they need time to rest. If you just run, you will run out of energy at some point, compared to if you run at a more moderate pace or take a break from time to time. We won’t let them do it.”

We have seen what happens when extreme weather hits a busy network especially hard, albeit at much colder temperatures than it is now in Texas. Winter storm in 2021 caused a literal perfect storm due to unusual weather and grid failure as demand for electricity soared far above expectations and the aging and under-stressed grid struggled through the cold. (Republicans tried to blame wind power and then, in spite of widespread failure of natural gas during a storm.) After that disasterTexas legislators made narrow reforms to the ERCOT system, including preparing power generators and transmission lines for the cold and shaking up the ERCOT board. Abbot afterwards announced that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

But the legislature ultimately left a lot of possible fixes on the table that could actually advance sorting grids questions. For example, legislators could mandate the construction of more standby power plants or allow the grid to buy electricity.rgy from other states during peak demand. ERCOT is also known as an energy-only market, which means that electricity producers are only paid for the energy they provide on a daily basis.more likely than power marketswho pay resources simply for being available; ERCOT’s transition to a capacity market model was also under consideration by the legislature following last year’s storm.

According to Ed Hiers, a professor of energy economics at the University of Houston, the quality of reforms actually implemented after the storm is “not very transparent.” “In this moment, all are political appointees and every public utility committee meeting with the CEO of ERCOT sounds like a bullshit speech. The governor is obviously very concerned that the power outage will affect his re-election.”

This may explain the desire on the right to portray renewable energy as the villain instead of opposing the complexity of the failure of the Texas power grid. Abbott faces a fierce race for governor this fall, and his opponent Beto O’Rourke has already seized on grid issues as a key topic of discussion, promising to major changes to Ercot. Meanwhile, Abbott took some intensive heat from angry Texans who were was asked to conserve energy during last week’s high temperatures.

There is a chance that the network does it’s just perfect during the summer, preservation Abbott political crisis. But as temperatures remain high and may continue to rise, both Hiers and Rhodes say. anything could happen.

“It’s not hard to imagine a hurricane coming in, cloud cover coming in, even—God forbid—the smoke from a wildfire can knock out solar power and disrupt wind patterns,” Hiers said.

All this hype around technologies that work exactly as they should and help the network survive is not only an illustration of how energy can be a political weapon. but also a good reminder of the realities of the energy transition.

“ERCOT is dependent on renewable energy – wind and solar need to work to keep the lights on. We cannot meet all this demand with traditional forms of energy,” Rhodes said. “And we have to make sure we have enough capacity. We need to have a clear view of this, because if we don’t, it doesn’t bode well for the energy transition we need.”


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