Green Energy Not Primarily to Blame for Outages, Despite Serious Limitations

Commentary: Reagan Reed

In the aftermath of a historic winter storm and massive power grid failure leaving millions of Texans without power, many politicians and pundits were quick to point the blame at wind farms and other sources of “green energy” for the state’s widespread outages. However, a closer look at the data indicates that, while green energy has serious limitations, particularly in extreme weather, scapegoating it for the failures of the Texas power grid is overly simplistic.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this line of criticism came from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who had this to say in his opening commentary on February 15:

“Rather than celebrate and benefit from their state’s vast natural resources, politicians took the fashionable route and became recklessly reliant on so-called alternative energy, meaning windmills. Fifteen years ago, there were virtually no wind farms in Texas. Last year, roughly a quarter of all electricity generated in the state came from wind.”

“So it was all working great until the day it got cold outside. The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died.”

This reflexive move to blame wind farms was echoed throughout the conservative media-sphere and by Republican politicians as a cut-and-dry talking point. But how accurate is it?

While it is true that many wind turbines did ice over, and the energy output from wind was down significantly, some turbines actually did remain functional and still generated power for the grid. Wind farms still make up a small slice of Texas energy, and loss of wind generation contributed to a very small portion of the state’s overall loss of power.

The vast majority of the power shortfall was due to failures at coal and gas powered plants. That’s not to knock natural gas, rather, it just makes sense that since the vast majority of power comes from gas, the majority of the shortfall would also come from that source.

Only approximately 20% of ERCOT’s capacity was expected to come from wind power, with the rest coming largely from coal and natural gas.

ERCOT Senior Director Dan Woodfin told Bloomberg that less than 13% of outages were due to wind turbine failure. ERCOT also assumes that during the winter, output from wind turbines will be 19-43% below their maximum output.

According to ERCOT, “Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable.” The data shows that an unprecedented winter storm caused problems with all kinds of energy sources. With 87% of shortfalls being caused by energy sources other than wind, it’s really hard to pin all the blame on icy turbines.

Issues with Texas’ outdated energy grid and power infrastructure just not being built to handle a once in a century snowstorm were the primary causes of the outages.

But while wind power wasn’t entirely to blame for the blackout, the storm did show why becoming too reliant on current green energy technology right now is a bad idea.

Natural gas remains the most reliable energy source. Despite initial problems, gas plants were able to get the generators running again relatively quickly, although it took a while for the grid to somewhat stabilize and meet the high demand.

But imagine for a minute we are living under the “Green New Deal” and a much larger percentage our grid were to be sourced from wind energy. If a sizeable number of turbines go down, and output from wind power goes down by half, then you are looking at a serious crisis. Under that scenario, it could take much longer to restore the grid to full capacity than it did this week, thanks to fossil fuels.

Wind power was not the primary problem in 2021 because it is such a small part of our grid. However, it could become a big problem if we become too reliant on it.

That’s not to say I am against renewable energy entirely. In fact, looking long term I think it is the future, with nuclear power being especially promising. However, I am a realist and at the moment the technology is just not there yet to make it an affordable or more reliable source of energy than fossil fuels.

What I am against, vociferously, are government subsidies for “green energy” projects. Primarily because if you have to subsidize something it means that it is too inefficient to be productive on its own. I believe renewable energy will eventually replace fossil fuel, but it will be because technology will advance enough to make it the more profitable option.

By the 19th century, whales had been hunted nearly to extinction for their blubber, which was used to produce oil for light and heating. However, it wasn’t environmentalists or eco-terrorists who saved them. They were saved by technology, when kerosene, derived from petroleum, became the cheaper, more efficient option. If you lived in a 19th century city, everything would be coated in a layer of coal dust and grime. That changed due to coal being largely replaced by cleaner natural gas.

It is best when we let the market dictate energy policy, not the government. However, let us also not joust at windmills.

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