In his recent New York Times column, “Texas, Land of Wind and Lies,” Paul Krugman criticizes the obvious link between unreliable wind power and the state’s recent power shortage. Contra-Krugman, wind, solar, and a bit of biomass—not to mention the prioritization of decarbonization for electricity writ large—is at the heart of the Lone Star State’s energy failure.
Krugman wants to blame Republican-directed electrical grid policies, or just bad planning under Republican administrations. Deregulation seems to be his ultimate bogey man, but what the state has is a centrally regulated system (via ERCOT) and not a true free-market. Plus, out-of-control, parasitic renewables destabilize the grid.
“This isn’t normal political malfeasance,” he exclaims. “It’s the energy-policy equivalent of claiming that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false-flag Antifa operation.” Which brings to mind another Texas/energy-related quotation from Krugman: “I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.” And, in 2010, “peak oil … will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.”
Krugman states that “it’s true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it’s a small fraction of the total.” Is 22 percent last year, which is higher than coal, a “small fraction” of Texas power? Wind’s crisis-plunge from 42 percent to 8 percent, while conventional sources ramped up significantly, might be the most cited and remembered fact of all.
Solar goes unmentioned in the Times piece. Its 4 percent (and growing) share fits Krugman’s “small.” Like wind, solar disappeared at the peak.
Regarding other renewables, the City of Austin’s billion-dollar biomass plant contributed nothing during the crisis. The Nacogdoches Biomass Power Plant was turned off. “Seasonal [summer] operation will allow Austin Energy to use the biomass plant more efficiently—it will simplify operational planning,” city officials stated. This 20,000-home opportunity did not make Krugman’s opinion piece either.
Krugman correctly notes that natural gas underperformed, as did coal and nuclear. Predictable wellhead freeze-offs (water is in the gas stream) was joined by a surprising lack of power-plant winterization to knock off a lot of counted-on generation. Far from unsolvable, glycol absorption upstream and midstream, and enclosed power plants, all standard up North, are correctives.
Why were the obvious precautions not taken? A lot of money appears to have been left on the table by profit-seeking entities.
Part of the answer could be that the record cold went entirely against the narrative of man-made warmer winters—and a climate-model-predicted significant decrease in cold extremes. The latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in fact, was for a warm South. ERCOT undoubtedly read that report.
Climate models cannot predict global climate, much less regional trends. Like renewable energy itself, models are unreliable when they are needed most.
Turning to politics, Krugman presents a half-truth that “the state’s leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for catastrophe, then tried to evade responsibility.” Yes, under the influence of “green” Enron, George W. Bush got the wind industry going with a renewables mandate in 1999, and Governor Rick Perry opened the floodgates with the $6.9 billion wind transmission project involuntarily paid for by Texas power users. Late Republican T. Boone Pickens was a private-sector crony in Texas’s wind power drive as well.
But this is not “Republicanism” as traditionally defined, and the same Texas leaders probably realize, finally, that they have enabled a parasitic-energy mess. There is a lot of learning to do and changes to be made across the political aisle.
Democrats, not only Republicans, need to heed the cold lessons of planned markets and forced substitution of inferior energies. Job #1 in the power industry is meeting peak demand, while keeping rates affordable.