As temperatures plunged during February’s winter storm, my mother braved sleet and icy roads and drove from Amarillo to Odessa to pick up my niece, fearing she might freeze to death if she didn’t act.
The two West Texas cities were facing similar temperatures and the same winter weather. So, what difference would it make to drive a little more than 260 miles as city leaders warned residents to stay off bad roads to ferry her granddaughter back to Amarillo?
Odessa, like all of us in Fort Bend County and the Houston region, receives power from the state’s grid, governed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), whereas Amarillo does not. Odessa lost power for days during the storm. Amarillo did not.
February’s winter storm was a uniquely Texan catastrophe, spurred in large part by an irrational absolute faith in the state’s exceptionalism and bad public policy.
But more confounding than the initial failure itself has been the adamant refusal by state leaders in the months since to conduct an honest and soul-searching assessment of what went wrong, and how the state might prevent such failures in the future.
To hear Gov. Greg Abbott tell the tale, it’s nothing state officials did wrong, so much as the insipid meddling of liberals in Washington and renewable energy that were most at fault for the catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid. Such accounts of the matter fail to provide an explanation for how liberals managed to successfully steer energy policy in a state that has effectively had one-party Republican rule since I was but a child. No matter.
The sad irony of it all is that, for all the state’s failings in February, Texas for years has actually been a national leader in investing in new and renewable energy technology while also encouraging the oil, gas and nuclear industries.
As we told you in today’s front-page story, some places, such as Fort Bend County, have not forgotten this fact, choosing to invest in solar and renewable energy projects that come searching and keeping one eye on the future.
One need not drive West Texas roads for long to see how quickly the state’s renewable energy industry has expanded, with wind turbines dotting the landscape in some places.
And such a trend was hardly a partisan battleground until relatively recently, when solar panels and wind turbines became a convenient whipping boy for elected leaders that would rather not point the finger at themselves for the state’s worst disaster of recent memory.
“You can be proud that Texas produces more energy from wind turbines than all but five countries,” then-Gov. Rick Perry said in a 2015 farewell speech.
And, no less than George W. Bush helped initiate the state’s wind energy growth with a 1999 bill that included a renewable-energy requirement, according to a Texas Tribune article.
I think it was a character in the Texas film "No Country for Old Men" who said, “You can’t stop what’s coming.”
Whether we like it or not, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are here to stay. Even Ford has released its own electric vehicle. The train has left the station.
Critics of renewable energy point out the federal subsidies it receives. But what industry is more heavily-subsidized than the oil and gas industry? Direct and indirect tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry total some $20 billion per year in the United States, according to a 2017 federal budget analysis by the Donald J. Trump administration.
During the storm, some 46,000 megawatts dropped off the state’s grid via multiple sources, according to ERCOT. More than 60 percent of what failed, or some 28,000, was via thermal generators – coal, gas and nuclear.
Castigating renewable energy won’t keep the lights on in Texas the next time cold polar weather comes knocking. The only purpose such efforts serve might could be to someone’s reelection campaign. But it certainly doesn’t benefit the millions of us who lost power during the February winter storm, or the hundreds that froze to death or died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Perhaps the rest of the state can learn something from Fort Bend County, in this regard. County leaders have shown it is possible to both invest in the renewable future, while still supporting our state’s oil and gas industry. Such efforts are hardly partisan, but rather good-faith attempts to keep the region positioned as an innovative leader for generations to come.