Last week, Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, announced that city taxpayers would be paying $460 million for a biomass power plant they’d previously paid $128 million to help build on top of a yearly payment of $54 million for six years—that generated electricity for all of two months. The Nacogdoches Generating Facility in East Texas will likely be mothballed or torn down.

How the city of Austin came to own an unused power plant is a tale of willful government foolishness.

Austin city officials set a goal of obtaining 65% of the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027. But the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Until the challenge of electricity storage is solved, wind and solar power alone aren’t enough to keep the lights on.

We don’t hear that part much; instead, we’re told that renewable energy is both virtuous and plentiful. Sometimes we’re even told it’s cheap. And many Americans have bought into the doomsday narrative; almost half of voters aged 18 to 29 think climate change should be prioritized over economic growth.

Meanwhile, only a quarter of the population can name all three branches of government.

The politicians are buying into it as well, especially in a progressive city like Austin. This is where biomass power plants come in.

When government dictates that increasing shares of electricity must be provided by renewable, carbon dioxide-neutral energy, it has to look to biomass as an essential ingredient in meeting those government mandates. Because again, wind and solar cannot provide electricity reliably.

This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on April 24, 2019.


The Honorable Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He previously served three terms in the California State Assembly.