This past summer the Texas electric grid sustained 11 new all-time peak demand records. We were able to manage our way through the record setting temperatures and demands for electricity in large part due to conservative operations of the grid and changes enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature.
Long term, however, we still have massive problems. Data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) shows the state of our grid is still precarious at best.
The ERCOT grid broke records multiple times this summer as demand for electricity soared higher than ever. But demand isn’t the problem — our ability to meet it is. And if Texas continues trusting wind to do that, power outages will become more and more common.
This summer, wind turbines typically produced less than 20% of their capacity during peak hours — sometimes as little as 2%. (I have three school-age children, and I struggle to find any way I could explain 20% becoming a passing grade, let alone 2%.) It’s really this straightforward: Wind isn’t there when Texans need it most. Its puny contributions to the grid are far less than ERCOT’s projections, and when you compare those figures to natural gas and coal — especially in the context of their full cost to Texans — it’s difficult to understand why anyone would support more wind power.
We’re seeing lots of headlines blaming gas and coal for grid issues, but even with a few recent plant outages, fossil fuels still produce well over 90% of their rated capacity — no matter the weather. But well-funded lobbyists and big corporations have largely succeeded at pushing the narrative that wind and solar are just as reliable — when the truth is just the opposite.
To make matters worse, taxpayers are being squeezed dry to pay for this unreliable energy. So-called “green” power — though it’s far from environmentally friendly — polls well because the true costs are hidden in complex webs of legalese scattered through our 1,500-page tax code.
There are the multibillion-dollar tax breaks that give big businesses special treatment while property taxes soar for the rest of us. There are the hundreds of billions in federal subsidies that prevent the free market from functioning. And there’s the estimated $7 billion in taxes and rate hikes to build long-distance transmission lines.
If the average Texan knew how much they were spending on electricity that only sometimes works, they would be livid.
Energy producers have moved away from reliable fossil fuels and toward unreliable renewables because it’s nearly impossible to compete with taxpayer-funded subsidies tipping the scales so heavily. Had those subsidies not distorted the market, Texas could have kept much-needed coal and gas plants from closing and kept our grid strong for a tiny fraction of the price.
The Texas Legislature must resist the siren song of renewable energy subsidies and shift its focus to affordable, reliable sources like natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear — the only generators we can count on to perform when we actually need them.
The reforms passed last session were a good start, but we owe it to our constituents to do more to maintain a reliable, resilient grid. More than 500,000 people move to the Lone Star State every year seeking more freedom, a lower cost of living, and the uniquely Texas lifestyle we know and love. We can’t allow our grid to follow the same path as California and Germany, where unreliable and expensive electricity have become the norm —and all the while, industry, and economic prosperity with it, are fleeing. It’s time for the Texas Legislature to stop kicking the can down the road.
We can stop the bleeding and restore a strong, reliable electric grid by codifying in statute what Gov. Abbott has directed the Public Utility Commission to do — but that the commission has so far failed to implement or even study: “Allocate reliability costs to generation resources that cannot guarantee their own availability, such as wind or solar power.” Texans deserve better.