The Biden administration accidentally showed its hand with its new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) claiming to uncover the culprit of the Texas blackouts. Unfortunately, FERC’s report is far from exhaustive and severely swayed by political bias, making it clear Biden’s priority is pushing his political agenda, not getting down to the facts.
FERC’s report cherry-picks data favorable to Biden’s big-government agenda, blaming Texas’ limited-regulation philosophy without evidence and blindly pointing the finger at fossil fuels without context — even though reliable fossil fuels saved countless lives during the winter storm.
FERC’s report completely overlooks the real causes of the systemic weakness plaguing the Texas grid. Over the last decade, the Lone Star State’s population and economy have boomed. You’d think the energy state would have responded in kind by building more thermal (natural gas, coal and nuclear) power plants to accommodate that growth — but, unfortunately for Texans, you’d be dead wrong. Over that same time period, Texas closed 4,000 megawatts of reliable natural gas and clean coal power plants. Wind and solar capacity on the grid nearly tripled, but as Texans learned firsthand, capacity does not equal actual electricity. Because renewables produce, on average, between just 16% and 46% of their aggregate installed capacity during peak demand hours — whereas fossil fuels consistently operate at well over 90% capacity — we can’t rely on these weather-dependent generators to show up when we need them.
At the height of the winter storm, it was the dead of night and wind turbines were producing as little as 1.5% of their total capacity. The media was quick to trumpet that renewables were exceeding expectations and couldn’t be blamed — but it’s hard to ask families shivering in the cold and dark to celebrate, especially when the bar was set so low that 1.5% was considered a raving success.
This isn’t a new problem for Texas. Two years ago, the grid came dangerously close to blackouts when the electricity demand during a searing summer day coincided with low wind production. The only reason we’ve avoided summer blackouts since then is some combination of reduced demand due to the COVID-19 shutdowns and sheer dumb luck. It’s only a matter of time before the weather refuses to cooperate on a high-demand day, the wind doesn’t blow when we need it, and blackouts occur again.
Of course, it’s true that wind and solar weren’t the only power sources with problems during the storm. Several natural gas plants went offline due to weather-related issues, leading many legislators to call for more weatherization funding. But weatherization would be a Band-aid at best.
Texas’ grid data shows that the state never had enough reliable capacity to get through the storm without blackouts. Even if every single power plant had been operating at full capacity and every wind turbine had been spinning away as it would on a normal day, there would still have been significant supply shortages causing blackouts.
That’s because natural gas wasn’t the problem. In fact, natural gas saved countless lives during the blackouts. At the peak of the storm, while wind had almost completely dropped off the grid, coal generation increased 47% and natural gas generation increased 450%. The 25 million Texans whose power stayed on, and those who enjoyed at least intermittent power during the blackouts, have fossil fuels to thank for their warmth and safety.
The Biden administration claims Texas’ limited-government philosophy is entirely to blame for this catastrophe. Actually, big government is the problem.
Hundreds of billions of our tax dollars have been spent subsidizing renewable energy, interfering with the free market and creating an artificial financial advantage that all but guarantees them a profit. Oil, gas, and coal are subsidized, too, but at a far lower rate per unit of electricity generated. Wind and solar receive 17 and 75 times more taxpayer funds per megawatt, respectively. As I explained in a recent PragerU video unpacking the causes of the Texas blackouts, the consequences of these market-distorting subsidies have been deadly.
Imagine owning a successful local restaurant when suddenly your competitor down the street starts getting subsidies — so much he can actually pay his customers to eat his food. It’s no wonder your business will suffer, even if your food tastes better, while he profits unfairly off the taxpayers’ backs.
Similarly, it’s no wonder fossil fuel plants are closing in Texas — even when they are clearly better suited to provide the affordable, reliable energy we need — when it’s almost impossible for them to succeed.
Biden’s desire for the federal government to regulate every aspect of our lives and his green agenda to put solar panels on every roof won’t prevent more blackouts.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Times on October 6, 2021.