February 22, 2021

Reflections on Texas: not the green future we want, or can afford

Reflections on Texas: not the green future we want, or can afford

This winter is proving to be a severe one across much of the northern hemisphere. Extended cold snaps, lots of winter storms, and then more of the same. Of course, the climate alarmists are sidestepping their usual mantra about warming and now saying “all extreme weather is climate change caused by humans”. 

This allows the green extremists to blame COLD on human activity. This is pretty brazen, having already blamed HEAT on human activity, but I digress. It does prompt one to reflect on the “climate” discussion happening right now.

Texas provides us with a case study for that reflection. Severe cold and winter storms have overwhelmed the energy delivery system in the Lone Star state. Now it just so happens that the energy delivery system of Texas is one that prides itself on the amount of renewable electricity – particularly wind – it has available. 

Texas is no longer so prideful. A lot of people are now taking a hard look at the Texas system and asking themselves why it isn’t working particularly well – including the approximately 4 million Texans who lost access to electricity. Almost 60% of Texans heat with electricity, as opposed to natural gas or propane or heating oil. 

Some of the green ideologues and their political heroes are saying the problem is a system problem and the fault lies with the energy industry. They point to frozen machinery across the system – at oil wells and gas plants and nuclear facilities and wind turbines - and say “what we need is more control of the system”. And so you have the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) calling for a yet even bigger “Green New Deal”.

Except, of course, that doesn’t quite make sense. The fact is, states around Texas with similar weather conditions are working through them. Even Canada is weathering colder and more severe temperatures and meeting the energy needs of Canadians. And most of these jurisdictions are coping just fine with well-functioning private energy markets. So how would “more green energy” help Texas?  It wouldn’t. 

We will no doubt have a lot of analysis about what has happened in Texas, but I suspect that the evidence will eventually reveal several contributing factors. Here is my short list of the top three:

  1. We keep forgetting about winter: People across North America have been lulled into a kind of complacency about the weather. Constantly being told the planet is going to burn up and we are all going to drown in rising seas in a decade does that to you. And so, in Canada, we have some cities that have cut their snow removal budgets. People submit to the constant harangue of extremists and stop looking at real evidence, and then get surprised when that evidence, ummm, freezes their backsides off. A cold snowy winter is stark reality. Texas had less severe outages from bad winter storms in 2011 and 2014. Winter isn’t going away in North America, and we need to prepare for it.
  2. We keep thinking you can put all your eggs in one basket: Energy systems in North America are among the best in the world, becoming that way because they have been built to withstand incredibly difficult conditions. Extremes of weather, great masses of territory, remarkable diversity of geography and other factors have been thought about and factored in to make systems resilient. The obsession with green tinkering and electrifying more of the system in the last few decades means we’ve forgotten the basics, such as making sure people get sufficient – and affordable – energy, no matter what. We deliver energy in many ways – as a solid (wood, coal), as a liquid (gasoline and diesel, heating oil, through hot water), as a gas (natural gas, propane, hydrogen), through electrons (as electricity) – and benefit from having multiple pathways. The current fad is to say it should all be as electricity (and green electricity to boot). But that is dangerous. Texas demonstrates how dangerous – where the problems are with the electric system. Natural gas delivery to homes has continued more or less un-interrupted, propane delivery has continued, as has liquid fuel (gas and diesel) delivery. The problem has been with the electric system.
  3. We keep forgetting the customer: when you have corporate executives completely obsessed with their Paris Agreement and “Net Zero by 2050” policies, their environmental and social governance (ESG) plans, and other virtue-signaling exercises, you have companies that forget about their customers and their shareholders. Citizens need reliable, affordable energy – that should be the priority. Always. The amount of political posturing by energy executives has been ridiculous. In their defense, they do it because they feel pressured to do so. But electricity failures and the related problems like we are seeing in Texas, make clear that the energy companies need to get some spine and re-focus on the fundamentals – they are there to serve customers, not the green gods.

There’s a great picture going around the internet showing a frozen wind turbine being de-iced by a helicopter pouring airplane anti-freeze.  I don’t think it’s from Texas, but it is a wonderful visual presentation for all 3 of the factors I describe above: the windmill may make you feel good about being green, but it doesn’t work when it’s really cold, it can’t be relied on without back-up from things like natural gas because the wind doesn’t always blow, and it costs the customer a lot more than conventional alternatives.  Oh, and when it breaks down, you need a lot of conventional energy-backed know-how to get it working. 

Is Texas the future we want? It isn’t the future Texans want, and it sounds a lot like a very unpleasant – and very unaffordable – one for us to be pursuing.