Energy advocates on both sides of the aisle call for change to the Texas energy grid

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Energy advocates on both sides of the aisle are calling for change to our state’s energy infrastructure after severe winter weather wreaked havoc on Texas last week.

However, both groups disagree on how and what that change should be.

On Monday morning, a group of young Texans called the Sunrise Movement gathered on the front lawn of the Texas Capitol. Members of the climate change activist group are pushing for the state to move toward a more renewable energy grid.

“I think, for me, like for a lot of Texans, the past week has been deeply traumatizing in a lot of ways,” said Jenna Hanes, a member of the group from Austin.

Hanes said switching to majority renewable energy would lessen the strain on the environment and create a more dependable energy infrastructure.

“We need to be on a renewable energy grid,” Hanes said. “Wind energy is not what failed us when wind energy actually outperformed the estimates that they thought it would do during this storm.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation agrees our energy needs change, but in the opposite direction.

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Chuck DeVore, TPPF vice president, referred to renewable energy as “unreliable” energy, because solar and wind appear less consistent than fossil fuels. 

TPPF also said the policies in the country and the state have unfairly propped up renewable energy in Texas.

“It’s really the wind and solar where the problem is, and not necessarily because of that drop in production as the front came through, but rather 20 years of policy that led into it were both the federal government and the state government were subsidizing these forms of energy,” DeVore said.

But energy experts disagree. Dr. Joshua Partheepan at West Texas A&M University does not believe it’s right to blame policy.

“I think that’s a scapegoat, in my point of view, because, let’s see, what does that policy have to do with gas main failures, right?” Partheepan said.

Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, says all forms of energy receive government subsidies in some form, and inconsistency does not necessarily equate to unreliability.

“We know the wind doesn’t always blow, we know the sun doesn’t always shine, that doesn’t make those invaluable resources of energy, but we weren’t relying on them at that time, we were relying on other things,” Rhodes said. “And I mean, both of them underperformed, but to a degree I do think that the thermal fleet underperformed more in this case.”

Both sides discussed the winterizing of power generation plants. Hanes and the Sunrise Movement said the failure to winterize wind turbines showed poor leadership at the state level, but TPPF claimed winterizing would not have prevented blackouts.

“We could completely winterize our entire network of grid and power plants, and we’re still going to see this problem increasingly in the future,” DeVore said. “Because as long as we keep adding more wind and solar, and taking away coal and natural gas, you’re going to have a problem when the unreliable aren’t producing, there’s just not going to be enough power to go around.”

No matter which direction lawmakers decide to go, fixing the energy grid is not going to be quick and easy.

“It takes time to build infrastructure, it takes time to do things,” Rhodes said. “On the short term, I think we need to make sure that our natural gas infrastructure is able to supply both power plants and homes at the same time, so that we don’t lose so much power like we did last week. In the long term, though, climate science is telling us that weather variability is increasing.”

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