As Texans are dealing with the aftermath of a harrowing week of blackouts, boil-water notices, and frigid temperatures, the finger-pointing has begun. Many of us, my colleagues in the Legislature included, are looking for someone, or something, to blame — understandably so.
But we must move on from searching for a convenient scapegoat to understanding the truth of what happened and finding a solution for the systemic problems that led to the blackouts.
As policy makers, we must be careful that we are not implementing new regulations without considering every working aspect of an industry. As a professional in the electricity industry for 16 years, I want to share my perspective — and one major component of what I believe Texas should do to keep this from becoming a regular occurrence.
First, the record should be set straight since the mainstream media has utterly failed in its responsibility to impartially report the facts. Here’s what the media won’t tell you: wind energy collapsed and investors in Texas have not built the new reliable energy generators necessary to back up wind in an emergency.
Most news sources either ignored or sought to defend wind energy’s near-total failure. The spin was that wind performed “as expected.” They don’t mention that the expectation was near zero because wind is of little use in extreme weather.
Further, many big-league Texas reporters have repeatedly refused to cover important stories like Austin’s $2 billion biomass power plant sitting idle while Texans suffered in the cold.
ERCOT made mistakes — it waited too long to take action to minimize the fallout — and must be held accountable, but the blackouts would have happened anyway because too many reliable power plants have closed. Decades of bad policy decisions have made it almost impossible to make ends meet running natural gas, clean coal, or nuclear. Instead, Texas and the U.S. have offered extravagant subsidies that make wind artificially lucrative — without any obligation to provide consistent, reliable power.
Think of it this way: You own a hamburger stand where you sell burgers for $3 apiece. Then the government provides “incentives” (paid for with our taxes) to a competitor to build another hamburger stand next door. Those incentives allow the new hamburger stand to sell the exact same burgers — and pay their customers to eat them.
In this scenario, how likely are you to be able to maintain and grow your business, to invest in new technology or weatherize your stand? How likely are other culinary entrepreneurs to open new hamburger stands the way they want to, instead of the way the government pushes them to?
Decades of taxpayer-funded subsidies that favor unreliable wind power are crowding reliable energy sources out of the market, weakening the grid, and leading directly to the blackouts we experienced last week.
It’s no surprise — in fact, Texas came close to seeing widespread blackouts in August 2019. Our reserve margin, the buffer of extra electricity between what Texans are using and what we can produce, has become steadily smaller in recent years. And without quick action by state leaders, it will only get worse.
We should eliminate subsidies and tax breaks for energy companies — especially unreliable wind— to allow the free market to function smoothly. We must prioritize reliability and affordability in our electricity choices. Unfortunately, that’s not politically popular. But these are steps we can and must take for our state’s future.
As one solution, I just refiled House Bill 1951 to ensure that the financial costs of unreliable energy are placed on the generators where they belong, instead of passed down to Texas ratepayers and taxpayers who already have enough on their plates. I am confident that HB 1951 will protect Texas’ access to electricity by freeing up generation capacity and ensuring that reliable sources of energy are available to Texans – extreme weather or not.
Texans deserve better.