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The Texas blackouts weren't caused by renewables. Here's what really happened.

While millions of Texans struggled to stay warm amid power outages, conservatives quickly jumped at the opportunity to falsely label renewables as the culprit.

The Texas blackouts weren't caused by renewables. Here's what really happened.
Cover Image Source: People wait in long lines at an H-E-B grocery store in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2021. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

While millions of Texans struggled to stay warm amid deadly cold weather — many going for days without power — Gov. Greg Abbott went on Fox News and claimed that wind turbines and solar energy were primarily to blame for the state's power crisis. "Wind and solar got shut down," he told Sean Hannity. "They were collectively more than 10% of our power grid and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states to make sure we will be able to heat our homes in the winter times and cool our homes in the summer times."


Other conservatives also jumped at the opportunity to label renewables as the culprit, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation — a conservative think tank with ties to the fossil fuel industry — which, according to NPR, alleged that the storm "never would have been an issue had our grid not been so deeply penetrated by renewable energy sources." Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry also pointed to frozen windmills as a supposed example of the perils of promoting renewable energy while Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wrote on Facebook: "We should never build another wind turbine in Texas. The experiment failed big time."


They conveniently failed to acknowledge the part fossil fuels play in driving the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes, storms, and unusual weather patterns. They also ignored the evident fact that every kind of power generation fell short in the storm. In fact, according to KNBC, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — which operates the state's power grid — said in a press conference Tuesday that failures in natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels.


Abbott himself acknowledged this systemwide failure in an interview with WFAA prior to his appearance on Fox News, where he explained that a significant reason why the state isn’t generating enough power is due to natural gas. "It's frozen in the pipeline. It's frozen at the rig. It's frozen at the transmission line," he said. "The natural gas providers are incapable of providing the natural gas that feeds into the generators that send power to people's residences there in the Dallas area."


So why spread lies and disinformation about renewable power sources? Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California whose work has focused on battles over energy policy, explained to The New York Times: "Every time we have challenges with the grid, whether it's in California this past summer or Texas right now, people try to weaponize this for their pet project, which is fossil fuels. Our infrastructure cannot handle extreme weather events, which these fossil fuels are ironically causing." Grid operators also admit that say it simply doesn't make sense to pinpoint any one generation source for criticism.


"It was across the board," said Bill Magness, the president and CEO of ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. "We saw coal plants, gas plants, wind, solar, just all sorts of our resources trip off and not be able to perform." How? The bitter cold led to people across Texas plugging in their electric heaters all at once, causing demand to spike. "Fundamentally, it is a historic storm that drove electric demand higher than we've ever seen — by far," Magness explained. Meanwhile, the extreme cold also took down the supply of electricity.




Almost simultaneously, the state suddenly had a lot of power plants — of all kinds — that simply couldn't function. With not enough electricity to go around, ERCOT saw no other choice than to force demand down with outages. The long and the short of it is, Texas' power grid was not built for high winter demand. Although the state recommended that power plants prepare for freak-cold weather after a freeze a decade ago, the measures were never made mandatory. "I think the key point here is that we need to be prepared for these extreme events, today and in the future, no matter what the generation sources [are]," said Lori Bird, who directs the U.S. energy program at the World Resources Institute. "Because I think this event shows that all generation sources are vulnerable to these extreme events."

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