BY: JULIA JACOBO, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Republican politicians are using the widespread power outages in Texas to place false blame on renewable energy sources, but clean energy isn’t what was fueling the majority of power plants that failed.
Millions in the state were without power following a massive winter storm that brought snow and freezing temperatures to the region as a second storm loomed nearby.
Republicans soon after began casting renewable energy as unreliable.
On Tuesday, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines retweeted a picture of a wind turbine being defrosted, arguing this is a reason to oppose Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, who has supported wind energy in the past, as interior secretary.
Former Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who served under the Trump administration, appeared Tuesday on a Fox News segment that contained the chyron, “Storm Shutters Green Energy,” where he stated that the current situation in Texas are the reason why fossil fuels should continue to be the main energy source.
Brouillette described renewables as “intermittent to sometimes unreliable,” adding, “… the technology is not ready for primetime.”
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott attributed his state’s crisis to the 10% of power plants that are powered by renewables and even went as far as to describe the Green New Deal, a climate proposal by House Democrats, as “deadly” in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday.
“Our wind and our solar got shut down, and 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,” he said.
Abbott later acknowledged in a press conference Wednesday that coal and natural gas played a role in the outages.
“Those coal and natural gas power generating facilities either froze up or had mechanical failure, and we’re incapable of adding power to the power grid,” the governor said. He also noted that one of the power outages was at the South Texas Project, a nuclear power plant.
The politicians are “misleading the public,” Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, told ABC News.
“The tiny piece of it that’s true is that wind turbines, like every other major piece of the Texas power supply, produced less power than we expected it to under these arctic blast conditions,” he said. “What is not true is that that is anywhere near in the top five list of the problems that have caused millions of homes to lose power this week and have caused life-threatening conditions across the state.”
During winter months, the “vast majority” of energy in Texas, more than two-thirds, is supplied by fuel, coal and nuclear sources, Cohan said. The crisis is not so much that the power plants are failing, but that they don’t have enough supply, especially of fuel, he added.
“The crisis has shown us the mutual vulnerabilities of our power and natural gas systems to each other when we are so over-reliant on natural gas for our power and heating needs at the same time,” Cohan said.
Neil Chatterjee, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also said on CNBC Wednesday that the power outages seem to be a combination of the extreme weather event coupled with a spike in demand for electricity, stating that he thinks “people are so quick to view things through partisan lenses.”
“I am confident that if we take the politics out of this and let the engineers and the economists and the experts examine what went on here, we will figure out ways to continue the energy transition that’s taking place in Texas and around the country while maintaining the reliable affordable grid that really sets Texas and the United States of America apart from the rest of the world,” Chatterjee said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees the state’s electric grid, started rolling blackouts earlier this week to conserve power.
CEO Bill Magness told ABC News the power systems are not designed to withstand extreme cold. While the storm was the “central cause” of the power outages, he said there were outages caused by generation of coal and natural gas, as well as wind and solar, he said.
“So, you know, I think what this storm does is expose the vulnerabilities perhaps of all different kinds of power making generation on the system,” Magness said.
ERCOT stated in November in its planning document for winter that it had well over 10,000 megawatts of surplus power but that just 8% would come from wind and solar. The power company ended up losing more than 30,000 megawatts in supply, Cohan said.
“I think what the politicians are missing, and what they’re misleading the public about, is the fact that average conditions are different from peak conditions, and the way we need to plan for extreme events is to realize that the needs on the coldest days are different than the needs on the hottest day, which are different than the needs on the mildest days throughout the year,” Cohan said.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation will open a joint federal inquiry into the grid operations during the storm.
ABC News’ Tom Dunlavey and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.
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