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Matt Welch: Don’t scapegoat our energy woes onto the backs of Texans

Matt Welch: Don’t scapegoat our energy woes onto the backs of Texans

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Texans are rightly concerned about how our power grid is going to perform during future events. But disingenuous and misguided attacks on renewable energy sources won’t solve Texas’ problems or prevent the next blackout. Implementing real solutions that leverage Texas’ energy leadership will.

The energy conservation appeals this past June from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator of the grid that serves about 90% of Texas, set off alarm bells across the state. Concerns about electricity blackouts are back, even as frigid February temperatures turned into a hot Texas summer.

We must guard against diagnosing the wrong problem and instead embrace solutions that produce meaningful and measurable benefits for all Texans. Experts at every level have conclusively debunked efforts to blame the blackouts on renewable energy. Study after study has shown that the blackouts were triggered when February storms froze Texas’ gas supply, and that wind and solar resources performed largely as expected or even overperformed throughout the crisis. As Fort Hood’s director of public works noted in the storm’s aftermath, Texas solar and wind power “both continued to produce electricity at a time when the Texas grid was under significant pressure to get any kind of electricity produced to customers.”

Beyond that, it’s vital that Texas remain clear-eyed and committed about the dangers and unintended consequences of centralized, government-dictated strategies — and remember the good reasons that the state’s unique market-driven energy system moved away from such strategies a generation ago.

Texas’ competitive energy market has fueled a private-sector clean energy boom that helps keep energy bills low for Texas families and business owners. It would be expensive — and economically unwise — to manipulate government regulations and incentives to artificially boost the cost of homegrown wind and solar power while leaving equivalent subsidies for gas and other thermal generators largely untouched. Doing so would increase power bills, weaken Texas’ advanced energy leadership and undercut the state’s appeal to large employers seeking to meet their own clean energy goals.

In addition, the state has worked for decades to protect Texans from paying for electricity they don’t need. Unlike liberal, high-tax states in places like the Northeast, Texas uses a competitive market and economic signals to prompt companies to build power plants.

It is possible that the state can do more to incentivize new capacity. But to suggest that Texans embrace a “small charge on all bills” — for a passel of gas plants that remain mothballed for most of the year — is much more than a policy tweak. It’s a philosophical shift that goes against a generation of Texas free-market principles.

June’s conservation alert was real and has left some open questions. While it is not unusual for ERCOT to issue conservation requests from time to time, the timing of and reasoning behind this request warrant real answers — including why so many thermal power plants were offline for maintenance, which apparently drove a significant drop in electricity supply. In fact, during the week of June 14, of the roughly 12,000 MW of power plants that were offline, 9,000 MW were from our thermal (coal, natural gas, nuclear) fleet. Of that 9,000 MW of offline thermal, 8,500 MW were forced, or unplanned.

Texans deserve more innovative, free market solutions than those that previous generations have discarded, and a better electricity model than they’ll find in California or New York. They deserve growth-focused, job-creating policies that leverage Texas’ oil and gas leadership to ensure that the state thrives through the energy transition — as was demonstrated in a recent comprehensive blueprint for 21st century energy released by the Greater Houston Partnership and other business-sector leaders.

They deserve innovative, consumer-focused solutions that save real money for real people — and fortify the grid in the process — by lowering energy demand, and bills, when things get tight. And Texans deserve — they need — to maintain the state’s leadership on the kinds of clean, renewable energy and technologies that will drive so much economic growth in the 21st century.

Matt Welch is the state director of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, a statewide organization that promotes free enterprise, increased competition and less government regulation in our energy economy. Online: conservativetexansforenergyinnovation.org

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