Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claim blaming the state's massive power outages on renewable energy is misleading

18-Feb-2021 5:30 PM EST, by Newswise

Fact Check By: Craig Jones, Newswise

Truthfulness: False


“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent 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.”

Claim Publisher and Date: Gov. Greg Abbott on Fox News on 2021-02-16

On Tuesday in an interview on Fox News with Sean Hannity, Texas Governor Greg Abbott blamed the outages on wind turbines and on the "Green New Deal." Rolling blackouts have ravaged Texas after a winter storm created a sudden spike in energy demand and hamstrung production of natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy.

Dr. Nicholas Abi-Samra, adjunct professor at the University of California San Diego and a former executive in the energy industry and author of Power Grid Resiliency for Adverse Conditions has this to say...

Shutdowns affected both conventional energy resources (gas, coal and nuclear) as well as renewable resources (wind and solar) during the severe cold conditions that resulted in surge in the demand. I estimate that about 80% of the Texas power generation capacity, or 67 gigawatts (GW), would be supplied by natural gas, coal and some nuclear power, and a meager 7% of forecasted winter capacity, or 6 gigawatts, would have been provided from wind power sources across the state.

For this winter storm, shutdowns at natural gas and thermal power plants were a much larger contributing factor to the outages than outages in the wind turbines.

On Sunday, the first day of the Winter storm, the estimates of the conventional generation which was not available to supply the surge in load varies between 30,000-45,000 megawatts (MW), while the estimates for the power that was not available from the wind farms was set to about 4,500 MW.  As of Wednesday (three days into the event), 185 conventional, central stations, were still offline, with a generating capacity of 28,000 MW (the equivalent of the load of all the State of New York). Although some wind farms in Texas generation dropped, the ones closer to the shoreline produced more power due to the increased wind speeds that accompanied the storm near the seashores. The drop in the production of the wind farms can be estimated to have attributed to less than 15% of the load not served, with the balance of the lion’s share of the deficit, 85%, due to lack of the unavailability of the conventional resources, and mainly gas-fired generation. Prudent transmission planning on the side of ERCOT would have accounted on the loss large amounts of wind energy with  gas-fired generation, and thus 1 MW loss of wind energy should never equate to 1 MW loss in meeting the electric demand, this why the  85%:15%  ratio would make sense.

Texas largely relies on natural gas for power - especially during times of high demand to power demand. The natural gas infrastructure, from pumping it out of the ground to the plants in city centers, was unprepared for the severe cold temperatures brought by the winter storm, therefore, the large amount of gas-fired generation that was not able to supply demand. Simply put, the gas infrastructure in Texas was not designed to withstand such low temperatures on equipment or during production.

Hence it can be said that the failures across Texas' natural gas operations and supply chains due to extreme temperatures are the most significant cause of the power crisis, rather the loss of wind energy. 

This is from Yury Dvorkin, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and director of NYU Tandon's Power Lab...

Massive outages in Texas are no indication of the ability of renewable generation resources to provide electricity reliably.  For example, coal and gas generators were also unavailable due to extreme weather conditions; it is misleading and pure partisanship to avoid mentioning these failures too. There are Northern European countries, for example, Denmark that rely on renewables more heavily than Texas (e.g. >50%) and that manage to operate their systems reliably regardless extreme cold and humidity. Rather, the outages in Texas are a manifestation of the failure to properly and in a timely manner implement new ways of analyzing credible contingencies as more renewables are being integrated in Texas and other parts of the country.

Instead of blaming a particular technology, we need a coherent overhaul of risk management that will take into account new vulnerabilities of all generation technologies - renewable, nuclear, gas and coal-fired against extreme weather events, e.g. such as happened in Texas or extreme heat in summer months, which are expected to occur with greater frequencies due to climate change.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that It is impossible to guarantee 100% reliable power system operations, whether it has renewables or not, and therefore one must focus on improving power system recovery after major disasters. That is not only an engineering problem, but also a communication challenge as it is important to warn consumers in potentially affected areas and assist with providing for their basic needs while the electricity supply is being recovered. 

Benjamin Ruddell, who directs the FEWSION Project and the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems, Northern Arizona University has this to say...

"The February 2021 Texas power outage is caused primarily by the failure of Texas regulators, natural gas suppliers, and power companies to winterize their infrastructure in preparation for extreme cold- especially the failure to winterize natural gas well and pipeline infrastructure. The secondary cause of the outage is ERCOT's lack of investment in bulk power transmission capacity to allow Texas to buy power from neighboring states during a power shortage. The amount of wind and solar power in Texas's power grid is not a major cause of this outage. In fact, if Texas had more solar power, and especially if Texas had more homes and businesses with battery storage linked with rooftop solar systems, this outage would not be as severe."

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