A deep freeze this week in the Lone Star state, which
relies on electricity to heat many homes, is causing power
demand to skyrocket. At the same time, natural gas, coal, wind
and nuclear facilities in Texas have been knocked offline by the
unthinkably low temperatures.
“The extreme cold is causing the entire system to freeze
up,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s
Center on Global Energy Policy. “All sources of energy are
underperforming in the extreme cold because they’re not
designed to handle these unusual conditions.”
The ripple effects are being felt around the nation as
Texas’ prolific oil-and-gas industry stumbles.
It’s striking that these power outages are happening in a
state with abundant energy resources. Texas produces more
electricity than any other US state — generating almost twice as
much as Florida, the next-closest, according to federal statistics.
Wind power is also booming in Texas, which produced
about 28% of all the US wind-powered electricity in 2019, the
EIA said. But the problem is that not only is Texas an energy
superpower, it tends to be an above-average temperature state.
That means its infrastructure is ill-prepared for the cold spell
currently wreaking havoc. And the consequences are being felt
Critics of renewable energy have pointed out that wind
turbines have frozen or needed to be shut down due to the
Even though other places with colder weather (like Iowa
and Denmark) rely on wind for even larger shares of power,
experts said the turbines in Texas were not winterized for the
But this is not just about wind turbines going down.
Natural gas and coal-fired power plants need water to stay online.
Yet those water facilities froze in the cold temperatures and
others lost access to the electricity they require to operate.
It’s too early to definitively say what went wrong in Texas
and how to prevent similar outages. More information will need
to be released by state authorities. Still, some experts say the
criticism of wind power appears overdone already. “In terms of
the blame game, the focus on wind is a red herring. It’s more of a
political issue than what is causing the power problems on the
grid,” said Dan Cohan, associate professor of environmental
engineering at Rice University.
The energy crisis in Texas raises also questions about the
nature of the state’s deregulated and decentralized electric grid.
Unlike other states, Texas has made a conscious decision to
isolate its grid from the rest of the country.
That means that when things are running smoothly, Texas
can’t export excess power to neighboring states. And in the
current crisis, it can’t import power either.
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