Editorial—Renewable energy not to blame for power failures

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Sam Rush/NW

North Wind Staff

Following the disastrous power outages experienced by Texas residents in mid-February, a national conversation highlighted the blame placed on renewable energy for the failure of the Texas power grid. Some, including the governor of Texas, blamed the outages on the state’s renewable energy: its wind and solar farms. Many claimed that frozen wind turbines were the main culprit during the disaster. Yet the data shows Texas was mostly impacted by the failures of natural gas infrastructure, which provides the vast majority of electricity in the state. 

That’s not to say there were no failures among the state’s renewable energy. Wind and solar did indeed have failures, but they were less affected than the natural gas infrastructure because they were less common. Using the failures as an argument against renewable energy, therefore, does not work.

One of the reasons Texas experienced failures on such a large scale was that Texas decided to not be connected to the national power grid. Essentially, they are on their own, their energy run by private companies. These companies had all the incentive to make money and little to provide efficient, reliable energy to the citizens of Texas. 

“Part of the responsibility for the near-collapse of the state’s electrical grid can be traced to the decision in 1999 to embark on the nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation, handing control of the state’s entire electricity delivery system to a market-based patchwork of private generators, transmission companies and energy retailers,” according to an article by the New York Times.

Texas has a great deal of potential when it comes to effectively supplying its own power.

“Coal is found in bands that cut across the eastern Texas coastal plain and in other areas in the north-central and southwestern parts of the state. Texas also has abundant renewable energy resources and is first in the nation in wind-generated electricity. With a significant number of sunny days across vast distances, Texas is also among the leading states in solar energy potential.” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Yet the production of energy via these resources is privatized in competing businesses. Although these companies had the opportunity to avoid this disaster, they failed to because of the cost of updating and weatherproofing their systems. The energy infrastructure of Texas was a disaster waiting to happen.

“There was little financial incentive to invest in weather protection and maintenance. Wind turbines are not equipped with the de-icing equipment routinely installed in the colder climes of the Dakotas and power lines have little insulation,” according to the New York Times.

Those whose power didn’t go out during the week are now being charged outrageous energy bills, so much so that the state of Texas has intervened to protect citizens. One man, for example, received an electric bill for $16,752 due to the operations of the private power companies.

Yet this disaster was not due to the renewable energy infrastructure in Texas; renewables don’t make sense as a scapegoat for the failures of privatized energy companies.

Unfortunately, many of us saw people expressing their anger against the use of renewables. Facebook posts, for example, could be seen complaining about why renewable energy is such a bad idea, and why we can’t go renewable.

This issue goes back to politics, and to partisanship. Some made nasty comments arguing that because Texas is a red state, Texans deserved to go through this disaster. This sentiment is beyond silly, it is ruthlessly partisan.

All residents must be provided with reliable energy to ensure their safety. This means that, regardless of whether power is provided via fossil fuels or renewables, the infrastructure must be updated regularly and protected from weather events.

In the context of the Marquette community and Northern Michigan University, it is important that we keep in mind our energy goals for the coming decades. Recently a petition circulated encouraging NMU to commit to carbon neutrality. That petition was proudly signed by the North Wind Editorial Board. Additionally, Marquette county has recently welcomed an initiative to install a 149.7-megawatt solar energy farm through the Superior Solar Project, hoped to be completed by 2023. 

These goals mark progress for the community, and we must not let scapegoating of Texas renewable energy infrastructure impact our view of renewable energy projects. Texas’ disaster demonstrated the importance of updated, weather-protected infrastructure. That must be what informs us as we move forward.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is an editorial, written by the North Wind Editorial Board in its entirety. It reflects the majority views of the individuals who make up the editorial staff of the North Wind. It is the policy of the Editorial Board not to endorse candidates for any political office, in order to avoid aligning this public forum with particular political organizations.