Texas Republicans want even more fossil fuels in the grid
Texas Republicans are gambling on the state’s web to fulfill their political ambitions. Again.
Ahead of the 2023 legislative session, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made it clear that one of his priorities for the coming year is to increase natural gas production to, supposedly, stabilize the network. Patrick has told various media outlets in recent weeks that he will drive this spring for the llegislature to form a plan to build more natural gas plants, which could force renewable energy providers to help foot the bill.
“We still need more power. We just have to do that. We have a lot of cheap natural gas underground,” he said in a interview with KXXV this week while discussing Texas grid reforms. “Renewables are fine. They help the environment, they help reduce the cost of energy, but we don’t have enough dispatchable energy. That means when we turn on the light switch, the lights come on. When you turn on the air conditioner or furnace, it turns on because it’s reliable.”
There are some real talks going on to make sure the grid is reliable and has enough baseload power for when wind and solar aren’t available. Unfortunately, legislation that simply mandates plus production—especially any legislation proposed by those with a vested interest in promoting oil and gas interests—oversimplifies the problems facing the state’s grid.
Texas network failed during a winter storm in February 2021 that caused widespread blackouts and hundreds of deaths. The cause of the blackouts was multiple and included UN teamprepared for temperatures below zero and the natural gas infrastructure failure. Yet in the nearly two years since the storm, Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership has seized every opportunity to blame renewables for grid failure, including helping spread false rumors that wind turbines frozen were responsible for the blackouts. (Some of these efforts were encouraged by fossil fuel interests.)
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Patrick, in particular, has a history of trying to use the llegislature to tie the hands of renewable energy and promote fossil fuels. After the storm, during the last legislative session (the Texas Legislature meets once every two years) he endorsed a bill that would have imposed new tariffs on wind and solar energy. While that bill failed to pass, Patrick also (successfully) introduced a bill that prohibits Texas from doing business with companies that “boycott” the oil and gas industry, which inspired a series of similar bills in other state.
At the same time that Patrick is launching this “yes, more gas” approach, the people in charge of the network are trying to make some important decisions to avoid future disasters. The state Public Utilities Commission suggested a new proposal for serious changes to the grid that would force energy providers to buy credits as a way to guarantee power during demand spikes; this plan, as E&E News reported this week“It would favor thermal plants powered by natural gas, coal and nuclear power. but there is many questions about the feasibility of this plan: A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter to the PUC expressing their concern about the proposal.
And all of this is happening while renewable energy, for lack of a better word, is thriving in Texas. The International Energy Agency this month foretold that wind and solar power will make up most of the electricity in the state next year, which will reduce the use of natural gas. Legislation or policies that actively penalize renewable energy generation could seriously harm cheap and clean energy sources.
The challenges facing the Texas grid are complex and it is not reduced to some kind of battle between fossil fuels and renewable energy; it will require careful considerations and major political decisions to address its problems. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers like Patrick have shown time and time again that they are determined to politicize these conversations, to paint fossil fuels as Okay and renewables like bad—and gloss over the details in favor of Helping Your Fossil Fuel Funders.