Energy, Environment, Featured, Politics, Uncategorized

Buck: A Texas-size lesson on energy for Colorado

In February, as the temperatures plummeted in Texas, millions of people there struggled to meet basic survival needs, including access to water and heat in their homes. The power outages resulted from a combination of misguided government policies and dangerously low temperatures.

In the short-term, the crisis in Texas requires immediate responses to help get the state back up and running and to protect vulnerable families. For the longer-term, we must examine exactly what went wrong to avoid repeating those same mistakes — not simply in Texas, but across the United States.

The Texas energy shortage forces us to accept a difficult truth – the power grid nationwide is becoming less reliable. Despite greater innovations and advancements in the energy sector, our power grid’s reliability has been degraded by an environmental agenda that is divorced from reality. What happened in Texas could easily happen elsewhere, as other states choose to prioritize renewable, but highly unreliable, energy sources, including wind and solar. What happens when frigid temperatures lead to ice-covered solar panels and nonworking wind turbines? Texas over the last two weeks provides the harrowing answer.

Another unpopular truth is that wind energy often fails to live up to the promises. Wind-sourced energy has become the darling of the environmental agenda, but we rarely assess the risks — or costs — of increased reliance on wind for energy. Two of the misperceptions are that wind can serve as a replacement for a large portion of our energy needs, and that wind is sustainable without a massive influx of taxpayer-funded subsidies. Neither is true.

In concept, it is difficult to imagine a better renewable energy supply than wind. Wind, however, is not a constant, and it is unrealistic to expect large portions of a region’s or state’s energy needs to be provided by wind. Wind is best viewed as an additive energy source, not a replacement. I have long advocated for wind-powered energy as part of an “All of the Above” approach to meeting our nation’s growing energy – but it cannot adequately replace more reliable forms of energy.

The failure of wind during this most recent crisis illustrates how dangerous it is to increase our dependence on wind to the exclusion of other, more reliable, sources. According to the Energy Information Administration, as a share of Texas’ electricity, wind fell from 42 percent to a paltry 8 percent between February 7 and February 11. At a time when Texans were in need of more energy to heat their homes, wind-sourced energy was virtually nonexistent.

Almost as soon as the cold temperatures arrived in Texas, the frozen wind turbines ceased working. An honest evaluation of how to avoid similar crises in the future requires that we accurately pinpoint the problems. Wind was the first to fail during the crisis, and pursuing exclusive reliance on wind would only exacerbate the likelihood of a Texas-type crisis in the future.

The biggest takeaway from Texas is that it is imperative to store and produce adequate supplies of natural gas. As the natural gas pipelines froze in Texas, Governor Abbott wisely asked that his state discontinue exporting its gas for the time being. Colorado must look for ways to increase our production of gas here, so we never become dependent on other states’ supplies.

Despite our state’s vast resources, Colorado’s supply of natural gas is vulnerable today, in large part because of the anti-fracking political agenda and efforts to vilify the oil and gas industry. Evidence of that anti-oil agenda was on full display back in November when several members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission sent an email in which Colorado’s oil and gas companies were referred to as “Snake Oil Incorporated,” “Bad Oil and Gas,” “Acme Company,” and “The Lorax.”

Hardly neutral language.

Governor Polis has not been shy about his attempts to drive out the oil-and-gas industry from our state, stifling both exploration and development — and driving high-paying jobs elsewhere in the process.

That bias against the oil and gas industry has grown in proportion with the state’s increased percentage of renewable energy. Colorado’s electricity from renewable sources, most notably from wind and solar power, has more than doubled since 2010, and now accounts for more than 25 percent of our state’s entire power generation. While we can celebrate our state’s commitment to finding new forms of renewable energy, we must also be mindful of the vulnerabilities posed by wind and solar energy.

The situation in Texas is both a warning and a call to action for other states to assess their energy sources and to be clear-eyed about the weaknesses of wind and solar.

Ken Buck represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress.  A version of this article originally appeared in the Greeley Tribune on March 5.


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