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What Caused the Blackouts in Texas?

The state’s widespread electricity failure was largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines. That didn’t stop advocates for fossil fuels from trying to shift blame.

As his state was racked by an electricity crisis that left millions of people without heat in frigid temperatures, the governor of Texas took to television to start placing blame.

His main target was renewable energy, suggesting that the systemwide collapse was caused by the failure of wind and solar power.

The efforts came despite the fact that the burning of fossil fuels — which causes climate change by releasing vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere — is helping to drive the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes and other storms, as well as unusual weather patterns.

“Every time we have challenges with the grid, whether it’s in California this past summer or Texas right now, people try to weaponize this for their pet project, which is fossil fuels,” said Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work has focused on battles over energy policy. “Our infrastructure cannot handle extreme weather events, which these fossil fuels are ironically causing.”

“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs, creating a clean energy economy, and meeting the president’s goal of reaching a net zero emissions future by 2050,” said Vedant Patel, a White House assistant press secretary.

Scientists are still analyzing what role human-caused climate change may have played in the current round of winter storms, but it is clear that global warming poses future threats to power systems nationwide with predictions of more intense heat waves and shortages of water. Many electric grids aren’t equipped to handle those extreme conditions, putting them at risk for widespread failure.

Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host, had a similar pro-fossil-fuel message earlier in the week. “Global warming is no longer a pressing concern here,” he said, speaking of this week’s frigid weather and invoking the discredited claim that cold weather disproves that the world is warming dangerously. “The windmills froze so the power grid failed,” he said.

The bulk of the power loss in Texas came from natural gas suppliers, according to regulators, as pipelines froze, making it difficult for plants to get the fuel they needed. Production from coal and nuclear plants dropped as well. A similar phenomenon played out in Kansas and other states.

Nevertheless, proponents of fossil fuels are using the current crisis to emphasize why they think fossil fuels need to be part of the overall mix of options to power the grid.

Wind energy has long been a target of criticism in America, with some opponents blaming turbines for interrupting vistas, taking up land for hunting, or shifting jobs away from the fossil fuel industry. This week’s crisis in Texas has provided a new rallying point for some of this political messaging.

“We have Joe Biden who is nice and warm in his fossil-fueled White House singing kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans are freezing to death,” said Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, who earlier this year introduced a measure to block re-entry to the Paris climate agreement.

In Kansas, one of few states that rely heavily on wind power, the blades on some turbines froze, too. However, just like in Texas, the bigger problem was that the state’s frigid temperatures stopped delivery of natural gas to fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

That didn’t stop some Republicans from targeting green energy as a chief culprit.

State Representative Brandon Woodard of Kansas, a Democrat, recalled how on Monday, with the epic cold outside his door, he was sitting in his apartment in two layers of sweatpants and wrapped in blankets when he was alerted to rolling blackouts there by an email from a constituent.

“I’m hoping you can explain to me how the state will prevent these so-called rolling outages from becoming a norm,” read the email.

Mr. Woodard said the email, combined with this week’s deep freeze and electrical failures, should serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers to act.

“This is why we have to have the conversations about being resilient to address changing patterns in the climate,” Mr. Woodard said. “I don’t think this is the last time we’ll see rolling blackouts.”

Category: Science

Source: New York Times

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