Don’t Blame Renewables for Lack of Planning

Don’t Blame Renewables for Lack of Planning
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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My family had initially planned to test out our new solar set-up, complete with Tesla panels and powerwall back-up batteries, during hurricane season.

Instead we got our first real test during a historic winter storm that shut down all of Texas.

When our electricity went out 48 hours into the storm, our back-up batteries kicked in. When our house started taking electricity from the grid again 17 hours later, we had a couple hours of back-up battery left, but with rain and heavy clouds in the sky, even the ambient light wasn’t producing enough electricity to keep us going much longer.

While our solar set-up was giving us an edge against the storm, nearly every elected Republican official across the state blamed renewable energy for the disaster that the state government could have prevented. Once our solar panels finally cleared of snow, our system worked hard to take pressure off of the overtaxed powergrid while politicians passed blame onto the very tech that kept our heat turned on.

Fact: In 2020, wind generated 25% of Texas’ energy. While wind turbines did freeze, they only accounted for 13% of the energy loss across the state and actually overperformed their expected production throughout the worst parts of the storm. Additionally, wind turbines continue to perform at expected levels in much colder climates through winters with significantly worse conditions. If Texas’ turbines had been properly winterized, the same would have been true here as well.

Fact: In 2020, solar generated a measly 4% of Texas’ energy, and after living through the snowstorm, I can attest to the fact that the snow cover prevented a significant amount of production for us when the sun came out after the sky cleared of snow. The solar didn’t fail. The snow prevented production.

Fact: Texas officials were warned concerning the need to winterize power plants after a 2011 storm that crippled Dallas. They did nothing. Instead, nearly 60% of Texas households and businesses were without power two days into the storm. Nearly 40% of the power producing capacity went offline and companies scrambled to control the distribution of power in a continuous series of rolling blackouts that lasted longer than expected.

Fact: This was a multifaceted problem that requires multifaceted solutions, and none of those solutions include less renewable energy. It requires more.

The vast majority of progressive and conservative energy conscious individuals are not calling for a complete end to the oil and gas industry. They understand that our energy paradigm is complex and different regions have different needs and capabilities. Nuclear power plants do best near large bodies of water. Solar works best in regions with year-round sunlight. Wind works best in wide open areas with little potential for land development. And as long as oil and gas can be safely extracted and transported without endangering local ecosystems, we should continue to use it when it is the best option.

But denying that we need to move away from non-renewable resources for our increasing energy needs is the antithesis of progress and innovation. Denial holds us back from being industry leaders and allows other countries, such as China, to lead the charge in inventing and producing green tech to fight global climate change.

We could be outfitting our schools and businesses in the south and west with solar roofs and in the Midwest and Northeast with geothermal, and decreasing their huge energy bills and environmental impact. We could be encouraging windmill construction on private land and giving those landowners a chance to invest in green tech that would benefit their bottom line and the environment. Our state and national governments could be leading the way by making government buildings more energy efficient, using regionally appropriate green energy, and implementing energy saving tactics such as electric vehicles and carpooling.

We are going to run out of non-renewables. Global climate change is real and will continue to have a significant impact on generations young and old.  I have lived in Texas for nearly six years and in that six years I have experienced not one, but three “once in a lifetime” events: the Tax Day floods, Hurricane Harvey, and now the Winter Storm of 2021. We have to stop talking about “once in a lifetime” events and start working to be better stewards of the only home we have available to us.

Let us enact real change that will make life better for all citizens. Let us demand better of our politicians and tell them to stop passing blame and work towards a diversified energy sector that challenges us to consistently seek a better way of doing things. Let us spend the money now so that we don’t have to spend even more money down the road cleaning up worse disasters. And let us start doing that today.


Sarah Styf is an English teacher and spokesperson for living in north Harris County. She can be followed on Twitter @sarahstyf

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