Texans are cold and pissed. And to deflect from the deadly conditions that millions are experiencing, the state’s GOP has found a shiny new scapegoat: renewable energy.
There’s a lot of blame to go around, but Gov. Greg Abbott should remember he’s been in office for six years, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. During that time, the electric grid hasn’t undergone any real analysis or improvement.
“When systems come under stress, they tend to buckle, if not collapse,” Jillson said. “And that’s what happened here to the energy grid.”
In a broader sense, Texas is a small-government, low-tax state that consistently underfunds items such as education, healthcare and energy infrastructure, Jillson said. Ultimately, underfunding leads to underperformance.
Texas leadership has insisted on shirking regulation, which helps explain why the state is the only one to have its own power grid. Critics say the GOP’s miserliness and profit-obsessed, libertarian leanings have led to this otherwise preventable calamity.
As the state entered this emergency, Texas Republicans were quick to go on the offense, with former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw latching onto reports that wind turbines had frozen.
Crenshaw tweeted misleading information about the dangers of relying on wind turbines during winter weather. Perry suggested Texans are willing to endure blackouts if it means freedom from federal regulation, drawing considerable backlash from Democrats.
“When Texas Republicans say that we are willing to suffer and die what they mean is that they are willing to hurt and kill us,” Zack Malitz, treasurer of Boot Texas Republicans PAC, said in a tweet.
When Texas Republicans say that we are willing to suffer and die what they mean is that they are willing to hurt and kill us. pic.twitter.com/wV7Kuym6E3— Zack Malitz (@ZackMalitz) February 17, 2021
On Tuesday evening, Abbott told FOX that the crisis proves the Green New Deal “would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”
The Green New Deal is a sweeping set of environmental and economic policy proposals seeking to mitigate the effects of climate change. Advocates say shifting from a gas-dependent grid to one powered by solar and wind would help to prevent future extreme weather events.
In response to Abbott's interview, the progressive Sunrise Movement challenged the governor’s take.
“States across the USA and countries around the world rely on renewable energy all through the winter, in much colder climates,” the political action organization said in a tweet. “Governor Abbott is lying in defense of his fossil fuel lobbyists, and people are dying because of it. He should resign.”
States across the USA and countries around the world rely on renewable energy all through the winter, in much colder climates.— Sunrise Movement ???? (@sunrisemvmt) February 17, 2021
Governor Abbott is lying in defense of his fossil fuel lobbyists, and people are dying because of it.
He should resign.https://t.co/Svu0rI73pU https://t.co/qU9n2uvczG
Many energy experts also disagree with Republicans’ claims. Of all energy sources, gas is the one “failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Texas Tribune.
Daniel Cohan, a power grid expert and civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University, agreed. He tweeted that politicians are misleading the public when they blame renewables for being the root of Texas’ blackouts.
Cohan continued that Texas is in an energy systems crisis, which is a much larger problem with far-reaching implications. It’s an issue that the state’s power grid manager, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), can’t fix alone.
“That means that as investigations occur — as they must, for the worst winter blackouts in Texas history, not just uncomfortable but deadly for too many of my fellow Texans — we need to look at systemic failures across energy systems, supply & demand, & energy/water nexus too,” Cohan wrote.
That means that as investigations occur -- as they must, for the worst winter blackouts in Texas history, not just uncomfortable but deadly for too many of my fellow Texans -- we need to look at systemic failures across energy systems, supply & demand, & energy/water nexus too.— Daniel Cohan (@cohan_ds) February 17, 2021
As criticism rolled in, Abbott backtracked during a press conference on Wednesday. When a reporter asked about his comments, the governor said he'd meant that "if we relied solely on green energy, that would be a challenge."
He added, "But in Texas, we do not rely solely on green energy. We have access to all sources of energy."
Jillson said it’s not like this crisis hasn’t happened here before; in 2011, Texas also experienced rolling blackouts brought on by extreme cold weather.
Still, Jillson said he isn’t optimistic the state’s politicians will push for broad systemic changes. In Texas, the Republican majority is reluctant to spend state money, or to ask private entities to do the same.
The state will have to decide whether the pain residents are feeling right now — and the pain that occurs every 10 years — is worth the cost of doing business in Texas, Jillson said.
“I don’t think we’ll learn a lesson this time,” he said. “I think the governor and his cohorts will just dance faster here for a couple of months until the subject changes.”
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