OPINION: A misleading portrayal of power failures and needs
Rachel Dawson's commentary published in the Feb. 25, 2021, edition of The Times was misleading at best, containing cherry-picked figures suggesting that renewable energy was the majority (or entirely) the reason for the failures of the Texas electric grid.
In fact, wind generates 20% of the total electricity in Texas (according to Reuters, not the 25% claimed), natural gas 47.4%, coal 20.3% and solar just 1.1%. For the scale of the power outages experienced in Texas to occur, more than just wind would have had to have been affected, and in fact, this is exactly what occurred, according to the Texas Tribune, quoting ERCOT officials stating that nearly double (30 gigawatts versus 16 gigawatts) the generation capacity lost due to renewables was offline due to thermal generation failures (natural gas, coal and nuclear).
These and other news reports have stated that Texas energy producers failed to invest in technology to remove water from natural gas to prevent these types of failures from occurring. Clearly, natural gas successfully supplies power in colder locations, such as the USA's northern-tier states. It can also be noted that wind turbines with anti-freezing measures in place are successfully operated in these same areas and those such as Iowa and Wyoming.
The reason that the Texas grid failed so spectacularly is two-fold: First, the Texas grid is deregulated, and as stated by officials in Texas, this means that power producers there had (and have) little incentive to invest in preparing for extreme weather events such as this which will become more common as we progress on our worldwide path of climate change. This is also the reason that the electricity prices increased in such spectacular fashion as noted by Ms. Dawson — the deregulated Texas energy market allows for variable pricing of electricity, something that is not allowed in Oregon's regulated market (with the exception of programs such as Time of Use).
The second reason for the Texas failure is that the grid there is not interconnected to neighboring states in the same way that other states' distribution is, including in Oregon. Had it been (and it is in places, such as El Paso), some of the loss of power from in-state production would have been made up by regional power production.
One irony of the situation in Texas is that the same conservative lawmakers who have been in control of the Texas legislature and energy grid for several decades are now calling for government intervention to protect consumers from the variable pricing which they helped to implement — at the expense of the taxpayers.
It is true that our energy portfolio in Oregon needs a mix of energy sources to be reliable, but it is false to suggest that renewable energy cannot provide the majority of our needs, and there is nothing to suggest that we cannot operate successfully without coal.
As noted by Ms. Dawson, the Loss of Load Probability figures will likely need to be adjusted upwards with the reality of climate change. As illustrated in the recently published Fifth Oregon Climate Assessment, we can expect to experience in the region of 20 additional days each summer over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the Willamette Valley, and this will result in much greater electricity demand.
Kevin M. Green is a Hillsboro resident.
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