I am writing to you from Texas, so I will try to finish this column before the power goes out.
As you may have heard, we’ve had an unusually powerful winter storm here, and despite the fact that one in three households owns a high-performance four-wheel drive pickup truck, Texas has stalled. When some ice settled on the highway, half a dozen people lost their lives in the 135-car crash that followed.
Meanwhile, after years of mocking Californians for their self-imposed energy problems, Texans are experiencing continuous blackouts, and a host of blackouts that refuse to continue, but stubbornly stay in place, because our power grid cannot keep up with the peak in demand.
Like California, Texas’s energy shortage is largely artificial: The state produces an extraordinary amount of natural gas, but there has been a woeful lack of investment in infrastructure ranging from pipelines to winterizing equipment in utilities. public. You may not have the fuel at all if you can’t get it where it’s needed or use it once you’re there.
Texas has invested in renewable energy, especially wind. These have performed especially poorly: The state’s power grid regulator reports that while wind and solar still make up a relatively small portion of the state’s overall energy mix, they accounted for 40 percent of closed capacity. from the storm: Of the 45 gigawatts that were turned off, 18 gigawatts were from wind and solar power.
The wind is in many ways a good bet for Texas, especially in the western and northern parts of the state, the windstorm Saudi Arabia. The sunny areas of the state also generate a fair amount of solar energy, which is also welcome. The problem is that these power sources are not reliable. Solar panels don’t work with a couple of inches of snow on top of it, and a freezing storm can cause those huge wind turbines to freeze up and stop working. Right now, most of those Texas turbines aren’t working as power sources, they’re modern art.
It may seem perverse to think of global warming when it’s so cold outside, but the situation in Texas speaks directly to that question. There are bona fide disputes over climate policy.
The left wants to use the threat of climate change as a license to remake the entire economy and government along its preferred lines: energy policy, yes, but also everything from transportation to architecture, and from labor law to foreign relations And trade. The argument for replacing electricity from natural gas with wind and solar energy is that reducing our use of fossil fuels could, if the practice were widespread enough, help mitigate the effects of climate change that is already underway.
But there is another way of looking at the matter. If the predictions are correct and we are prepared to experience more extreme weather events, including unusually powerful winter storms, then it may be more advisable to invest in adaptation than in the much more uncertain project of severely limiting greenhouse gas emissions around the world. , a global project. an effort that would require the voluntary and honest cooperation of countries like India and China, which they are unlikely to comply with.
We have a lot of natural gas in the United States, but we have an infrastructure that is inadequate, making much of that fuel useless in a situation like this. We need more oil and gas pipeline capacity rather than less, a problem the Biden administration is on the wrong side of. Gas-fired power plants are much cleaner than coal-fired plants and depend on a fuel that we have in abundance. We should be adding large-scale gas generation capacity. And instead of trying to figure out how to run a modern industrial economy on pixie dust and unicorn energy, we could invest some of that money to make sure the infrastructure we already have works in the conditions we can expect.
Of course, we could add a lot of electrical capacity at a very low carbon cost, if we wanted to – that means more nuclear power, which, unlike wind and solar, provides a reliable generation baseline. The new flexible reactors that Bill Gates’ TerraPower is developing could be a game changer, and the challenges to nuclear power are more a matter of finance and regulation than science and engineering. Making nuclear power easier to get up and running is something that can be addressed through policy.
Climate change is not, despite the insistence of some of my conservative friends, a hoax. But admitting reality is not the same as admitting the far-reaching schemes of the left, including the so-called Green New Deal. Instead, we should look to make smart, inexpensive decisions that maximize the use of desirable resources we already have at our fingertips, balancing environmental concerns with other pressing questions, such as being able to keep Americans’ homes heated and their lights on when it falls. some snow in San Antonio.
Kevin D. Williamson’s book “Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America'” (Regnery) is out now.