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• Wind energy accounts for 10% of the winter energy supply in the Texas power grid. The failure of other energy sources, including coal, natural gas and nuclear, have played a larger role in the outage.
• The Green New Deal did not play a role in the outage.
More than 4 million Texans were forced to bear single-digit temperatures without heat or power this week when a polar vortex crippled the state’s energy system.
On Feb. 16, Fox News host Tucker Carlson placed the blame for the outage on renewable energy, paying particular attention to frozen windmills.
"Unbeknownst to most people, the Green New Deal came to Texas, the power grid in the state became totally reliant on windmills. Then it got cold and the windmills broke, because that’s what happens in the Green New Deal," said Carlson during his self-titled primetime show.
“totally reliant on windmills” pic.twitter.com/xIfQPg0IlB— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 17, 2021
The Green New Deal is a proposed House resolution that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced in 2019. Broadly, the bill seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address problems like economic inequality and racial injustice. However, the bill didn’t pass the House; if it did, it would have been a non-binding resolution without the power of law.
PolitiFact reached out to several experts with knowledge of the Texas energy system. All of them strongly pushed back on Carlson’s assertions that renewable energy played a central role in the outage.
"The claim is devoid of facts and removed from reality," said Samuel Newell, an electricity expert at the Brattle Group, which has run detailed analyses of the Texas power grid.
Fox News didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nearly half of the state’s wind turbine capacity went offline during the cold weather because the turbines weren’t built to operate in freezing temperatures like those in other states. But Texas’ largest source of electric power, gas-fired plants, also cratered in the extreme cold, along with coal-fired plants. Everything from frozen gas supply lines to frozen control instruments pushed down generating capacity.
"The idea that wind is responsible for these outages is actually just absurd," said Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at UT Austin. "It doesn’t match the facts on the ground, and it’s not what any energy expert would say."
During a Feb. 16 call with reporters, Dan Woodfin, a senior director at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages more than 90% of the state’s electric load, said most of the problem was with the gas-fired plants.
"It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system," he said.
In fact, wind energy accounts for 10% of ERCOT’s winter power-generating capacity, said Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor at Rice University. The rest depends primarily on thermal sources like natural gas, coal and nuclear.
As Webber put it, Texas is "in a gas-dominated energy system."
During the outage, all sources of power generation in Texas were operating beneath normal levels, including wind. However, Webber said, "the level of failure of the gas system is pretty spectacular."
Newell agreed with Webber, saying that the primary problem is that thermal power plants were not built to withstand the cold. They began to go offline just as freezing temperatures boosted the demand for heating, causing ERCOT to impose rolling blackouts.
On Feb. 16, demand for power skyrocketed nearly 17 gigawatts past normal levels, while thermal generators lost more than 20 gigawatts of power, Newell said. By contrast, wind power output during daily energy peaks was about 2 gigawatts below the 7 gigawatts expected.
"Compared to the loss of thermal power, wind is a sideshow here," he told PolitiFact.
In relative terms, the loss of power caused by malfunctions at thermal power plants was about five or six times larger than the loss caused by frozen wind turbines.
Carlson said, "Unbeknownst to most people, the Green New Deal came to Texas, the power grid in the state became totally reliant on windmills."
This is inaccurate on several levels. Texas’ energy supply is not "totally reliant" on wind energy. The central cause of the outage was a massive failure of thermal energy plants combined with a surge in demand for heat and other forms of power. While renewables are in the spirit of the Green New Deal, it hasn’t been enacted in Texas, or anywhere else.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
Acyn Torabi, Tweet, Feb. 17, 2021
Vox, Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the extreme cold, Feb. 16, 2021
Congress.gov, H. Res. 109
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Wind energy in Alaska
Texas Tribune, Texas largely relies on natural gas for power. It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold, Feb. 16, 2021
ERCOT, Final seasonal assessment for Winter 2020/2021, Nov. 5, 2020
The Washington Post, The Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn’t see the need to prepare for cold weather, Feb. 16, 2021
Email interview with Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor at Rice University, Feb. 17, 2021
Interview with Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources at the University of Texas at Austin, Feb. 17, 2021
Interview with Samuel Newell, Principal at the Brattle Group, Feb. 17, 2021
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