When his state was hit by a huge power outage crisis that left millions of people without heat in freezing temperatures, the Texas governor went on the television waves to blame it.
Its main target was renewable energy, suggesting that the failure of wind and solar power led to a system-wide breakdown.
“It just goes to show that fossil fuels are necessary for both Texas and other states to ensure we can heat our homes in winter and cool our homes in summer,” said Governor Greg Abbott. Talking about Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News. Other conservative talk show hosts had already taken up the topic.
Wind power wasn’t primarily responsible for the Texas blackouts, however. The main problem was cold temperatures that halted natural gas production, which is responsible for most of Texas’s electricity supply. Wind only makes up a fraction – around 7 percent, according to estimates – of the state’s total power generation mix.
While cold weather grips the center of the nation causing widespread power outages, freezing temperatures, slippery roads, and weather-related deaths, Governor Abbott’s voice was one of the most prominent in a chorus of political figures this week that quickly prevailed that green energy sources like wind and sun contributed to the blackouts. The conversations, largely led by Conservatives, have revived a longstanding campaign claiming that emissions-generating fossil fuels are too valuable a resource to be abandoned.
The effort came despite the fact that fossil fuel burning – which is causing climate change by releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to warm the planet – is helping to make the phenomenon of increasingly dangerous hurricanes and other storms, as well as more unusual weather conditions.
“Green Energy Failure” read the banner at the bottom of the screen of Fox News’ article on power outages. Social media posts ridiculed renewable energies as “unreliable”. A Wall Street Journal editorial called for more reliance on coal to withstand freezing temperatures. Some politicians and analysts are spreading lies and disinformation to advance their fossil fuel defense.
“Every time we have problems with the power grid, be it last summer in California or Texas, people try to arm this for their pet project, which is fossil fuel,” said Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work has focused on the struggle over energy policy. “Our infrastructure cannot handle the extreme weather events that these fossil fuels ironically cause.”
The politicization of the cold weather that pervades vast swathes of the country is unfolding as President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made tackling climate change a central tenet of his administration. With an extensive series of executive orders in his early days in office, Mr. Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and, among other things, imposed a moratorium on fossil fuel drilling in federal states.
“Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and changing climates will be essential in creating millions of well-paid union jobs, creating a clean energy economy, and achieving the President’s goal of zero emissions by 2050 Achieve net future, “said Vedant Patel, a White House deputy press secretary.
Scientists are still analyzing what role man-made climate change might have played in the current round of winter storms, but it is clear that global warming poses future threats to electricity systems across the country, with predictions of more intense heat waves and water scarcity. Many power grids are not equipped to withstand these extreme conditions, which leaves them exposed to widespread failure.
Such was the case in Texas, where millions of people suffered power outages. The networks in the Midwest and Southwest were also tight. Dozens of people died in the storm or its aftermath.
When Governor Abbott appeared on Fox News and said, “This shows how deadly the Green New Deal would be to the United States,” New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the architects of the proposed Green New Deal, represented , shot back on Twitter. “Gov. Abbott needs to get his fingers off TV and start helping people, ”she wrote. “Then he has to read a book about the energy supply of his own state.”
Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host, had a similar message on fossil fuels earlier this week. “Global warming is no longer a pressing issue here,” he said, speaking of the week’s cold weather, citing the discredited claim that cold weather refutes the world is warming dangerously. “The windmills froze, so the power grid went out,” he said.
While the blades of some Texas wind turbines are frozen, wind power is estimated to be only about 7 percent of the state’s total capacity at this time of year, also because utilities generally lower their expectations of wind generation in winter.
Most of the power loss in Texas came from natural gas utilities, according to regulators, as the pipelines were frozen, making it difficult for the plants to get the fuel they needed. Production from coal and nuclear power plants also declined. A similar phenomenon occurred in Kansas and other states.
Jesse Jenkins, a power systems engineer at Princeton University, said on Twitter: “In short, ALL generations are hammered.”
However, fossil fuel proponents are using the current crisis to emphasize why they believe fossil fuels need to be part of the overall mix of options for powering the grid.
“The anti-carbon movement really didn’t care about reliability,” said Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, who shared his views on a lengthy Twitter thread.
Wind power has long been a critical target in America. Some opponents blame turbines for disrupting the view, taking up land for hunting, or moving jobs away from the fossil fuel industry. This week’s Texas crisis has created a new focal point for some of these political messages.
“We have Joe Biden, who is kind and warm in his fossil-fuel White House and sings Kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans freeze to death,” said Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado who put a lockdown earlier this year in place Re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement.
Ms. Boebert mentioned a photo that was repeatedly shared on social media this week of wind turbines that she said was in Texas and appeared to have been de-iced by helicopter with a fossil fuel substance. However, the picture was debunked by the Gizmodo website: The photo is from a test on turbines in Sweden seven years ago.
In Kansas, one of the few states that rely heavily on wind power, the blades of some turbines also froze. However, just like in Texas, the bigger problem was that the state’s freezing temperatures stopped the supply of natural gas to fossil fuel power plants.
That didn’t stop some Republicans from targeting green energy as the main culprit.
“Wind turbines are frozen. Solar is useless, ”wrote Mike Thompson, a Kansas senator, on his Facebook page. “That is why the expansion of renewable energies is dangerous.”
In an interview, Mr. Thompson called coal “our savior” and said the country must adopt fossil fuels. “Get rid of everyone in such a frozen state at your own risk,” said Thompson, a former television weatherman and climate change denier.
Kansas Democrat Brandon Woodard, a Democrat, recalled sitting in two layers of sweatpants in his apartment with the epic cold outside his door on Monday when he emailed blackouts from there became a component.
“I hope you can explain to me how the state will prevent these so-called rolling failures from becoming the norm,” the email said.
Mr Woodard said the email, coupled with this week’s freeze and power outages, was intended to serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers to act.
“So we need to talk about being resilient to face changing climate patterns,” said Woodard. “I don’t think this will be the last time there will be blackouts.”
Lisa Friedman contributed to the coverage.