Green Energy Was MIA Amid Raging Winter Storms And Higher Energy Demand
Renewable energy was unable to generate sufficient power to meet elevated energy demand during Christmas Eve snowstorms that pummeled the northeastern U.S. and Texas.
Although wind turbines, solar panels, and other forms of green energy have been consistently touted by the Biden administration as reliable alternatives to fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, renewables accounted for a small percentage of grids’ power output after snowstorms and a “bomb cyclone” nearly caused power outages in New England and Texas. [emphasis, links added]
Grid operators in both areas were forced to burn oil, a fuel that is significantly less efficient than natural gas, to avoid power outages as renewable energy sources were stymied by the harsh weather.
“Fossil fuels are needed to keep us alive and we see this when climate idealism meets the reality of the weather,” Larry Behrens, communications director for Power the Future, a nonprofit that advocates for American energy workers, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
When the cyclone, dubbed “Storm Elliott,” caused blizzards in New England on Dec. 24, New England grid operator ISO NE declared an energy emergency level 1 due to potential power shortages and called on its customers to voluntarily cut energy consumption.
“People hear so much about renewables and think they are a huge portion of the energy mix when they aren’t, especially not in New England,” Meredith Angwin, author of “Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid,” told the DCNF.
Angwin also noted that while natural gas is normally used as a stopgap to supply the region with energy during the winter, gas shortages have persisted throughout most of the year and have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
New England tends to use oil to generate electricity when natural gas prices are high, causing imports of the fuel to drop, ISO NE Lead Communications Specialist Matt Kakley told the DCNF.
On Dec. 24, the Department of Energy declared an energy emergency in Texas and gave the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) permission to forgo environmental restrictions and burn fuel oil to prevent energy shortages, according to a department order.
Wind, solar and thermal energy were able to meet 22% of Texas’ energy demand at the time; however, the renewables were unable to operate at full capacity due to the weather, causing DOE to allow ERCOT to use oil to keep the lights on.
Even though natural gas is the most widely used form of energy in the U.S., temperatures became so cold that pipelines and wells transporting gas began to freeze, straining energy supplies in Texas, New England, and several other parts of the country, Bloomberg reported.
“Though the variability of wind and solar [is] well known and discussed a lot, these freezes also show the flimsiness of the gas system,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told Bloomberg.
Wind power is the second-largest source of energy in Texas and generated 20% of the state’s power in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, wind turbines do not operate well in cold weather or windy conditions as they can be destroyed if wind speeds are too high, Angwin noted.
“They have a capacity factor of about 30% … that is the percentage of time that they can operate,” she said.
An increase in coal plant retirements and a lack of natural gas pipelines could create long-term vulnerabilities for the grids across the country, according to a December report produced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, an energy watchdog.
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