TEXAS VIEW: Abbott shouldn’t penalize renewable power providers

THE POINT: The governor’s moves are political with no operational justification.

Southeast Texans would never ignore the plight of other residents in this state, but it’s times like this that we are grateful we are on a different power grid than the rest of Texas. A typical Texas summer is just getting started, but already there are fears that the state’s main power grid won’t be able to provide enough electricity to keep homes and businesses air-conditioned. That’s concerning enough, but some of the solutions ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott won’t help the problem.

Abbott has ordered the Public Utility Commission to make substantial changes to “ensure the reliability of the Texas power grid,” but he wants to rely more on the same power sources that fell short in the February freeze as well as a heat spell in early June.

Abbott wants incentives for traditional power plants fueled by coal or natural gas as well as penalties for renewable power sources such as wind or solar. He wants renewable energy generators to pay additional costs for periods when they don’t provide power to the grid and establish a maintenance schedule for them to supposedly prevent mechanical failures.

Those moves are political, not practical. Abbott, faced with two hard-right challengers for the Republican nomination next year, doesn’t want to be seen as soft on oil or gas — or too friendly to wind or solar power.

There’s no operational justification for these orders, and they ignore the ironic fact that oil-friendly Texas produces more wind power than any other state — 23% of our state’s total and 28% of all wind power in the nation. The state’s wind power is half of the largest power source — 46% from natural gas — but growing every year. Coal produces only 18% of the state’s power, along with 11% from solar plants and 2% from the state’s two nuclear plants.

Abbott and every governor in the nation should encourage more use of non-polluting wind and solar power. Fossil fuels still make up a big part of power production in Texas and most other states, but that probably won’t be true in 20 or 30 years. The worldwide shift toward renewable power is clear, and it can even be less expensive for consumers if developed properly.

In the meantime, if Abbott wants Texas to get through this summer without brownouts, he should be doing all he can to bolster all power providers regardless of their source.

“What we need for reliable electricity isn’t picking winners and losers,” said Daniel Cohan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, “but figuring out better ways for all of these power sources to work together as a better functioning team.”

Another glaring point is that the recent regular session of the Legislature that ended May 31 was supposed to fix this very problem. The February freeze occurred when House and Senate members were gathered in Austin, and they got an earful from angry constituents who didn’t have electricity for days at a time. Abbott himself even proclaimed on June 8, “Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” But a brief heat spell in early June brought back the same capacity problems that occurred in the winter.

Most of the Texas power grid is governed by the (ironically named) Electric Reliability Council of Texas — ERCOT. Southeast Texas operates under a separate grid, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO. But even though the two power systems are not directly connected, what happens in the rest of Texas can affect our region. We endured brief power blackouts in February instead of multi-day outages, and while that was bearable it was hardly ideal.

State officials shouldn’t play political games with our power supply. We need more of it, and more reliability from it. This summer, consumers won’t care whether it comes from a natural gas plant or a wind farm, and neither should politicans.

Beaumont Enterprise