During the Texas blackout corporate media outlets couldn’t publish their fictional stories fast enough. “Wind and solar were not the problem!” declared the New York Times, USA Today, ABC News, the Associated Press, NPR, and countless others. The media outlets that shamelessly shill for a renewable energy nirvana can always be counted on to misinform.
The media proclaimed that wind and solar weren’t the problem because these unreliable sources aren’t expected to produce much power during winter months in the first place. That’s a small truth wrapped in a big fat lie. From February 8 to the 16th electricity output from wind was down 93 percent. On the two most critical days of the freeze, the 15th and 16th, wind power was almost non-existent. However, it is true this pitiful performance was not a major factor in the outages. That bit of truth created a window for deception.
According to our corporate media, the blackouts were caused by failures in natural gas, coal, and nuclear generation. Again, a tiny truth wrapped in a whopper of a lie. Yes, there were frozen pipes and a number of other glitches. However, the frozen pipe problem was largely caused by Ercot, the company that runs the grid. As Ercot cut power to protect the grid from damage, it cut off electricity to natural gas production and processing units. With no power to pressurize the pipes, they froze. This was a management failure, not a problem with natural gas-fired power. In spite of Ercot’s mismanagement of the system, natural gas delivered 450 percent more power from the 8th to the 16th. Yes, 450 percent more. And, this happened even as natural gas providers were delivering a record amount of gas to residents for home heating.
I could go on and on about grid mismanagement before and during the crisis. For example, Ercot allowed some coal and natural gas generators to go offline for maintenance even as weather forecasters were warning about the historic dimension of the big freeze. But talking about these issues distracts us from the giant problems that have been building up in Texas for more than 15 years.
What wind and solar advocates in the mainstream press ignore (or probably don’t even know) is that the electric grid demands a high level of consistency. It operates within a narrow margin at 60 hertz. If power is even .5 percent above or below 60 Hz the grid begins to fail. Wind and solar are wildly erratic. The large swings in power output test grid operators ability to maintain this small operating space. Dealing with the inconsistent nature of wind and solar is a manageable problem when they provide a small percentage of the power supply. But Texas has increased its wind generation from 2.9 percent in 2007 to 25 percent today. Solar went from next to nothing to 2.38 percent. That’s an enormous amount of unreliability for a grid that demands precision.
The only way to manage this problem is to maintain a large reserve margin of power that can be called upon at a moment’s notice. When electricity from wind and solar drop quickly as they regularly do, reserve power from natural gas fills the gap. A healthy reserve margin is 15 percent. But with wind claiming such a large percentage of generation in Texas, a larger margin (i.e. 25 percent) would be prudent. The reserve margin in Texas is only about 7.5 percent.
Setting mismanagement aside, this is the key problem with the Texas grid. There’s too much erratic wind and solar and not nearly enough reliable baseload power from coal, nuclear, and natural gas. The reserve margin should be at least doubled and probably tripled to accommodate unreliable wind and solar that are already part of the system. Understanding this reality takes some research and deeper thinking, but our corporate media are either not interested or are incapable of learning about the technical aspects of how the electrical grid functions.
True journalism is hard to find these days. What could be more important to the function of our modern world than electricity? And yet, corporate media are more interested in telling small truths wrapped in giant lies. The consequences be damned.