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DAVID BLACKMON: Wind And Solar Keep Failing Texans At The Worst Possible Times

(Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

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David Blackmon David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.
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Back in June, after Texas power grid managers at ERCOT had come perilously close on June 20 to lacking sufficient available generation capacity on an especially hot day, the nation’s legacy news platforms coordinated a narrative claiming that “solar and batteries saved the day” for Texas power users. The narrative contended that, were it not for all the solar and backup battery additions to the Texas grid in recent years, ERCOT may have needed to implement rolling blackouts after a pair of natural gas facilities unexpectedly went offline during the day.

There was some truth to that narrative. There is no question, for example, that most of the generation additions to the Texas grid in recent years have consisted of solar, as Texas power generators continue their decade-long refusal to build adequate dispatchable thermal generation. As well, the inventory of stationary backup installations continues to expand, although its role in “saving the day” was ridiculously overstated in the embarrassing media stories about that day. (RELATED: DAWN BUCKINGHAM: Can Texas Stop Biden From Building A Massive Wind Farm Off Its Coast?)

The role of solar was exaggerated as well, given that, in the real heat of that June day, ERCOT’s records showed natural gas was still providing 58% of total generation, while solar was kicking in at about 14% (a record high for solar at that point, which should be applauded) as the state’s vaunted wind industry was only generating a paltry 6%, about 1/7th of its nameplate capacity. Storage, meanwhile, was a near-rounding error at just 6/10ths of 1%, but that tiny contribution was enough to win glowing headlines from a fawning media establishment.

ERCOT/David Blackmon

The Grid managers at ERCOT again faced near-emergency conditions on August 24, and this time the legacy media platforms probably won’t be spinning any glorious narrative about wind and batteries saving the day. Or heck, maybe they will – the rank audacity of these narratives only becomes bolder with time.

Again, as was the case on June 20, the near emergency was really caused by the fact that the wind pretty much stopped blowing in West Texas, where most of the state’s wind installations sit, at an inopportune time. Indeed, an examination of the ERCOT generation mix for late afternoon on August 24 is near-identical to the late afternoon mix of June 20. Natural gas again bore 58% of the load; solar again right at 14%; wind slightly better at 6.7%, still a tiny fraction of its supposed capacity; and storage remains a .6% rounding error.

ERCOT/David Blackmon

Initial media reports got it right: A story by NBC5 news out of Dallas carried a sub-head reading “ERCOT forecasts show a high potential to enter emergency operations Thursday evening due to low wind-power generation and high demand.” The initial story filed by Reuters also got it right: The problem is low wind, not anything related to natural gas.

Of course, the initial stories put out by the media back on June 20 also got the story largely right, because those stories were based on real data supplied in real time by ERCOT, as they should be. It was only a few days later, after certain Texas college professors and renewable advocates got their talking points together that the overarching, contrary narrative crediting solar and batteries and ignoring wind’s failure spread across the always-cooperative legacy outlets. 

Whatever the media spin turns out to be this time, the reality for the Texas grid is this: solar and wind are fine, but they are always going to fail when the weather turns really bad and consumers need electricity the most. As one wind power advocate testified to a 2021 Texas legislative hearing in the wake of Winter Storm Uri, when wind and solar both dropped almost completely off the grid as the storm rolled into the state: Wind power “performed as expected.” (RELATED: DAVID BLACKMON: These Two States Couldn’t Be Any More Different Than When It Comes To Energy Policy)

Texas desperately needs more dispatchable thermal reserve capacity designed to come online to keep lights on and air conditioners/heaters running when other power generation sources fail. That is the main remaining weakness on the ERCOT grid, and it is up to power generators to step up to the plate after a decade of neglect, media narratives notwithstanding.

David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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