Politicians are neither gods nor saints. Because they are not gods, they often make bad political decisions. Because they are not saints, they often try to shirk responsibility for their failures, claiming either that they did as well as anyone could have or that someone else deserves the blame. .
For a while, the politics surrounding the power outages that swept across Texas seemed pretty normal. To be sure, state leaders pursued reckless policies that set the stage for disaster, and then attempted to evade responsibility. But while their behavior was reprehensible, it was reprehensible as we have seen time and time again over the years.
However, that changed about a day after the severity of the disaster became evident. Republican politicians and the right-wing media, unhappy with a banal blame shift, instead united around a malicious lie – the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the country’s power grid. Texas, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for millions of people freezing in the dark, even though conservative Republicans have ruled the state for a generation.
This is not a normal political fault. It is the energy policy equivalent of claiming that the January 6 insurgency was a false flag Antifa operation – a brutal denial of reality, not only to escape responsibility, but to demonize opponents. And this is another indicator of the moral and intellectual collapse of American conservatism.
The underlying story of what happened in Texas seems pretty clear. Like many states, Texas has a partially deregulated electricity market, but deregulation has gone further there than elsewhere. In particular, unlike other states, Texas has chosen not to push power companies to install spare capacity to deal with possible emergencies. This made electricity cheaper in normal times, but left the system vulnerable if something went wrong.
Texas officials also ignored warnings about the risks associated with extreme cold. After a 2011 cold snap left millions of Texans in the dark, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state to winterize its power plants with insulation, heat pipes and other measures. But Texas, which deliberately cut its power grid from the rest of the country precisely to evade federal regulations, has only partially implemented the recommendations.
And the frost came.
An electrical network ill-prepared to cope with extreme cold has suffered multiple points of failure. The biggest problems seem to come from the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze. It wasn’t just a matter of turning off the lights, either; people are freezing too, as many homes in Texas have electric heat. Many homes without electric heat depend, yes, on natural gas. We are facing enormous suffering and, possibly, a considerable number of deaths.
So Texas is facing a natural disaster compounded by major policy mistakes – and the officials who made those mistakes should be held accountable.
Instead of accepting responsibility, however, officials under Governor Greg Abbott, backed by virtually the entire right-wing media complex, have chosen to blame green energy, especially wind power.
Now it is true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it is only a small fraction of the total. But it is not because Texas – Texas! – is run by environmental freaks. This is because these days wind turbines are a cost effective source of power wherever it is windy, and Texas is windy.
It’s also true that the extreme cold forced the shutdown of some of the state’s underwintered wind turbines, but as I said, it happened to Texas power sources across the board, with the worst issues involving the natural gas.
Why, then, the total effort to wrongly lay the blame for wind power?
The incentives are obvious. Attacking wind power is a way for elected officials and free market ideologues to shirk responsibility for botched deregulation; it’s a way to please the interests of fossil fuels, which give the vast majority of their political contributions to Republicans; and since progressives tend to favor renewable energies, it is one way of making the libs their own. And all of this goes hand in hand with denial of climate change.
But why do they think they can get away with such an obvious lie? The answer is surely that those who spread the lie know that they are operating in a post-truth political landscape. When two-thirds of Republicans believe Antifa was involved in the assault on Capitol Hill, basically selling a bogus story about the Texas electricity disaster is practically a snap.
And if you’re expecting a change in the policies that helped bring about this catastrophe, don’t count on it – at least while Texas remains Republican. Considering everything else we’ve seen, the best bet is that the demonization of wind power, and not a realistic understanding of what really happened, will rule politics in the future.
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