What Texas’s Crisis Means for Virginia

by Peter Galuszka

The Texas freeze and ensuing energy disaster has clear lessons for Virginia as it sorts out its energy future.

Yet much of the media coverage in Virginia and certainly on Bacon’s Rebellion conveniently leaves out pertinent observations.

The statewide freeze in Texas completely fouled up the entire energy infrastructure as natural gas pipelines and oil wells stopped working, coal at generating plants iced over and wind turbines stopped working.

Making matters much worse, Texas opted not to have power links with other states. Its “free market” system of purchasing power meant utilities skimped on maintenance and adding weather-relative preventive measures such as making sure key generation components were weatherproof.

The result? Scores dead and millions without electricity. Here are more points worth considering in Virginia:

Climate Change is For Real

It is a shame that so much comment in Bacon’s Rebellion is propaganda from people who are or were paid, either directly or indirectly, by the fossil fuel industry. Thus, the blog diminishes the importance of dealing with climate change in a progressive way. 

The fact is, carbon dioxide emissions have made the Arctic regions warmer, flip-flopping the polar vortex around. Many believe that’s what caused record low temperatures in Texas. Oceans are warmer, hurricanes are more powerful, deluges of rain last for days and animal and fish migration habits have shifted.

According to Bloomberg:

“Is the Texas cold blast connected to climate change? “I have argued a definitive yes,” said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, part of risk analytics firm Verisk, who’s spent more than a decade studying what warming across the Arctic means to weather for the rest of the world. “

According to MSN:

“The cascade of failures in Texas signals what is perhaps the greatest challenge ahead in this climate-changed world: accepting that business as usual isn’t working. Across the planet, humans have built civilization to withstand the vagaries of a 20th century climate. The extreme weather events of the 21st century will look nothing like those that came before—and hundreds of years of past preparation will not suffice. “The future is not going to be like the past,” says Melissa Finucane, a co-director of the Rand Climate Resilience Center. If we could just plan a little better, we could anticipate some of these problems.” (note: Ms. Finucane has been associated with the Environmental Defense Fund)

When Libertarianism Fails

Texas is Exhibit A of how not to handle electricity generation. In recent years, state regulators, politicians and utility executives went for a “free market” pricing system for electricity. Homeowners and businesses could buy it at a wholesale rate or at retail.

This means that when the weather’s fine, consumers enjoy cheaper prices. But when catastrophe strikes, some Texans have been hit with short-term bills of as much as $17,000, according to Vox. It’s a double-whammy because if people have no power because of the deep freeze, their electricity could be cut off for lack of payment.

According to media reports, Texas chose this payment method to avoid a 1935 federal law that arranged states to swap power. The business elite in Texas wanted to avoid federal regulators from looking over their system.

This approach was used in Virginia Beach when Interstate 64 was built. For years, I-64 ended miles from the oceanfront and the freeway turned into a toll road. Why? The rumor years ago was that Virginia Beach leaders did not want federal regulators exploring their road construction contracts.

In Texas, the libertarian creed of the “free market” and less regulation resulted in utilities skimping on maintenance to make bigger profits and customers stuck with astronomical bills, not to mention the loss of work income and the deaths of scores of people.

Don’t Blame Renewables

Republican leaders in Texas were quick to blame the shift to renewables as the reason for the energy shortages. Even our esteemed Jim Bacon took that bait and swam with it. To his credit, he revised his blog post after new facts were available.

The Washington Post has reported that wind turbines account for only 10 percent of generating capacity in Texas during the winter. In warmer months it can be double that. So, how can wind turbines be the cause of the catastrophe?

Some on this blog complain that Gov. Ralph Northam and Dominion Energy Virginia officials are way off mark with plans to develop a large windmill colony off Virginia Beach. They claim wind is unreliable

Well, as news accounts have it, windmill turbines work just fine in Antarctica.

It Is Time To Rethink Nukes

Virginia has four nuclear generation units. Despite some problems over the years, they have been generally reliable producers of electricity with no carbon emissions.

The problem is that the units go back to the 1960s and 1970s and are getting old. Many fear the release of radiation and new units are exorbitantly expensive.

Even so, newer, smaller reactors may be available to help with reliability as Virginia moves to a goal of being carbon free with generation by 2050.

Meanwhile, there is a movement growing within the national environmental community about accepting nuclear power. For more detail, here is a piece just out in the New Yorker.

Thank God For Joe Biden

The last four years saw the crippling, illogical influence of Donald Trump who has to be the worst and most corrupt president in U.S. history.

He rolled back environmental protections, throttled the Environmental Protection Agency and boosted fossil fuel without much traction.

Biden has taken major steps early in his administration to undo Trump’s incompetence. Biden has rejoined the Paris Accord on a global effort to stem carbon pollution and has taken other worthy steps like ending fossil fuel production on federal lands. He has recognized some pipeline projects as unneeded dinosaurs.

In sum, Virginia should study Texas and be thankful that it has a regulated pricing system for power and can easily tap neighboring states as needed. The Old Dominion should stay the course with boosting renewables and ignore the critics.