AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday, the Texas Railroad Commission passed new weatherization rules for natural gas facilities in the state. But not before the chairman defended the industry against what he called attacks “by the media and the far left” and discussing the role of renewable energy in the state’s epic energy failure.
“If you add unreliable wind and solar generation and subtract reliable natural gas generation, that equals a less reliable electric grid. Until we fix this fuzzy math, we’re simply putting a band-aid on the problem,” said RRC Chairman Wayne Christian.
But in its staff report, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found natural gas fuel supply was one of the main causes of outages in Texas and the South Central United States.
“A confluence of two causes, both triggered by cold weather, led to the Event, part of a recurring pattern for the last ten years. First, generating units unprepared for cold weather failed in large numbers. Second, in the wake of massive natural gas production declines, and to a lesser extent, declines in natural gas processing, the natural gas fuel supply struggled to meet both residential heating load and generating unit demand for natural gas, exacerbated by the increasing reliance by generating units on natural gas,” reads page 11 of the report.
In the meeting, Christian insisted oil and gas have been unfairly blamed for the winter storm. He has been an outspoken advocate for the oil and gas industries and against renewable energy plans such as the Green New Deal and Paris Climate Agreement, according to his official website.
“Instead of being used as a learning opportunity about the importance of the grid reliability, the winter storm has been used as a weapon by the media and the far left to attack fossil fuels and any elected official that places any blame on wind or solar unreliable energy,” he said.
University of Texas energy expert Joshua Rhodes also said while we did see some wind turbines fail during the winter storm, the state expected to lean more on natural gas.
“There’s blame to go around everywhere, and it’s not necessarily that we’re going after, you know, any particular technology. It’s just that, you know, if you’re relying on something to be there… we need it to be there,” said Rhodes, an associate researcher at the Webber Energy Group at UT.
He said the federal report also found of the generators that experienced outages, 58% were gas, 27% were wind and 2% were solar.
Rhodes explained Texas relies on two different systems in the winter.
“We have all of our power plants, but we also have the fuel that we use to support those power plants.” He said during the times the state did look toward solar energy, it outperformed expectations. He said wind energy performance fluctuated.
“During an event like this, we actually don’t rely on those resources to produce that much energy during winter events, but we do rely on our thermal fleet — our coal, natural gas, nuclear fleet — to be able to be available during those times,” Rhodes explained. “And we incorporate that into our planning and our models. And so it’s not surprising that not all of the wind showed up, but neither did all of the gas or the coal or the nuclear.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Christian also said incentives for renewable energy have resulted in less money for natural gas.
“Preferential treatment and subsidies for unreliable wind and solar power have stifled investment in reliable natural gas generation,” he said. “Why build natural gas power plants when politicians in Austin guarantee your green thumb to be profitable, no matter what?”
Rhodes, who is also with the Texas Solar Energy Society, said natural gas also gets subsidies, and he doesn’t think more of those plants would have helped during the winter storm.
“During Winter Storm Uri, we weren’t able to get natural gas to all of the power plants that we had,” Rhodes explained. “So, I’m not convinced necessarily that having had more natural gas plants would have meant we would have more electricity. I just think we would have had more natural gas plants that we couldn’t get natural gas to.”
Christian said he does believe the RRC bears some responsibility and supports the rules the group passed on Tuesday requiring many, but not all, natural gas producers to weatherize facilities.
The commissioners deemed those that are “critical” must be able to keep power on in the event of rolling blackouts. Those that are “less critical” will still be able to opt-out of weatherization and pay a $150 fee.
The RRC said those critical facilities must now share their information with electric utilities, who will use that information “to plan load-shed procedures during an energy emergency,” according to a press release.