Column: Changing with the climate


The Texas energy crisis was an unmitigated, absolute, complete and total disaster.

Four million people lost power. More than 30 died. And over 100 were poisoned by carbon monoxide trying to stay warm.

In case you’re living under a rock, last Thursday some cold air escaped from the polar vortex, settled over Texas and plunged the Lone Star State into freezing temperatures unseen in over a decade.

Following a 2011 blackout caused by similar conditions, federal regulators warned Texas that its electrical grid was vulnerable, but the state neglected to act.  And although events like these are rare, they are becoming increasingly more common.

 Federalists quickly took aim at the self-regulating system, claiming that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas – the organization operating Texas’s independent electrical grid – should have established more pathways for energy transfers from the eastern and western interconnections, while critics of renewables blamed the shutdown on the state’s large investments in wind energy.

 But the truth is, Texas’s electrical infrastructure crumbled because it wasn’t properly weatherized. 

 Not all energy equipment is created the same. Although the hydraulic systems that power Texas’s traditional and renewable energy assets succumbed to the freezing temperatures, there is winterized electrical infrastructure all over the world, including in other parts of the United States, that could have withstood the storm.

 Intuitively, scientists are saying that these extreme weather events stem from the impending climate crisis, forcing states to consider the implications of climate change when making plans for the future. 

 President Joe Biden has already signed several executive orders on climate and has reentered the US. into the Paris Climate Accord, but this could catalyze an opportunity for him to follow suit on his campaign promises to harden the nation’s electrical grid and connect major cities to giant wind and solar power plants.

 Unfortunately, weatherized infrastructure isn’t cheap. Money for additional transmission lines, battery storage, the burial of power lines, antifreeze and adding heating elements to existing assets, will cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the next half-century.

Energy experts tend to agree that more transmission is needed to link major cities with solar and wind farms, but environmentalists would rather see the implementation of microgrids than additional wires in the ground. Likewise, congressional Republicans are unlikely to support an infrastructure bill riddled with clean energy incentives, but urban conservatives will  support them to make the energy grid more resilient to extreme weather events.

Building microgrids that are less reliant on distant power supplies that can store and share power as needed just might be the lynchpin that brings the whole plan together. 

Bill Gates’ new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” calls for governments to “go for the big stuff;”  meaning, quintupling annual investments in new energy technology and cleaning up industries such as agriculture, steel and cement that consistently degrade our natural environment. But coming up with practical solutions that are economically, socially and politically feasible isn’t as simple as it is for Gates to produce a new book.

Nonetheless, there is a growing consensus that this paradigm shift in our energy policy is long overdue. And the longer we wait to make the change, the more it will hurt the people that need it most.

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