The coldest temperatures in the contiguous states created a “state of emergency” due to a disruption of natural gas delivery. Power plants were shut down, workers sent home, schools closed, and shelters set up for those without heat. This was Thursday, February 3. Many people remained without heat a week later while temperatures reached as low as thirty-degrees-below zero.
This was in New Mexico but other states in the southwest faced rolling blackouts and a variety of energy related emergencies. This same problem could face the nation if we continue down the path we’ve been pursuing for our energy supplies.
Businesses, residents and hospitals received word that there may be natural gas disruptions throughout the day. This did not mean that there was, as many believed, a shortage, but rather rolling blackouts in Texas were causing pressure problems in the pipelines—the delivery system. There may have been enough gas to fire up your cook top, but not enough pressure for a furnace. The cold weather and lack of heat combined to create a state of emergency.
It turns out that the local utility company, which gets much of its natural gas from New Mexico, also gets some gas from Texas to spread out their risk. That natural gas comes through a pipeline that needs pressure to keep it moving. Due to Texas’ problems, the compression stations along the way had no electricity to pressurize the natural gas, hence the “disruptions.”
Why did Texas not have enough electricity? Investigations will determine the true cause of the energy emergency and myriad explanations have been offered. But here is what we do know:
- Cold weather put a strain on the system leading to failures that threatened peoples’ lives and disrupted everything.
- Texas’ heavy reliance on wind power, may have been part of the cause.
- There were no problems with nuclear power plants in the area.
We do know the same thing could happen almost anywhere. It comes down to a lack of reliable electricity.
How could America, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world, be faced with life-threatening energy shortages? Bottom line: our policy toward power generation, a policy that must be changed.
First, funding and political favor have supported the intermittent and expensive electricity sources of wind and solar. Neither can be turned on when needed. The wind must blow and the sun must shine. On frigid nights when the temperature drops dramatically and people turn on electric heaters, the wind is still and the sun doesn’t shine—making them virtually worthless when the energy is needed most.
Next, the building of new, high-tech coal-fueled power plants has been impeded or totally blocked. In America, we are limping by with a generation of coal plants far behind those currently being built in China. The regulations on anyone who tries to build a coal plant, as President Obama promised, “will bankrupt them“—resulting in very few new coal-fueled power plants. The older plants had weather related problems and had to be shut down. Their closure put more demand on the gas-fueled plants—which also strained the natural gas delivery to commercial and residential customers.
The only power source that had no problems was nuclear. Despite Obama’s early pledge to encourage the building of nuclear plants through loan guarantees, nothing has moved forward on that front. Regulations make their construction nearly impossible and add significantly to the cost. The political atmosphere is a barrier to private funding. It has been nearly twenty years since we’ve had a new nuclear power plant come online.
Texas has the highest wind capacity (installed or under construction) in America. They also have what is called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires the state to have a set amount of renewable energy by specific dates. Twenty-nine sates have an RPS or a non-binding goal for adoption. If renewable proponents have their way, Senator Bingaman’s plan for a national Renewable Electricity Standard will become law and every state will be investing in expensive energy that is not available when really needed and blocking the electricity that can truly power America.
The problem last week was lack of pressure in the pipelines. To fix energy problems for the future, will take political pressure.
Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.