Image by Bianca Ackermann

The Ultimate Scapegoat: Renewable Energy

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Author: Grant Rowe
Published: April 1, 2022

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        Looking at the chart, you can see that overall renewable power was actually higher than what was expected of it. Thus, it should be concluded that not only is renewable energy a relatively low contributor to Texan energy, but throughout the disaster, it actually preformed relatively well given the extreme weather conditions. Most of the true outages were due to collapses to fossil fuel lines. The Time reported that the main failures of the outages were due to “frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and even nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas.”[1] However, that didn’t stop many, including Texas’s own governor from using the instance to attack renewable energy. And the attacks do not stop there.

        Looking to more recent times, renewable energy has been blamed, in part, for causing European reliance on Russia, and thus, making it difficult for nations to take meaningful action against them. In the aforementioned article, The West’s Green Delusions Empowered Putin, the author writes, “while Putin expanded Russia’s oil production, expanded natural gas production, and then doubled nuclear energy production to allow more exports of its precious gas, Europe, led by Germany, shut down its nuclear power plants, closed gas fields, and refused to develop more through advanced methods like fracking.”[2] In essence, the author is placing blame on renewables for the current conflict in Ukraine. He seems to think that had Germany put more emphasis on its own natural gas production, then Europe could’ve done more to impact Russia. However, Germany has already halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, a fuel line connecting it and Russia.[3] This is a step many did not expect, and it shows that Germany, and much of Europe, is willing to take hard stances against Russia regardless of energy.

        However, even assuming the author’s point is true, the claim still holds little weight. Let’s assume that had Germany put more focus on producing its own oil/fuel, it would have been better suited to remove its dependence on Russia and impact the state. The irony is that the same could’ve been accomplished by placing actual emphasis on renewable energy. For instance, reports as far back as 2011 have argued that “large-scale integration of renewable electricity in the European grid (68 percent by 2030 and 99.5 percent by 2050) is both technically and economically feasible with a high level of security of supply.”[4] In other words, had Europe invested properly in renewables, they could have achieved the same goal but without contributing to the millions of deaths that fossil fuels help deliver via air pollution and particulate matter.

        Looking to the United States, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, fossil fuel companies got to work. They claimed that they needed more resources to pump gas, and some pointed fingers at President Biden for halting fossil fuels drilling permits or not supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. However, Biden has already given out “more than 2,100 drilling approvals” since taking office,[5] and even if they Keystone pipeline had been continued, it wouldn’t have been completed until 2023[6]—thus offering no help with the current conflict. The reality is that fossil fuel companies in the United States are exploiting the deaths of Ukrainians to promote fossil fuels. Similar to reports in Europe, in 2020, UC Berkeley released 2 studies, both a science and policy one, explicitly listing out how the US could “deliver 90 percent clean, carbon-free electricity nationwide by 2035, dependably, at no extra cost to consumer bills and without the need for new fossil fuel plants.”[7] Therefore, if oil companies want less dependence on Russian oil, perhaps they should invest in renewables.

        In short, it appears that there has been no shortage of attacks on renewable energy throughout recent years, and sadly, it appears that this trend is only expected to increase. As renewables continue to threaten companies and politicians, they will likely continue to use them as scapegoats, even if it means exploiting innocent Ukrainians in the process. As educated individuals, we need to make it our prerogative to stop these false claims. If you hear or see someone or company making these outlandish claims on renewables, do your own research and stick up for our renewable future. Our lives depend on it.

 

References:

[1] Will Wade, Naureen S. Malik, and Brian Eckhouse, “Don't Blame Wind Turbines for Texas' Massive Power Outages,” Time (Time, February 16, 2021), https://time.com/5939749/texas-storm-power-outage-wind-turbines/.

[2] Michael Shellenberger, “The West's Green Delusions Empowered Putin,” The West's Green Delusions Empowered Putin (Common Sense, March 1, 2022), https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-wests-green-delusions-empowered?s=r.

[3] Sarah Marsh and Madeline Chambers, “Germany Freezes Nord Stream 2 Gas Project as Ukraine Crisis Deepens,” Reuters, February 22, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/germanys-scholz-halts-nord-stream-2-certification-2022-02-22/.

[4] Jan Van De Putte et al., “Battle of the Grids: How Europe Can Go 100 % Renewable and Phase out Dirty Energy,” ed. Jack Hunter, Greenpeace, 2011, 5.

[5] The Associated Press, “Biden Promised to End New Drilling on Federal Land, but Approvals Are Up,” NPR (NPR, July 13, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/07/13/1015581092/biden-promised-to-end-new-drilling-on-federal-land-but-approvals-are-up.

[6] Huileng Tan, “The Premier of Alberta Is Pushing for the Revival of the Trump-Backed Keystone XL Oil Pipeline to Replace Russian Imports to the US,” Business Insider (Business Insider, March 8, 2022), https://www.businessinsider.com/keystone-oil-pipeline-alberta-premier-urges-revival-russia-ukraine-energy-2022-3#:~:text=The%20US%20imported%20about%20209%2C000,ahead%2C%20according%20to%20Global%20News.

[7] “2035 Report | Renewable Energy Costs & Our Clean ...” (UC Berkeley, 2020), https://www.2035report.com/electricity/.

        You’re driving down the road and hit a pothole, your power goes out in Texas, Russia invades Ukraine and gas prices rise; who is to blame? Well, if you’re a fossil fuel executive, a senator sponsored by oil companies, or someone looking to point a finger, renewable energy appears to be the perfect target. In fact, in recent times, it seems that whenever something goes wrong, renewable energy is waiting to take the fall. This has led to a spiraling effect in which renewable energy is continuing to find itself at the center of scandals is has nothing to do with, scandals that, ironically, it could often help solve. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated that “the search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” While renewable energy may be an easy target, if we as a society are to solve many of the impending issues facing us, we must stop allowing a cleaner, more efficient form of power to be placed on the chopping block so that repeat offenders of the past can continue to harm us all.

        Following the massive blackouts in Texas early on in 2021, Governor Greg Abbott decided it was the perfect time to take a shot at green energy, stating, “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Many fellow conservatives such as Dan Crenshaw backed the governor's statement, and the Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller even became involved, proclaiming, “we should never build another wind turbine in Texas.” Moving over to the Russian-Ukraine conflict, recent articles online targeting renewables for the war have gained popularity. One such article - The West’s Green Delusions Empowered Putin - sought to argue that the United States, and, more largely, Europe, forced itself to rely on Russian oil as it spent its time attempting to research and switch to the flawed idea of renewables. The author writes, “as the West fell into a hypnotic trance about healing its relationship with nature, averting climate apocalypse and worshiping a teenager named Greta, Vladimir Putin made his moves.” The only problem with these statements: they are not even remotely true.

        After the outages in Texas, leaders at the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the power operator for the state, began to make statements regarding the extreme event. Of these statements, it became (or should have become) abundantly clear that wind and solar were not to blame for the disasters---at least not as much as fossil fuels. Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT explained that “wind shutdowns accounted for 3.6 to 4.5 gigawatts — or less than 13% — of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages.”4 In other words, wind production was not a leading factor in the shutdowns.

        In addition to wind, solar also got attacked. Although this is quite ironic as solar panels not only function in the snow/cold,5 but cold conditions sometimes even increase solar efficiency in certain conditions, and the data form ERCOT largely supports these claims. While it is true wind and solar were impacted by the extreme weather events in Texas, at multiple times, both wind and solar production in Texas actually output more energy than what was expected of it. In fact, looking at ERCOT data right as the disaster occurred shows that “when the rolling blackouts began Monday morning [2/15/2021] wind output was relatively high, and solar output on both Monday and Tuesday was abnormally high for winter.”6 The chart below shows a

breakdown of renewable energy---the black line is the estimated level of power ERCOT plans for in its extreme/contingency weather scenarios: