Commentary Directory

Renewable Energy Under Fire in Texas

Jacob Hess
February 16, 2021

A winter storm has descended upon Texas, and the weather has made headlines as the state's unpreparedness leads to a crisis. Millions of Texans are without power amidst the freezing temperatures that are making history. The outages shut down communities and left families in the cold with snow and ice making roads undrivable. While the crisis has been a natural one, politics have crept in. Debates have started over the blame for the blackouts as some suggested frozen wind turbines had let the Texas power supply down. This claim is doubtful, but it does bring up the question of if the US power generation is reliant on renewable energy.

A good place to start actually is Texas which is a state known for energy. This is not just because it is home to most of the oil and natural gas production in the United States but also because of its power production. The state is 1st in total energy production, producing 21.3% of all energy in the US, holding the tops spots in crude oil, natural gas, and electricity. It also is the 6th largest energy consumer.

Texas has many wind turbines set to come online in 2021

Despite its major natural gas industry, it accounts for only 52% of total electricity generation at 19,890 MWh a month. Renewables come in next at 23% of total electricity generation, 8,766 MWh a month, edging out coal at 17%. Wind-powered generation in the Texas renewable sector is actually quite large since it "produced about 28% of all the U.S. wind-powered electricity in 2019" and has even out-supplied both nuclear power plants in the state since 2014. Major outages in wind turbines, if they were to occur, would no doubt be the largest in the country. Wind energy is also set to grow in 2021 with the state having the most wind energy units to come on online by November 2021.

Texas renewable generation is actually pretty similar to the greater US. In 2020, the share of renewables in US energy generation was 21% and is expected to increase to 42% by 2050. By 2030, renewables will pass natural gas as the leading source of electricity generation, a trend that Texas' oil and gas industry may have difficulty digesting. Wind turbine installations, in particular, were high in 2020 at 21 GW, surpassing the previous record of 13.2 GW in 2012. This year is also expected to be high at 12.2 GW planned. These high rates of installations were likely a result of the extension of a US production tax credit for wind energy through December 31, 2021.

At just over 20% of all energy generation, renewables do play an important part in the US electric grid, but they certainly aren't a source that the country relies on. Instead, their importance is in the growth that the industry can provide in the future from the creation of new jobs, new innovations, and a cleaner environment. The fragility of these systems may come into question, but it cannot be an excuse to dismiss them.