“In reality, failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, said in a press conference Tuesday.”
- No, renewable energy is not primarily to blame for Texas power failures by Ali Swenson & Arijeta Lajka The Associated Press (as published on Global News.ca) Posted Feb, 18, 2021 1:16 am; Updated Feb 18, 2021 1:17 am
Rex Murphy used to be a journalist and public figure of some repute. In his youth, he famously got Premier Joey Smallwood to reverse course on the issue of University Tuition in Newfoundland. He worked with Premier Clyde Wells. Rex Murphy used to be a voice of record. A sage truth speaker that could be trusted. However, that seems to be a man from a time long ago. His latest article (written on February 18th, 2021) provides additional evidence – glaringly obvious evidence – on how much Rex Murphy has changed.
His vast vocabulary, wonderful syntax and sarcastic wit though are no longer be used for the benefit of the public, for Canadian Society. Could it be that Mr. Murphy puts pen to paper simply to keep his position at the National Post? Could it be that Mr. Murphy simply writes to stir the pot to see if sparks can fly? To be honest, it is not evident to me who benefits from his words. What is clear is that accuracy and truth are not present in his arguments.
Texas is experiencing a deep severe winter blast. Most electrical generating facilities have come to a screeching stop because of it. If one wanted to understand the reasons for the outages, one could just simply ask any non-partisan journalist in Texas. I chose the Austin American-Stateman. The Austin American-Stateman is a straight journalistic outfit which is owned by Gannett. Two of their reporters – Asher Price and Bob Sechler – on the 17th, told us about an interesting federal report. Written in the summer of 2011, it “found that state officials back in 1989, after another cold snap caused outages,” recommended that Texas should winterize their electrical grid. Now according to the article, some of the recommendations were never mandatory and those recommendations were forgotten over time. That inaction by a government is not new. What is important is simple: those in power knew as far back as 1989 that Texas was vulnerable; politicians chose to do nothing and reporters, journalists and pundits who cared about the facts did the work to find out the truth.
They read a 2011 report which detailed the 1989 recommendations. The report – called“ “Report on Outages and Curtailments During the Southwest Cold Weather Event of February 1-5, 2011” – was written by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation because of a similar problem: a coldsnap. (Did Texas energy regulators fail to mandate winter protections?, Asher Price and Bob Sechler, Austin American-Statesman.com, Feb, 17, 2020) Accordingly, if two reporters did the work, why did Mr. Murphy chose not to?
Now, I am not an author or journalist. I have not received a journalism degree or a Masters Degree in English, I have never been paid to put pen to paper; and I have only seen a few of my pieces published. Yet, if it was easy enough for me to find out a whole bunch of information about Texas’ plagued electrical system, couldn’t Mr. Murphy have done the same thing? After all, I just had to type a few words into a search engine and read a few articles.
It was in this act of research that I became aware of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers and this represents about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. Before Mr. Murphy’s article was published, the ERCOT noted that the reason why Texas is now in trouble is simple: the electrical grid was never winterized. Consequently, one can see why I have trouble with Mr. Murphy. He either didn’t read, didn’t do the research or didn’t care about his words. He didn’t do the job of searching for the facts before writing his piece.
Instead of doing research, Mr. Murphy simply quoted a source which was just as biased as he is: an editorial from The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Murphy quotes that paper in saying that:
“Texas’s overreliance on wind power left the grid more vulnerable to bad weather. Half of the wind turbines froze last week, causing wind’s share of electricity to plunge to 8 per cent from 42 per cent … there wasn’t sufficient baseload power from coal & nuclear to support the grid.”
However, it doesn’t take much work to realize how wrong that statement is. Firstly, as most reputable news organizations have reported, all of Texas’ Electrical Generating Infrastructure suffered the same fate. Coal powered plants, Natural Gas powered plants and even nuclear power plants had the same problems. Pipes froze. Gauges froze. Everything froze. Given that no part of Texas’ grid was properly winterized, the entire electrical grid had problems. Consequently, nothing worked. So it wasn’t an issue of only wind power being down; all power was down.
The second problem with the Wall Street Journal’s article piece was it failed to say that since Texas is the only state in the continental United States that, for all intents and purposes, is not tied into a national grid. Texas is the only state which requires its own in-situ back up generating capacity. North Carolina, as an example, can depend on its neighbour states when there is a hiccup. So South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky. Virginia or West Virginia – either directly or indirectly – help North Carolina to keep its lights on. New York State has even more options. New York is directly tied to Quebec’s Grid. Furthermore, as part of the Eastern Grid, New York can depend on the Province of Ontario along with its neighbouring states like Pennsylaviana, Connecticut and New Jersey. Texas, though, is different. They are an “an electrical island” and cannot borrow a “cup of electric sugar” from their friends.
Again, I am not an expert on any of this. To use an old quote, “I just let my fingers do the walking”. My fingers “walked” my eyes over to Google search engine and I looked. I read credible sources and I tried to understand. In reading, I learned that Norway generates about 4% of its power by wind. Sweden generates 12% of its power by wind and 52% of its power from renewables (including Wind). Denmark generates almost 40% of its power by wind. These are not balmy destinations. Their winters would be very familiar to Canadians. It is certainly colder than the weather Texas is getting; and yet, no one complains about Scandanavian Electrical Infrastructure. Maybe it is because they winterized their grid?
In fact, while Texas generates the most wind power in America, a number of States are more dependent on wind power. Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma produce more than 25% of their electrical power from Wind. States like Kansas and Illinois are catching up. If one notices a trend, one can see that Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois are not places known for their warm weather. Those states also have harsh and cold winters. Yet, not one of the jurisdictions mentioned (save Texas) has seen their state shut down. You might be able to guess that there is a simple reason for this: due to strict regulation, they have all winterized their power grids. Texas, on the other hand, decided to do something else. Texas decided to have their own separate grid driven by market forces and weak regulation; and we can see what the result is.
None of what I have written took a lot of work. None of what I wrote required a trip. Consequently, I am very surprised that Mr. Murphy couldn’t get his facts straight. Why couldn’t he? I don’t know. However, every time Mr. Murphy takes the stage these days, inaccuracies seem to follow. This is a sad thing for him but it is even worse for us – the Canadian Public. For every time, a nationally syndicated writer misleads some of the public, some in our country, we all become poorer because misinformation pours into our politics and it becomes a weapon. We deserve better than this. We deserve pundits and opinion writers who at least get the facts right. Anything less than that discards the principles that the Enlightenment taught us: Evidence, Accuracy, Precision, Truth and Facts matter. It is those understandings which have provided so much to Canadian Society. It is those principles which have guided us to conversation, talk and Free Speech over guns, pitchforks, political violence and revolution. It is those principles which teach us that the most benefit to society comes when society protects its individuals, its minorities from – as John Stuart Mill said – from the dictatorial impulses of the majority. Evidence and Facts matter because they lead us to a better society and when Mr. Murphy writes in this shoddy fashion, he undermines us all and does a disservice to Democracy and Canada.