When chickens roost, no red herrings

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 2/24/21

After the terrible winter storms last week, we saw image after image of human misery in Texas. Millions were forced to endure freezing temperatures without electrical power not only because of the …

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When chickens roost, no red herrings

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Posted

After the terrible winter storms last week, we saw image after image of human misery in Texas. Millions were forced to endure freezing temperatures without electrical power not only because of the ice and snow but also the weakness in the power grid.

The state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, intentionally shut off power in a series of rolling blackouts. Officials had to take these extreme measures to prevent a statewide collapse of the entire system.

Tensions among Texans ran high. There were reports that citizens harassed power line crews in Austin and San Antonio, even throwing things at workers. While anger is understandable, it is completely misdirected at the employees fixing the downed power lines.

Texans should take their anger right to the top of their political system.

Reliability council officials and Texas lawmakers had no excuse. A winter storm in February 2011 also resulted in widespread blackouts. Officials knew their equipment would not perform in extremely cold temperatures. Still, they did little to upgrade those systems.

Now the chickens have come home to roost as past failures have resulted in today’s problems.

Under intense scrutiny, Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the failure on the state’s renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, despite the fact that such energy sources contribute only a small fraction of the power supply to the state. As reported by USA Today, Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, noted that the combination of natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants failed to meet the consumer demand. Cohen labeled Abbott’s argument about the wind turbines “a red herring” — an intentionally misleading statement.

When confronted with the facts, Abbott tried an even more desperate smoke screen, blaming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a plan called the Green New Deal. Please bear in mind this congresswoman represents the state of New York, not Texas, and that no such federal legislation has even been proposed.

Why attack renewable energy sources? In the same USA Today article, Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, made a wise observation: “It’s easy to focus on the thing that you can see changing as the source of why an outcome is changing.” In this case, easy to blame wind turbines (and the political party that advocated for them) as the cause of failures in the power supply.

The truth is that the Texan leaders who did not sufficiently upgrade and maintain the power plants are at fault. But the more pressing and fundamental issue is that cheap fossil fuels are part of the problem.

Instead of excuses and political jabs, all elected officials must take seriously the predictions of more frequent and serious storms due to climate change. Since renewable energy sources help to decrease carbon emissions, these forms of energy are exactly the types of technologies we need.

Proponents of natural gas, coal and oil are right about one thing. The investment in new sources of energy will take time and money.

But to continue to rely on fossil fuels will prove even more than costly. It will be deadly.

The United States must launch a broad bipartisan effort to act now in order to improve and expand our energy capabilities with wind, water and solar. Then, we will be better able to withstand storms and prevent more disastrous weather. The chickens have come home to roost. We cannot afford to waste time with red herrings.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.

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