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Wind Power Is a Disaster in Texas, No Matter What Paul Krugman Says | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 10, 2021

https://mises.org/wire/wind-power-disaster-texas-no-matter-what-paul-krugman-says

Robert P. Murphy

In the wake of February’s tragic power outages in Texas, during which 4.5 million households suffered service interruptions, partisans on both sides have been quick to interpret the events as confirmation of their preferred energy policies. With news images of helicopters deicing frozen turbines, conservatives lambasted Texas’s increasing reliance on wind power as the villain in the story.

Trying to temper this knee-jerk reaction, Reason.com columnist Ron Bailey argued that “[m]ost of the shortfall in electric power generation during the current cold snap is the result of natural gas and coal powered plants going offline.” And Paul Krugman for his part declared that it was a “malicious falsehood” to blame wind and solar power for what happened in Texas, as it was primarily a failure of natural gas.

In this article I’ll lay out the basic facts of which power sources stepped up to the plate during the crisis. Contrary to what you would have known from reading Ron Bailey (let alone Paul Krugman), when the Texas freeze hit, electricity from natural gas skyrocketed while wind output fell off a cliff. The people arguing that wind wasn’t to blame mean it in the same way Jimmy Olson wasn’t to blame when General Zod took over: wind is so useless nobody serious ever thought it might help in a crisis.

Krugman on Texas Electricity

In his February 18 column titled “Texas, Land of Wind and Lies,” Krugman declared that

Republican politicians and right-wing media … have coalesced around a malicious falsehood instead: the claim that wind and solar power caused the collapse of the Texas power grid, and that radical environmentalists are somehow responsible for the fact that millions of people are freezing in the dark …

In contrast to this dirty rotten lie from the right-wingers, Krugman instead explains:

A power grid poorly prepared to deal with extreme cold suffered multiple points of failure. The biggest problems appear to have come in the delivery of natural gas, which normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity, as wellheads and pipelines froze.

A bit later in the article Krugman admits that wind was involved as well, but minimizes its role in this way:

It’s true that the state generates a lot of electricity from wind, although it’s a small fraction of the total. But that’s not because Texas—Texas!—is run by environmental crazies. It’s because these days wind turbines are a cost-effective energy source wherever there’s a lot of wind, and one thing Texas has is a lot of wind.

It’s also true that extreme cold forced some of the state’s insufficiently winterized wind turbines to shut down, but this was happening to Texas energy sources across the board, with the worst problems involving natural gas.

Incidentally, there are literally no numbers in Krugman’s article (except for numerals referring to dates), which is a signal that he’s pulling a fast one on his readers. From his qualitative (not quantitative) description, most people would have assumed that when the unusually cold weather hit Texas last month, electricity generation from various sources was down across the board, but that it mostly fell from natural gas, while the drop in wind was insignificant. As I’ll show in the next section, this is utterly false.

What Really Happened During Texas’s Power Crisis

Had I not seen the analysis from my former colleagues at the Institute for Energy Research (see their articles here and here), I might have believed the spin that the Texas crisis was really a failure of fossil fuels rather than renewables. Yet as we’ll see, the actual numbers tell a much different story from what most Americans probably “learned” from the media discussion.

The simplest way for me to communicate the relevant information is through three infographics, generated from the Energy Information Administration’s handy tool that shows the source mix for daily energy generation by state.

Before showing the numbers, I need to make an important clarification: the demand for electricity soared to unprecedented levels during the freeze. In particular, on February 14, peak demand on the electric grid surpassed sixty-nine gigawatts, breaking the previous winter record of (almost) sixty-six gigawatts set in 2018. It was in the early hours of the following morning (February 15) that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) implemented rolling blackouts to prevent the entire grid from collapsing. So to be clear, the issue wasn’t that supply in an absolute sense fell, but rather that demand soared. (Texas typically uses more electricity in the summer to keep things cool, rather than in the winter to keep things warm.)

With that context in place, here are the stats for electricity output from various sources on February 15, 2021:

2021.03_texas_feb_15_2021.png

texas power feb 15 2021

Already we see something interesting. Of the total amount of electricity delivered on this first day of blackouts, 65 percent came from natural gas, while only 6 percent came from wind and 2 percent from solar.

But in fairness, maybe what guys like Krugman meant is that this is much lower than what we normally could expect from natural gas. (Remember Krugman had said that natural gas “normally supplies most of the state’s winter electricity.”)

To test this possibility, we can look at the situation one year prior, on February 15, 2020:

2021.03_texas_feb_15_2020.png

texas power feb 15 2020

Now, this is interesting. A year earlier, during a normal mid-February day, natural gas “only” supplied 43 percent of the total electricity, whereas wind accounted for 28 percent and solar was the same at 2 percent. Remember how Krugman said wind was only a “small fraction” of Texas generation? Overall for the year 2020, wind produced 22 percent of Texas’s electricity, a higher share than coal.

Yet besides the proportions, also look at the absolute quantity of electricity generated: on Feb. 15, 2020, natural gas produced 398,130 megawatt hours (compared to 759,708 MWh during the recent freeze), while wind produced 264,024 MWh (compared to 73,395 MWh during the freeze).

To sum up, compared with the same date a year earlier, during the first day of the blackouts in Texas, electricity from natural gas was 91 percent higher, while electricity from wind was 72 percent lower.

To reiterate the clarification I gave earlier, part of the confusion here is that electricity demand in February isn’t normally as high as it was because of the freeze. So to test whether natural gas is the culprit, we can compare the generation from various sources during the freeze to the situation back during the summer. For example, let’s look at how things stood on August 15, 2020:

2021.03_texas_aug_15_2020.png

texas power august 15 2020

As our date occurred in the dog days of summer, total electric demand was higher in mid-August 2020 than on February 15, 2021.

See the rest here

Author:

Contact Robert P. Murphy

Robert P. Murphy is a Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute. He is the author of many books. His latest is Contra Krugman: Smashing the Errors of America’s Most Famous KeynesianHis other works include Chaos Theory, Lessons for the Young Economist, and Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action (Independent Institute, 2015) which is a modern distillation of the essentials of Mises’s thought for the layperson. Murphy is cohost, with Tom Woods, of the popular podcast Contra Krugman, which is a weekly refutation of Paul Krugman’s New York Times column. He is also host of The Bob Murphy Show.

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