The politics of green energy

Has trust in green energy been put at risk? Thomas Wrath takes a look at the politics at play behind the Texas power cut.

Tom Wrath
9th March 2021
Illustration: Olivia Dowle, Fine Art student
The recent freak winter storms in Texas have raised serious questions about private state ownership of power services and promotion of green energy alternatives in the US. With an increasing world impetus on renewable and carbon-free communities, is this issue bound to get worse?

The ensuing ‘blame game’ has raised serious questions about private state ownership of energy utilities, and the feasibility of green energy

Killing at least 58 residents amidst an abnormally cold February, the ensuing ‘blame game’ has raised serious questions about private state ownership of energy utilities, and the feasibility of green energy, with key players from across the political spectrum exploiting the situation and overlooking its seriousness to manufacture narratives suiting their own agendas.

The current Governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, raised questions about the feasibility of wind turbines, which operate across 150 wind farms, and froze up during the freezing temperatures. His damning indictment made on Fox News that green energy “thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power”, whilst not mentioning natural gas, is surprising, considering wind and solar energies only account for 25% of Texas’s energy mix, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). His personal motive to appease gas and oil corporations by maintaining strong relationships historically built on energy deals, which are necessary to secure control over powerful and influential voters, is representative of unwavering political support for energy tycoons. The Trump administration’s nationalist policy to cut imports made the US energy self-dependant and the world’s largest exporter of petroleum product, generating great profits for industry leaders and the individuals running them, but also placing an increased and sustained amount of pressure onto the uniquely physically and politically situated Texan power grid.

The fundamental issue is that Texas is disconnected from the main US power grid, being the only state to individually produce and distribute its own energy supply. This policy was developed during the post-Second World War manufacturing boom, driven by Texan exceptionalism and a lust for independence on issues regarding energy, to give members of ERCOT greater authority and power to make decisions benefitting themselves.

Energy Secretary and former governor of Texas Rick Perry argues “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business”, yet being separated from the main grid makes it increasingly difficult to import more power during a crisis, exemplified by the lack of crisis in areas of Texas connected to the Eastern Grid such as El Paso. Not only does his blaming of citizens exacerbate social tensions, but it conceals an uncomfortable truth that seemingly no-one wants to tell.

Clearly, this crisis is a culmination of the failure of many US governments to exercise their powers of coercion to bring Texas onto the main US grid, and the unwillingness of the Republican-controlled state to integrate itself. Figures of authority instead choose to blame alternative energy sources.

For all Biden’s rhetoric about a ‘green new deal’, the US remains a nation deeply involved in shale oil and gas, in part due to the negative discourse around green energy that politicians propagate

Blaming green energy for these failures is not inconsequential, as reducing public trust in carbon-neutral alternatives such as wind energy is likely to damage efforts to reduce emissions and protect the Anthropocene from climate catastrophe. For all Biden’s rhetoric about a ‘green new deal’, the US remains a nation deeply involved in shale oil and gas, in part thanks to Trump, but also due to the negative discourse around green energy that politicians and business owners such as Abbott and Perry propagate. As the largest energy-producing and energy-consuming state, transitioning away from carbon-based energies would disrupt the heart of Texas’s economy, affecting an incredibly wealthy sector with political influence in both Democratic and Republican spheres. The situation is complex and multicausal, with renewables clearly partly responsible, but nevertheless covering up the largest component of the crisis is reckless, damaging, and cynical.

Evidently, US politics intrinsic relationship with energy firms needs to disengage if there is any hope of the country embracing and encouraging use of alternative energies elsewhere, whilst preventing further crises in Texas, which surely must seek to end its individuality and integrate into the national power grid now.

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