Lawmakers shouldn't punish renewable energy for freeze [Op-ed]

The Texas Legislature is still trying to figure out what went wrong in February when a few days of cold weather shut down much of the state’s electric power grid, and that should be one of their top priorities in this session. What lawmakers should not do, however, is try to place all the blame for this mess on renewable energy or try to slow its growth in Texas. Unfortunately, two bills would do just that.

One, filed by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, would prohibit local governments from banning any specific energy source in new construction, a ban that realistically would only apply to natural gas or fuel oil. His bill would also prevent governments from assessing additional charges or fees on builders that use one kind of energy over another.

Some cities controlled by liberals in other states have enacted or discussed a ban on natural gas service to new construction. Their clear goal is to speed up the transition to solar or wind power and reduce the pollution from fossil fuels. It’s also clear that bans like that would not be popular — now, at least — in a state that produces and refines more crude oil than any other.

But Deshotel’s bill ignores the fact that few Texas cities would support such a ban now. Even if they did, voters could elect new City Council members in the next election to reverse it — unless they, too, support the ban. That’s the concept of “local control” that Texas politicians revere for public school districts but sometimes try to evade with proposals like this.

The other bill, pushed by Republicans in the Texas Senate, would add new fees for solar and wind companies in an attempt to discourage this energy source because, in their view, it often failed during the February freeze.

While it’s true that some wind turbines froze up because they weren’t prepared for operation in cold weather — a precaution that’s routine in many colder states — every power source experienced similar difficulties in the freeze. Natural gas plants were shut down too because they weren’t weatherized, as did one of the state’s two nuclear power plants.

Supporters of this bill also say that it’s wrong to “subsidize” the production and use of renewable energy, a position that ignores the tremendous subsidies bestowed on fossil fuels for generations to encourage more exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas. If these lawmakers want the free market to work without government interference, they could eliminate those subsidies, too — and of course they won’t.

The bottom line here is that renewable energy is becoming prominent in Texas, the nation and the world in coming decades. The transition away from fossil fuels will take decades, but the direction of it is unmistakable and irreversible. Ironically, Texas already produces more wind power than any other state, 26% of the national total. Texas lawmakers should stop trying to fight this trend and focus on making it work as well as possible.

Matt Welch is the state director of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation.




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