At the tail end of his pandemic press briefing on Friday, Gov. Jim Justice broke stride and jumped into a terribly misinformed rant about what caused millions of Texans to go without power, heat and running water when a major winter storm out of the Arctic traveled south into the Lone Star State and took up residence.
Maybe our coal baron governor did so intentionally. Perhaps he had been watching too much Fox News. Either way, he was all dressed up to peddle a lie being shared by conservative commentators and politicians: Wind turbines were to blame for the state’s electrical grid being overwhelmed and shut down, the governor and others were saying, bringing misery to millions.
“It seems pretty clear that a reckless reliance on wind mills is the cause of this disaster,” said the equally uninformed Tucker Carlson on his show this past Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, too, scapegoated wind power as the cause of the crisis on Tuesday – only forced to walk back his made-up story when questioned by the persistent and pesky press.
Regardless, there was our governor, days later on Friday, spreading the same false information. The problem in Texas, the governor said, was because the state “depended on wind mills.”
Here’s the thing: The governor knows better.
For the record, every last type of power plant in Texas – be it powered by coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind – was nicked by ice and freezing temperatures. But it was the state’s top source of electricity, natural gas, that failed most profoundly. Yes, as stated, wind turbines froze and stopped working – and were responsible for a grand total of 13 percent of the electricity lost, according to the state’s nonprofit grid operator.
The underlying problem that was not publicly addressed?
Even after a major report said, after a similar weather event and obvious outcome a decade ago, that Texas officials and energy titans did not prepare for the inevitable, it did not weatherize its electric grid and the various sources that feed into it because, well, that would cut into profits.
Besides, it was just a freak storm, right? Wouldn’t happen all that often.
The effects of this storm were severe and, with climate change upon us, these kinds of extreme weather events will continue to come at us at more regular intervals. They already are. With this particular storm, some of the coldest temperatures in 30 years led to cascading issues with electricity demand and energy supplies. All energy sources failed because, to one degree or another, power operators did not wrap their systems in a defensive, protective strategy.
As such, more than 4.2 million customers were without power on Tuesday. As the outages dragged on, mutual aid groups and relief organizations stepped in to feed, clothe and house vulnerable residents. But, still, experts say the death toll is likely to grow and that it could be weeks or months before the true personal magnitude of the storm is known.
And now, days later, Gov. Abbott is singing a different tune. Winterize, he says. That’s the message he sent to power companies and lawmakers on Thursday – a full day ahead of our own governor’s diatribe – when he called for a law and funding to better prepare the state’s essential power infrastructure for the kind of extreme winter weather that created multiple crises this week.
Energy experts said that in some cases, retrofitting plants to withstand cold could be extremely difficult and expensive. Many of those plants already skimped on such upgrades due to the infrequency of prolonged and widespread subfreezing temperatures in the state.
But the National Weather Service reported that 150 million Americans were under various winter storm warnings this past week, with the heaviest impact on regions of the country historically unprepared for the freezing temperatures.
The problem we have is obvious. The planet is heating up and, because of that, our climate and ecosystem and all that contributes to environmental health and human well-being is at risk. To have political and civic leadership that is resistant to change, more comfortably telling tall tales, is not fit to have a say or to attend to the necessary work ahead.
What the country needs, other than a healthy dose of truth telling, is major investments in infrastructure and scientific remedies to climate change.
This will not be easy nor will it be cheap.
The first step forward is telling the truth.
The governor needs to get comfortable in that suit of clothes.