The rush to transition to renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels is risky, foolish and short-sighted. Those who say the United States can fully transition to renewable energy foster intellectually dishonest rhetoric.
Texas has long been our country’s energy leader. Our state has always been the top oil and gas producer, and in recent years, it has become the leading renewable energy producer, too. But Texans were reminded last summer that we are best served when renewables work in tandem with oil and gas. We should think of renewables as an additional tool to generate energy, rather than a cure-all that supersedes fossil fuels. A diversified energy portfolio reduces risk; the key word is diversified.
As a state, we don’t put our eggs into one (energy) basket. Texas invested nearly $7 billion to establish competitive renewable energy zones in West Texas that connected renewable energy projects, particularly wind power generators, to the Texas grid. Renewable energy capacity in Texas has grown exponentially and Texas has been the top-ranked state for installed wind power capacity since 2006, outpacing other “wind belt” states, most notably Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas. Solar, too, has taken off — Texas currently ranks second in the country for installed solar power capacity. With generous federal and state subsidies, renewables have thrived in Texas.
Despite this tremendous growth in capacity, renewable energy cannot meet our current demand and, most important, is not always there when we need it. As renewable energy generation is totally dependent on weather conditions, the amount of electricity produced by renewables is self-limiting. It’s up to conventional power generators like natural gas plants to prop up renewable generators when the weather isn’t right.
Moreover, without the use of batteries, electricity generated by wind and solar cannot be stored and, therefore, must be consumed immediately. But cost-effective grid-scale battery technology is lagging. The costs to store renewable-generated electricity on batteries are staggeringly high compared with storing oil or natural gas. And the longer the electricity is stored on batteries, the higher the costs. It would cost roughly $1.5 trillion to build enough batteries to store only 12 hours of electricity for the U.S., according to an estimate by the Manhattan Institute.
The result: Renewable energy industries in Texas are decades away from shouldering a level of electricity demand that rivals what our conventional energy industries take on daily. And we’re just talking about present day. Energy demand will undoubtedly continue to rise in the future, considering factors such as the proliferation of new digital technologies, manufacturing growth, and a population that will increase from 29 million to 51 million residents by 2070, according to state estimates.
The Biden administration and others want Texans to believe that renewables are the sole answer when they’re clearly not. Spreading this misinformation puts our state’s future at risk by being dishonest with them about what’s possible.
Even the idea of a renewable-centric national energy policy rests on an assumption that the global economy and geopolitical landscape remain stable. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine offers a lesson that cannot be ignored: Global stability is precarious and unfortunately, the war in Ukraine is bringing Europe dangerously close to a full-blown energy crisis.
European countries, especially those that experience the harshest of winters, depend heavily on natural gas to heat their homes and power manufacturing that drives much of the EU economy. This year’s sanctions on Russia and the Russian response reduced shipments of natural gas to Europe, causing alarming impacts. The northeastern U.S., which also relies on natural gas to endure cold winters, is competing with Europe for available LNG supplies, and experts are warning the region could experience rolling blackouts this winter if supplies can’t keep up with demand. The renewable-only mentality prevents the simple solution of connecting the northeastern U.S. to the vast supplies of natural gas in the Marcellus shale of Pennsylvania.
An equally important part of this conversation is the connectivity and prevalence that oil and natural gas and derivative products have in everyday life. There are thousands of petroleum-based products, many that we use every day — tubes of toothpaste, phones, computers and water bottles. Even electric vehicles have hundreds of components made out of plastic. A renewable-only vision forgets that fossil fuel fertilizes our food, powers the mines that supply the minerals that make renewable energy possible, and drives global trade via planes, trains and ships. This myopic approach drives higher costs onto citizens already burdened with crushing inflation. Knowing this, it is irresponsible and negligent to place undue pressures on Texas’ oil and gas industries to conform to an overburdensome federal renewable energy agenda.
Renewable energy does little to help relieve global energy shocks. We cannot export renewable energy to other countries. Instead, we can ramp up supply of Texas’ abundant oil and gas resources to the EU, which not only provides tangible benefits to those who need them most but also can bolster America’s international bonds. What is good for Texas taxpayers is good for Texas, and that includes a diversified energy plan for Texas and our nation. It is time to stop the one-sided rhetoric and instead opt for an intellectually honest conversation about the connectivity between our daily lives and the oil and gas industry. Recent events have shown that failing to engage in honest discourse about the realities of our global energy needs hurts hardworking people and their families here in Texas and around the world.
Glenn Hegar is the Texas comptroller of public accounts. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.
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