After last week’s winter weather catastrophe in Texas, we can imagine Jerry Jones sitting in a highrise somewhere looking just like the cat that ate the canary. Coloradans likely know him as the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, but he also controls Comstock Resources, a natural gas operation that does shale drilling in Louisiana and Texas. The storm severely throttled natural gas output just as consumer demand skyrocketed, meaning anybody who had supply stood to make a killing. And Comstock made that killing.
Texas’ unregulated electricity market is like some capitalist Westworld, an every-rich-man-for-himself system that lets energy providers pass along the prevailing wholesale price of natural gas to their cold and panicked customers. The New York Times wrote about a fellow named Scott Willoughby, a Dallas-area veteran living on Social Security, who received a monthly electric bill for $16,752.
Last Wednesday Comstock’s President and CFO Roland Burns said, “Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot.”
The Texas disaster is what happens when you live in a libertarian/anti-progressive state that’s isolated its system from the national grid to sidestep federal oversight, which left them with no outside electricity source to draw from, even though they’ve been invited, almost begged, to join the Western Interconnection, which includes Colorado, and the Eastern Interconnection, east of the Mississippi. The other part of the failure equation was the lack of internal regulation, with unenforceable winterization guidelines that let energy producers choose whether to spend money protecting natural gas production and power plants and other infrastructure from cold temps.
As the lights went out, Gov. Greg Abbott took to Fox News to warn against the potential evils of the Green New Deal and blame iced-over wind turbines and solar for his state’s home-grown disaster.
“Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid,” he said, “and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”
All of which, of course, was utter crap.
First, properly equipped and maintained wind turbines run just fine in cold places like Antarctica. Second, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electric grid for most of the state, blamed the blackouts on Texas’ reliance on natural gas.
For the next little while, the state’s legislature, the feds, ERCOT, the GOP and Democrats will all point fingers at each other over the Texas energy mess, but the bottom line for the rest of us is that it’s time for the dinosaurs (and their high-carbon fossil fuels) to get the hell out of the way.
Renewable energy is here, and it keeps getting cheaper, even with the cost of installation and maintenance of new technology, and even when competing against the massively subsidized fossil fuel industry.
In an International Monetary Fund study of 199 countries, researchers calculated 2015’s fossil fuel subsidies at $4.7 trillion, 6.3 percent of global Gross Domestic Product. The study put the U.S. total at $649 billion. Part of this comes in the form of regulatory loopholes, tax breaks and small direct subsidies to keep prices to the consumer artificially low, but most of it represents the uncompensated costs of environmental, health and other damage caused by use of fossil fuels.
President Joe Biden paused new oil and gas leases on federal land, directed federal agencies to cut fossil fuel subsidies and will ask Congress to end $40 billion in congressionally approved subsidies. “Unlike previous administrations,” he said, “I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil.”
With a guy in the White House who supports science, and with General Motors phasing out fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2035 and Ford Motor Company following suit, we’re starting to see signs of incipient sanity in the fight against global warming.
And it’s about damn time.