Dr. Robert Mcfarlane

Dr. Robert McFarlane

In the early 1970s during the first Arab oil embargo while I, the son of a wildcatter, was living in Boston, that was my favorite bumper sticker. Though happy to benefit from the warmth of fuel, those Northerners thought the oil industry was the here-on-earth manifestation of evil. What hypocrites!

However, in frozen Texas 2021, crow on the plate is a meal that educates the soul while focusing the mind.

In Texas, why did our lights, heat, and then water go off? It is simple and has nothing to do with the Failure of Green Energy Myth. About ten years ago (Remember the frozen Super Bowl in Dallas?), we had a similar freeze, just not as deep or prolonged. At that time, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, studied the situation and found that Texas power generation was not winterized; it ordered ERCOT (the state equivalent of FERC) to correct the problem. Nothing was done. Accordingly, for one week, the following quote from a Union general had the ring of truth, "If I owned Texas and Hell," Gen. Philip Sheridan once said, "I would rent out Texas and live in Hell."

So double sadly, this recent catastrophe was entirely foreseeable.

Windmills, nuclear power plants, some coal plants, and natural gas plants all failed for the same reason: the lack of winterization, with the failure of fossil fuel plants being responsible for the largest decrease in power generation. Windmills properly weatherized, as ours in Texas were not, work in Greenland and Iceland. In times of intense demand and shortages, natural gas plants do not have a stockpile of fuel in place as did coal plants. Natural gas compressors, designed to be green and run on electricity not gas, don’t work when the electricity is off, thus worsening any existing gas shortages.

The Texas economy has boomed in part because of lack of regulations and a mostly free market for energy. This has been a formula for success in “normal” times. What is the responsibility of government to ensure that what just happened, does not happen again?

Fire insurance for one’s house seems an apt analogy. It is purchased to protect against an unlikely event – may never be used - and may be expensive. But what sensible homeowner would not have such protection? In Texas, it turns out our energy infrastructure, built for a sunny day, had no figurative structural insurance underpinning it for a rainy one. This is simply a failure of governance. Some regulations are thus not just an undue burden on industry or the consumer but are necessary.

Our energy generation and delivery system obviously needs a fix. A thorough study by scientists and engineers will be required to recommend comprehensive corrective measures. It will not be cheap. Regulations will be necessary. How do we balance the need for more regulations with the need to keep the Texas economy strong? Good governance will be essential. But the posturing of our state conservative politicians does not bode well for the future. It is a simple untruth to blame Green Energy for the recent calamity, an untruth many of these oil industry-funded politicians are pedaling. As Mark Twain might have observed, our politicians and the Yankees of the 1970s might as well drown in the same boat. Or more instructively, as another wag once said, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” At least from that, one can deduce the way forward.

Or …

more frozen crow anyone?

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