- Attempts to blame the Texas power outages on renewable energy stand to derail calls for bipartisan climate legislation, members of the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy said Thursday.
While Democratic members of the subcommittee viewed power outages in Texas and other states following severe winter weather as a sign of the need for urgent action on climate change, Republican members spoke of the same events as demonstrating the danger of over-reliance on renewable energy.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., criticized parties attempting to blame the Texas outages on either fossil fuels or renewable energy, saying he hoped to see bipartisan agreement on energy policy. "We can't allow the Texas crisis to be used as an excuse to discourage movement toward renewable energy," he said.
A House hearing on the future of decarbonization remained rooted in the present on Thursday as members of the Energy Subcommittee sought insight from the hearing's expert witnesses into the causes of the breakdown of utility services in Texas this week.
Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill., began the hearing emphasizing the scientific consensus around the need to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. He promised the subcommittee would hold future hearings on the crisis in Texas, and asked committee members to begin a "march toward a clean, reliable and secure energy future."
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, took his statement in a different direction.
"Part of today's hearing should focus on ways to increase the reliability and resilience of our electric grid," he said. "This is not a partisan issue. In subzero temperatures ... people just want the heat to come on.
"Congress needs to understand the cause of this crisis before speeding ahead with other goals" he added.
Experts tapped to give testimony at the hearing spoke of potential decarbonization policies identified by academic research, nonprofits and think tanks, putting a heavy emphasis on the economic feasibility of decarbonization, as well as the need for research funding and attention to economic equity. Subcommittee members then questioned the witnesses about the cause of the Texas crisis and how future mass outages could be prevented in the future.
"We saw an unprecedented weather event in Texas over the last week, which included significant icing on wind turbines" Craig Gordon, senior vice president of government affairs at Invenergy, said after being asked if his company had generation assets in Texas. "Our natural gas facility — we were unable to procure natural gas for the plant over the sustained time of this event. Our inability to get gas prevented us from operating."
Gordon testified that while Invenergy had both wind and natural gas assets go offline during the Texas storms, "wind actually outperformed day-ahead expectations. When all things were considered, wind did better."
"I don't have insight into what happened to the natural gas supply," he continued. "I guess it was too cold for the gas to flow."
Gordon's comments prompted further debate among the Representatives, with some, including Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., arguing transmission expansion and upgrades represented a key solution.
"I want to talk today about transmission. The national power grid needs to be modernized," Peters said. "The U.S. has tremendous energy resources that have not yet been tapped, because they are in remote or rural areas. If we connect centers of renewable resources with centers of demand, that is, build a macro grid, we can reduce emissions and reduce costs while improving resilience."
Others, however, felt that fossil fuels paired with carbon capture or other offsets could have kept the lights on in Texas and held that a campaign to attack and eliminate fossil fuels was damaging the economy and the reliability of the U.S. gird.
"As I listen to my colleagues, we keep hearing proposals for deep decarbonization that would only kill good American jobs," said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. "Why would we want to go down that road? One of our witnesses cited a desire for fundamental economic and social transition. Is this about decarbonization or control?"