There was no reason to bring it up. There also was no way of challenging the statement.
At the end of Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 briefing on Friday, he went into a tirade about the power outages in Texas that have left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity during a brutal cold snap. At the same time, about 14 million are without reliable water services, as pipes froze and burst across the state. It’s an emergency and a tragedy, although it has little to do with West Virginia.
That didn’t stop Justice from launching a fusillade against renewable energy, claiming “frozen windmills” — wind turbines that generate clean energy — were to blame for the crisis.
This opinion was offered after Justice had wrapped up questions from reporters, so there was no way to qualify the statement against facts or question the governor about it. The truth has often suffered because of Justice’s tightly controlled briefings, which all too often veer into political stump speeches.
The situation in Texas is complex. Yes, some wind turbines, a minor part of the state’s energy supply, did freeze. A larger problem were the power plants fueled by natural gas, coal and nuclear energy that were knocked offline. Fossil fuels and nuclear energy make up 60% of the power supply in Texas, according to Business Insider. So, Justice’s statement was inaccurate, at best.
Really though, the entire argument of whether one energy source is more reliable than another makes little difference, because that wasn’t the major issue. The grid failed because Texas hardly ever experiences the type of brutal cold and accompanying snow and ice that slammed the state last week. When millions of people cranked up their thermostats, the demand on the power grid was too great. It couldn’t bear the load.
Justice’s statement was unchecked misinformation that some will now view as fact because they heard it from the governor — who is, himself, a coal baron with a vested interest in the industry’s continuation, despite its ongoing decline and smaller role in energy production.
It’s also galling that Justice would, inaccurately, rail against renewables in Texas when there were thousands of people in West Virginia without power during the extreme cold that very day. According to Appalachian Power, outages peaked at nearly 100,000 during the snow and ice storms last week. On Monday morning, there were still nearly 25,000 West Virginia homes and businesses without power.
It would be easy to snap back at Justice by noting nearly all electricity in West Virginia is derived from natural gas and coal and still people lost power for days, but that would be another oversimplification. When these things happen in the Mountain State, the raw materials rarely matter.
Demand on the grid plays a role, but the infrastructure and terrain also cause problems. Power lines become weighted down by ice, and they fall. Trees snap under that same weight, taking power lines with them. In hard-to-reach rural areas, it can take days for workers to restore power. They must first get to the problem in remote areas during bad weather, and often have to clear debris before they can get to the lines.
Energy policy is a complicated and necessary debate, but decrying one resource or another because of a situation like what’s happening in Texas is dishonest and intellectually lazy.
Justice likes to say at these briefings that he always tells the people the truth, and always “shoots straight.” That must not cover odd asides given at the end that are entangled with his bottom line as a businessman.