Yes, we’re coming for your reliable energy
When the Houston Chronicle reported on the Biden administration’s plans for offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico last fall, it illustrated the piece with an old photo of construction of the Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, Rhode Island. An old photo — because now, less than six years later, Deepwater Wind, with a grand total of five turbines, is a disappointment. It cannot reliably produce even half of its promised power.
Vessels traveling by Block Island have known this for years; at times as few as one of the five turbines is moving; “routine maintenance” is the inevitable explanation offered by Deepwater Wind’s Danish owners. Block Island now mostly gets its energy from the mainland instead of the turbines.
But Deepwater Wind’s broken promises matter to Texans, because Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke is fully on board with the Biden administration on bringing Rhode Island’s failure to Texas.
“Texas can leverage our oil and gas expertise to lead on new energy sources like geothermal power, offshore wind and hydrogen,” O’Rourke tweeted on Monday. “We can create jobs and make America more energy independent.”
Affordable and reliable geothermal power maybe be possible in the future, but offshore wind development will not be economically viable in Texas until production costs fall by more than half and energy storage costs fall more than tenfold, which may never happen.
Filling the Gulf of Mexico with massive wind turbines would do none of the things O’Rourke promises. But it would bring environmental harms, danger to humans and wildlife alike, and double down on unreliable energy. It would also enrich the foreign companies that dominate offshore wind in the U.S.
Ironically, O’Rourke has long planned to run against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on the issue of electric reliability — an open wound for many Texans, following last year’s February deep freeze.
But the fact is that increasing the proportion of wind energy (including offshore) in the state’s grid would only undermine its reliability. As Winter Storm Uri demonstrated, when we need energy the most, wind and solar don’t show up. Currently, wind and solar comprise about a third of the Lone Star State’s electric generation capacity. But as temperatures dropped on the night of Feb. 14, 2021, solar delivered nothing, and throughout the course of the storm, wind performed poorly and bottomed out at 1.5 percent of its generating capacity.
The same is true in Texas on very hot days; high pressure weather systems can mean little wind — and little wind generation. Without enormous amounts of expensive energy storage, wind cannot approach the reliability of the natural gas and coal generation that it is replacing.
In the last five years, Texas has gone in exactly the wrong direction on reliability. It has retired more than 5,000 megawatts of natural gas and clean coal, even as its population and economy continued to expand rapidly. What Texans want is reliable and affordable electricity — something a Green New Beto simply can’t deliver.
Just as offshore wind would make the Texas grid less reliable, it would also undermine energy independence — despite O’Rourke’s claim.
Every offshore wind turbine requires literally a ton of neodymium, which is mined almost exclusively in China. That nation also controls most of the other rare earth minerals used in magnets for wind turbines and electric motors. And after President Biden’s inglorious exit from Afghanistan, China is moving in to grab the copper that every renewable application requires.
While O’Rourke dreams of planting turbines in the thousands along the Gulf Coast, the Biden administration plans to force Americans into electric vehicles — further straining the supply of rare earth minerals.
China’s stranglehold on rare earth minerals means we’d be more energy-dependent than we ever were on OPEC. And there are national security risks that come with it, as well.
Beto O’Rourke can campaign on strengthening the Texas energy grid, or he can campaign on the Green New Deal. He can’t do both — and Texans know it.
Robert Henneke is executive director and general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.