By Al Fonzi

We witnessed something in February that most never believed would happen: the energy-rich state of Texas had its lights go out, its heat turned off, and citizens dying of hypothermia and weather-induced accidents. 

This wasn’t supposed to happen, and indeed, those responsible for keeping the lights on had assured the government only a week before they were fully prepared for severe winter weather. Those advocating a rapid transition to alternative fuels (wind and solar) sounded no alarms. However, climate alarmist skeptics have been warning of dangerous consequences for poor decision-making by politicians imposing rapid transition to unreliable alternative energy sources for some time.

Solar and wind require back-up energy supplies to maintain electric grid stability, either fossil fuels, nuclear power, or hydroelectric power, all of which have the ability to surge when called upon. Solar and wind cannot surge and went off-line before the worst of the storm hit; half the state’s wind turbines had frozen, turbine blades weren’t de-iced, and the lubricating oil within their housings froze. Solar was off-line due to snowfall and darkness. The grid was stressed, but fossil-fuel plants weren’t winterized, largely because operators put their funds into profits instead of preventive maintenance, like winterization. Subsidies are granted to alternatives at rates 75x more for solar and 17x more for wind than fossil fuels, making putting money into preparing for rare events like an extreme Texas winter snow/ice storm unprofitable, even though such storms have happened in Texas before.

The result: when a surge was required, even fossil-fuel plants suffered mechanical failures, unlike northern plants that routinely experience extreme cold and prepare for those events. The reliance upon solar/wind to the detriment of natural gas, coal, and nuclear left thestate unprepared for extremely cold temperatures. Solar was down, and wind went from providing a maximum of 42 percent of capacity to only 2 percent, requiring a surge from natural gas and nuclear power. Unfortunately, the cold weather had already resulted in much of the natural gas energy being directed towards home-heating and was unable to pick up the slack. Nuclear power heroically surged to over 60 percent but was still unable to breach the shortfall. The Texas state electrical grid came within nine minutes of total collapse. Operators instituted emergency rolling blackouts to successfully save the grid. Had it totally collapsed, severe damage to generating equipment would have occurred, resulting in power-outages of weeks, even months, and billions of dollars in losses. An unknown number of people would have died, possibly thousands.

Across America, politicians are writing laws requiring the imposition of draconian cuts to fossil-fuel power generation, almost in a race to the bottom for electrical grid reliability. Having lived in third-world countries where electricity is notoriously unreliable, I don’t relish imposing that upon America. Poverty is endemic, education, especially for women virtually non-existent, along with rule-of-law. You wouldn’t like it. Sadly, facts are irrelevant to advocates of harsh “green energy” mandates. California insisted that Oregon dismantle four hydroelectric dams supplying California with electrical power for the benefit of fish: Oregon complied. Our state’s last nuclear power plant is being deactivated with no replacement, not even with modern, safe small reactor designs with no refueling or waste disposal issues like their forebears.

Demand for electrification is expected to explode with requirements for rapid transition to electric vehicles and households without consideration of the massive carbon footprint such technology requires (actually more than fossil fuels) let alone where all that electricity will come from.

SLO County and every city except Atascadero have jumped on-board the alternative energy bandwagon, buying into the promise that green energy can be purchased cheaply via the Central Coast Community Choice energy program, the need to depend upon PG&E therefore no longer required. It works until it doesn’t.

Like we did last year, until regional heat-waves depleted the electrical supply and California was forced to impose rolling blackouts, Texans bought power based upon cost per Kilowatt hour which normally was measured in cents, not dollars. The failure of the Texas grid exploded the cost per KW/hr from pennies to dollars, thousands of dollars, up to $9000 per KW/hr at its peak. Customers received electric bills as high as $17,000, for a monthly bill that was previously $660. Consumers were advised to switch to fixed-rate plans, but nobody was accepting new customers into fixed-rate plans during the crisis. They have to pay their bills; arrangements are being made to pay bills over a period of years.

I don’t know if that can happen here, but I would ask those hard questions of elected leaders before demanding they commit your community to joining any such cooperatives.

Al Fonzi is an independent opinion columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email him at  

Getting through this together, Atascadero