UPDATED: Texas: “No, it wasn’t the windmills.” How much does the fossil fuel industry pay politicians (and regulators) to lie? How much does it pay politicians to appoint dirty judges to the bench, then pay those judges to lie, grant favourable rulings and gag the harmed?

David Weir@djweir Feb 17, 2021:

So… Katrina: God’s punishment

CA wildfires: God’s punishment

TX: windmills

How Much the Oil and Gas Industry Paid Texas Republicans Who Are Lying About Wind Energy by Molly Taft, Feb 17, 2021, Earther

As the crisis of rolling blackouts in Texas unfolds this week, some of the state’s loudest Republican politicians are falsely dragging “frozen wind turbines” as the cause. But behind every wind energy smear by a Texas politician is a dizzying amount of money contributed by the fossil fuel industry.

Earther looked at whose money is behind the loudest anti-wind voices this week. We used OpenSecrets data as well as individual political donations logged with the Federal Election Commission website to look at donations for Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and Sen. John Cornyn–three of the Texas politicians sitting in Washington, D.C., who have been most outspoken in their criticism of wind energy’s supposed “role” in the blackouts.

All three have continued to scapegoat renewables throughout the week, and looking at their donors, it’s no surprise. Federal campaign finance data shows more than 30 companies in the oil and gas industry, from multinational names like Exxon and Chevron to local power players like Texas Transeastern and Wildhorse Energy, gave tens of thousands of dollars to Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw over the past year. That includes thousands from individuals employed by those companies as well as largesse from their corporate PACs.

The Real Reason for Texas’ Rolling Blackouts Texas is really going through it right now. More than four million people are still without power…Read more

Cornyn, who was reelected last fall, was a big recipient of industry money. Between 2019 and 2020, Cornyn raked in more than $50,000 from Marathon Petroleum’s PAC and $25,000 from natural gas infrastructure company Sempra Energy’s PAC, as well as $25,000 from utility giant NextEnergy and $40,000 from Koch Industries. He also did well with oil and gas power players individually: CEOs or other key executives of Western Refining, Hunt Oil Company, Chief Oil and Gas, Walter Oil and Gas, Magnolia Oil and Gas, Occidental Petroleum, Cox Oil, Hilcorp Ventures and Kinder Morgan all donated $50,000 or more each to PACs associated with Cornyn’s campaign in the last election cycle.

Crenshaw, who ran for reelection in the House, also made out handsomely from the industry last cycle. The oil and gas industry overall donated $453,247 to Crenshaw last year ($311,947 from individuals, $141,300 total from PACs). Oil and gas was his largest industry donor by PAC money, including $10,000 each from Energy Transfer, Valero Energy, Occidental Petroleum, and Marathon Petroleum.

Cruz wasn’t up for reelection last year, but the industry didn’t forget about him. He still bagged $14,000 from Chevron’s PAC and $10,000 from Exxon’s—a little spending money, we guessas well as tens of thousands of dollars in individual contributions from employees of 30 oil and gas companies.

All told, these three Texas Republicans alone snagged more than $1.1 million from the industry in the 2020 election cycle.

But it wasn’t just these three Texans in the nation’s capital doing dirty work for fossil fuels. On Tuesday, as millions in his state suffered through the cold and without power, Gov. Greg Abbott made an appearance on Sean Hannity where he ripped into renewables. The blackout “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Hannity. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis….It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”

And let’s not forget Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who just last week was busy preparing a bill that would blacklist businesses based on their friendliness to fossil fuels. For Texas’ two head honchos, we used individual contributions pulled from state-level data logged on the site Transparency USA, and found some real Easter eggs from the industry.

Abbott and Patrick’s PACs share a bunch of big individual fossil fuel donors. Syed Javaid Anwar, the CEO of Midland Energy, was Abbott’s top donor between 2019 and 2020, giving a total of $1,617,500 to his PAC. The CEO also gave generously to Patrick, kicking his PAC just under $250,000 over that same time period. Douglas Scharbauer, an heir to a West Texas oil, ranching, and race horse fortune, gave a total of $350,000 to the lieutenant governor’s PAC in 2019, while another oil heir, Ray Lee Hunt, also pitched in generously with donations of $500,000 to the PACs of Abbott and $250,000 to Patrick. (Hunt also gave more than $63,000 to Cornyn’s PAC.) Not to be outdone, Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, kicked $500,000 to Abbott’s PAC and $200,000 to Patrick’s in the same time period. Warren’s firm is behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, and he has said talking about the pipeline is “like talking about my son.”

What’s happening in Texas right now is a perfect storm of poor planning, crazy weather, and a widespread government failure to prepare the electric grid.

Fossil fuels had a big part to play in how this disaster went down as natural gas and coal sources failed at multiple points, from energy sources themselves freezing to pipelines shutting down.

The Texas grid’s terrible setup—a lack of integration with other states to ensure a consistent power supply, lagging weatherization updates, predatory pricing habits—can’t be tied to one source, but politicians like Crenshaw, Cruz, and Abbott are choosing to hammer down on renewables while blessing fossil fuels, similar to how they’ve reacted during California’s blackouts in recent years.

While it’s impossible to say why, their donations tell a pretty damning story here—and research has shown donors make it rain on politicians who do their bidding.

The fossil fuel industry has also made it clear that it sees wind power in Texas as a threat to its business. A panel on Texas windpower convened at the wind industry’s key summit in 2019 addressed this issue directly. “People are spending millions of dollars to hobble the wind industry,” moderator Chris Tomlinson, a Houston Chronicle columnist, said at the panel, claiming that there are lobbyists in Austin who have been told to spend nearly half their time opposing the wind industry.

When such a large-scale screw up like this happens—when lives are lost and people suffer—we have to examine what those in control of the status quo have to lose, and what changes they are advocating. The fossil fuel industry is fighting to keep its control over a rapidly changing energy landscape, and part of their strategy is giving as much as possible to those in charge, particularly Republicans. Even though experts across the board agree that we need a clean energy grid that’s reliable and have even created a popular plan for how to get there, conservative politicians with loud platforms are blocking serious discussion, let alone action. The longer the industry keeps the political system captured and the more these people lie, the more likely it is we’ll see even more death and chaos ahead.

Lessons for Alberta from the Texas power blackout, Everything is bigger in Texas, even the power market spikes by Joshua Rhodes and Blake Shaffer, CBC News, Feb 17, 2021

This column is an opinion from Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin, and Blake Shaffer, a professor at the University of Calgary.

The frigid Arctic air that gripped Alberta for much of the last two weeks has descended on the U.S. Deep South. But unlike Alberta, Texas and its surrounding regions aren’t designed for this type of weather.

Buildings are designed to shed heat, not keep it in. Power systems are built to meet the extreme peaks of sweltering summer heat, not mid-winter cold.

Pushed to the brink, with record-breaking demand for this time of year coupled with power supply failures across the spectrum of fuel types, the Texas grid was forced to shut off pockets of power to millions of consumers around the state in an effort to ration available supply and avoid a catastrophic, system-wide blackout.

In short, it’s an event that will be discussed for decades by electricity traders. It’s the stuff of nightmares for power market designers and grid operators, and a dangerous situation for millions of Texans without heat.

So what happened? Who’s to blame? And what lessons can Alberta take from this event?

What happened in Texas 

In essence, the situation in Texas came down to classic supply and demand.

At one point, all 254 counties in the state of Texas were under winter storm warnings. These historic, state-wide, cold temperatures led to record demand for energy that drove electricity prices from their typical mid-$30s into the thousands of dollars per megawatt-hour, and natural gas from $3 to several hundred dollars per MMBtu.

When there still wasn’t enough supply, the electricity grid had to initiate rotating outages that have lasted for days, leaving many Texans in the cold. 

On paper, Texas had the capacity to manage this record demand. But the Texas grid is built for summer: it measures its reserve margins and resource adequacy against being able to provide electricity on hot summer afternoons when the entire state is demanding power for air conditioning.

One major takeaway from this experience is how ill-prepared Texas’s infrastructure is for these extreme cold events, and how that differs from their ability to meet summer peaks.

Freezing temperatures and a power system not designed for them resulted in a lack of gas supply and soaring natural gas prices during the Texas power outage. (Blake Shaffer)

Simply put, Texas’s infrastructure doesn’t invest in the type of insulation and cold weather protection that is the norm in Alberta — because by and large, they rarely need it. And Repuglicans refuse to face the consequences of fossil fuel pollution caused global warming and the ever increasing extremes in temperatures and storms. Will they this time? Nope. Lots of dirty industry money will make sure of it.

In the end, many natural gas wells and other infrastructure froze in Texas and surrounding regions, limiting supply in this time of high demand. Other thermal assets, such as coal and natural gas power plants, also experienced issues with frozen water intakes, and some wind capacity has been lost to icing. 

This squeeze on not just one, but two, energy sectors (gas and electricity) that are closely interconnected has pushed both of them beyond what they were designed to handle, causing both to fail.

It foreshadows the future for Alberta. We skated through our recent cold snap with nary a suggestion of system emergency, because our fuel delivery and power infrastructure is built for those types of extremes. However, it may be a far different story when we have to grapple with temperatures in the 30 C and even 40 C range in summers to come.

Who’s to blame?

It’s only natural in the aftermath of a serious event like the Texas power outage is that people will be quick to seek and assign blame. Many are all too eager to find any excuse to reinforce their pre-existing notions about the unreliability of wind, blaming the outages on a dearth of wind power.

But answers aren’t so simple, and it will take time to fully dissect this event.

What we do know is that wind performed, for the most part, roughly as expected: a small fraction of its maximum capability, but roughly in line with what the Texas system counts on for reliability purposes in the winter. 

Natural gas, oft-touted for its ability to provide reliability in power grids with large shares of renewables, was beset with struggles.

Freezing temps led to shut-in production in a system not designed for these temperatures. This resulted in a lack of gas supply and soaring natural gas prices — in some cases 100 times typical pricing. During the Texas outage event, over 30,000 MW of thermal power plants, or 35 per cent of thermal power capacity, was offline.

Alberta and Texas put their faith in the market when it comes to the power grid. Over the years, this has worked reasonably well. Alberta’s and Texas’s power markets tend to result in lower — but more volatile — prices. (Blake Shaffer)

In short, no single fuel is to blame, nor would a different market design have saved the day. Texas ended up in the proverbial perfect storm of having both an extreme demand shock and correlated supply failures at the same time.

Takeaways for Alberta

Alberta and Texas share many similarities in their power grids.

Both are historically based around fossil fuel generation, with recently growing shares of wind and solar. Both have limited electrical connections to their neighbours, leaving it largely up to themselves to manage their reliability. And both operate, uniquely in North America, under what is called an “energy-only” market — paying competitive generators solely for the energy they produce. 

While the rest of the continent adds a layer of capacity payments to ensure sufficient power generating capability to keep the lights on, or relies on a traditional, regulated system of utilities (over-)building to meet their customers needs, Alberta and Texas put their faith in the market, letting wholesale power prices rise to what may seem at times astronomical levels.

The idea is, by letting prices rise, demand will fall in the short term and new investment in generation will be attracted to the market in the long term, by producers keen to cash in on these rare but profitable scarcity events.

Over the years, this has worked reasonably well. On average, despite these occasional price excursions, Alberta’s and Texas’s power markets tend to result in lower — but more volatile — prices.

The events of this week will, understandably, raise questions as to whether this market design is delivering the level of reliability consumers expect.

In the end, it’s a question of insurance, and consumers’ willingness to pay significantly to guard against black swan events. And make no mistake, what occurred in Texas this week was a bona fide black swan event.

Three lessons

In our view, there are three key lessons Alberta (and Texas itself) can take away from this event.

First is the need for bigger interconnections with their respective neighbours. While California can supply up to half its demand from imports at times, Alberta maxes out at less than 10 per cent. Texas is even less.

Bigger interconnections with the neighbours means the ability to lean on other regions in times of need, and vice versa. Even as Texas runs out of power today, there is plenty of excess power around the continent, but no ability to get it there. 

For Alberta, the recent power outages in Texas are a warning shot reminding us that we need to begin preparing our infrastructure for summer peaks, not just winter ones, say Joshua Rhodes and Blake Shaffer. (Blake Shaffer)

Second is the need to elicit more flexibility from the demand side. With prices reaching $10 per kW (when the typical price is three to five cents), there are undoubtedly many people who would choose to turn some portion of the demand off — if they faced those prices. The problem is, most consumers don’t face these prices and thus have no incentive to do so.

Innovative rate designs that protect consumers from these extreme rate shocks, and offer the opportunity to participate in demand-reduction when the system is stressed and be rewarded for doing so, are sorely needed.

An energy-only market doesn’t work without a responsive demand side of the market.

So, smart meters, lots of ’em. Ample evidence of what unreliable crap smart meters are, and how dangerous they are. Better that communities, homes and businesses create their own small energy locally, tied into the grid for security and for sharing energy with other communities when things go wrong, and install back up systems for communities and families to share. Most importantly, stop fossil fuel exploration, no more new fossil fuel infrastructure, projects or expansions, and dramatically reduce fossil fuel use to get our out-of-control pollution under some restraint. Finally, clean up the galling corruption the fossil fuel industry has rotted in all our authorities, including our gov’ts and courts. Surely Homo sapiens has the smarts to get ‘er done, otherwise it’s tits up for our species and millions of others. Modernize our meters with open-source, bi-directional communication abilities to enable demand to respond during scarcity events.

Third is a stark reminder that grids built to meet their respective seasonal peaks need to be prepared for extreme weather at all times of the year now.

For Alberta, it’s a warning shot reminding us it won’t be long before our winter-peaking system starts setting its annual peaks in increasingly hot summers.

We need to prepare our infrastructure for summer, not just winter, peaks.

The Texas power event is also a reminder that extreme situations occur when exceptional demand and correlated supply failures — across all modalities — converge.

The confluence of weaker wind, embattled natural gas, and higher demand resulted in the system going beyond its ability to cope. When planning, we need to consider the interdependencies of all these connected pieces.

One thing is certain: the events of this week will provide lessons for the electricity sector for years to come.

Check out the ghastly data below!

Texas Oil and Gas Plants Quadruple Air Pollution as Systems Freeze Up by Molly Taft, Feb 18, 2021

It’s been a hard week for everyone living in Texas as blackouts, boil notices, and bone-chilling cold rattle the state. But data shared with Earther shows the suffering maybe be particularly acute for the millions of Texans living near oil wells and refineries.

Over the past week, refineries, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure have been polluting at four times the rate that they were before the cold snap. And much of this pollution can be directly traced back to the cold weather and the industry’s failure to prepare.

Earther looked at pollution event reports pulled from the Texas Department of Environmental Quality, which logs voluntary reports on emissions and flaring submitted by the owners of fossil fuel facilities. From Feb. 11 through Feb. 18th, the state received reports of 174 so-called “emissions events” from fossil fuel sites. By comparison, there were only 45, 37, and 46 events logged in three seven-day periods throughout January and February before the cold weather hit.

Reading through some of these reports is a toxic emissions nightmare. A Valero refinery in Port Arthur, a majority-Black town where residents have been fighting environmental injustices for years, leaked 57,000 pounds (25,855 kilograms) of sulfur dioxide in a single day. ExxonMobil’s refinery in Baytown, a city in the Houston metropolitan area, spewed 68,000 pounds (31,298 kilograms) of carbon monoxide over the course of two days as it struggled with the cold. (Exxon said this week that it had shut down the Baytown facility, the company’s largest in the U.S., due to the storm.) A Shell facility in the Houston suburb of Deer Park reported that more than 6,500 pounds (2,948 kilograms) of the carcinogen isoprene leaked while the facility was managing the cold conditions.

Thanks to the proliferation of fossil fuel infrastructure in the Lone Star State, the specific health impacts of this kind of pollution on Texans is well-documented. One analysis found that air pollution in 2015 was responsible for more than 5,000 excess deaths in Houston alone, while a study released in December shows that Texans living near oil refineries have higher rates of cancer. Add these worries to no access to power, a water shortage across the state, and an ongoing pandemic creates a perfect storm of public health crises and failure to regulate powerful special interests.

While fossil fuel producers are not mandated to report the cause of problems at their facilities, around 70 of these event reports directly mentioned issues with the cold weather, said Sharon Wilson, a Texas-based senior field advocate at Earthworks, which first noticed the deluge of incident reports and compiled the data.

“Everything with oil and gas starts with a hole in the ground,” Wilson said. “That hole in the ground does not know the compressor station is frozen, so it keeps pumping gas. Somewhere along the line a pipe is frozen, so everything gets released into the air. And it does not stop getting released into the air—it just keeps going.”

Wilson said that some reports noted glitches from the cold weather as tiny as a frozen switch that stalled operations and forced excess gas to be released into the air.

If [the industry] had winterized their equipment, this wouldn’t be happening,” she said.

One important pollutant left out of many of these reports is methane, the pollutant that can both harm human health and is 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere over the short term than carbon dioxide. “In Texas, we don’t count methane [in pollution reports],” Wilson noted, saying that while some producers report natural gas leaks—which includes methane—they are not mandated to specify breakdowns of specific chemicals, even though leaks almost always include methane. So in addition to the immediate harm of carcinogens and air pollution documented in the state’s records, it’s also likely that unreported methane emissions are worsening the climate crisis.

As the natural gas industry has exploded in Texas, regulators have been slow to control pollution. These reports themselves illustrate the laissez-faire existence of the industry: Texas regulations say that fossil fuel facilities can’t be held responsible for certain types of emissions, including those that were out of their control. As a result, the industry self-reports excess pollution that it claims was unforeseeable as a way to protect itself. While this month’s weather was unusual, the industry often logs routine-yet-worrisome leaks and fires as unforeseeable with little to no pushback from regulators. That Baytown facility that closed after leaking all that carbon monoxide this week, for example, also caught fire a few years ago.

Last year, the Environmental Defense Fund estimated that methane was escaping from oil and gas production in the Permian Basin at nearly three times the rate allowed by federal regulations. And while industry sites technically need to apply for a permit before burning off excess gas for an extended period of time—a process known as flaring—the commission in charge of regulating flaring has approved tens of thousands of permits with almost no refusals since 2013. An Earthworks investigation conducted earlier this year found that 75% of flaring on public lands in Texas was conducted illegally without a permit.

As politicians continue to falsely blame frozen windmills for the power outages and industry claims the problems from the cold weather were unavoidable, Wilson said more attention to how fossil fuel facilities prepare for different weather conditions is necessary.

“We need someone in the Texas legislature to file a bill requiring the oil and gas industry to thoroughly winterize all their equipment,” she said. “The bill probably won’t pass in Texas, but that will create some more scrutiny about it.”

But regulators’ loose leash on the industry and achingly slow response to other pollution problems doesn’t give Wilson much hope.

And what does money grubbing Cruz do to help freezing Texans?

Best presentation I’ve seen: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on “dark money” influencing USA Supreme Court appointments

Oil patch polluted judicial industry: Trump’s extreme right Supreme Court Judge, Amy Coney Barrett, hears climate case against her father’s ex-employer Shell; Barrett participated even though as a lower court judge she recused herself from hearing cases involving Shell.

Generation Now Inc. to plead guilty in alleged $60Million Ohio bribery scheme provided by FirstEnergy Corp to gain legislative approval of $1Billion bailout to benefit FirstEnergy subsidiary, and guarantee profits for FirstEnergy.

Michael de Adder’s cartoon for Feb 19, 2021

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