News & Politics

FEMA Sends Wind and Solar—No, Wait, It's Sending Diesel Generators—to the Texas Winter Storm Zone

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Here’s just a little note about what works best when things are at their worst.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — FEMA is working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and is sending 60 generators after frigid temperatures forced the closure of at least 30 federally supported COVID-19 vaccine sites on Wednesday.

Though FEMA would not disclose where in Texas the generators were sent, ABC News is told they are headed to areas still struggling with power outages.

FEMA is also providing blankets, bottled water and meals for the state to distribute.

They’re diesel generators.

FEMA has supplied generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power, which of course is a major issue on the ground to key critical infrastructure including communications, hospitals, and water.

I don’t even want to play “If a Republican had been president…” but the fact is, a Republican president would have been pilloried for not uttering a word several full days into a major crisis. CNN, which helped puff up Gov. Cuomo even after his nursing home policy likely sent thousands to COVID death, would have led the way. You’d have had to pry Shepard Smith away from a camera with a crowbar.

We’re now probably past the storm’s worst—before FEMA gear is making its way in. Central Texas finally gets above freezing today. It’s possible that Texas didn’t ask FEMA for support, and it’s likely that said support couldn’t have even gotten to most of the state. In case you missed the big headline, the entire state froze. The whole gigantic thing.

I have dealt with FEMA during a crisis. It’s capable but not omnipotent. It deals with people in what for many of them are some of the worst moments of their lives. It’s not worth sacking FEMA.

The point of noting the insertion of generators is pretty simple: When you need a portable, surge-able power source, you need fossil fuels and things that burn them at this point in our technological development. A whole lot of Texans will be buying generators for their homes after this.

You cannot surge wind power when demand surges. You cannot surge solar power when demand surges. The battery storage technology isn’t able to do that yet. (And battery tech isn’t all that clean either.)

You can surge natural gas and coal, and to an extent, you can surge nuclear.

But with everything frozen including the oil wells, and with coal plants having been taken offline over the past few decades, with production crashing in the Permian and the markets going haywire, the nation’s largest energy-producing state struggled to produce enough energy to stay warm. Think about that. Texas is a fossil fuel and wind superpower. But it froze. Texas wasn’t alone; there were and are outages elsewhere in other stricken states.

It’s also a good thing we weren’t pushing the grid even more by trying to charge millions of electric cars. The grid is obviously not ready for that. As I and Alex Epstein and others have noted before, electric cars merely displace where the fuel is. Gas cars burn the fuel within as they go (or as they idle). Electric cars have already had their fuel burned somewhere else. That’s not an insignificant difference. We filled up our gas cars prior to the storm just in case we needed them for something, even if we couldn’t go anywhere. I cleared the garage and put one car inside, again, just in case. Many, many Texans were able to use their gas-powered cars to keep warm when the electricity failed, charge their phones, connect to the outside world to check on friends and family, check the weather (followed by swearing), and maintain their own sanity. Full tanks made that possible and did not stress the stretched power grid. Others used propane to power heaters or even their outdoor grills. One friend of mine lost power and decided to fire up the grill to stay warm and make coffee.

This was a very bad winter storm. Elon Musk is not wrong about the demands his own cars will place on the grid, and he and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda should be heard. I humbly suggest the Texas legislature listen to Musk and Toyoda, Epstein, Ryan Sitton, and a whole range of informed voices as the ERCOT hearings get underway. They know what they’re talking about. It’s also possible that ERCOT’s actions, while extremely painful for many, ended up preventing far worse. There are some reports of that; hopefully, fair investigations will ferret out the facts.

This storm was tragic for a number of folks. We’re starting to hear about them and they’re truly heart-breaking.

The fact is, fossil fuels kept millions warm enough to survive a historic winter storm. It’s not so much a case of what failed when everything did, to one extent or another. It’s a question of baseline reliability and what do you want your family to know you can depend on when crisis strikes. Because it will. It’s only a matter of time and what the crisis is. The modern world still cannot escape nature.

I heard a bird sing for the first time in days yesterday afternoon. That was a good sign.

Musk: Electric Cars Will Require a Lot More Electric Power Than We Currently Have