FARGO — North Dakota politicians must be exhausted. Like young honeymooners, they've spent most of the past two days making love to the object of their affection. The weird part, though, is that the object is coal.
Musty, decrepit old coal.
This is the result of the power grid problems in Texas, caused by record cold and an infrastructure not built for winter overload. Millions have gone without power, some have died and property has been damaged.
The human tragedy hasn't stopped the opportunists, though. What's the old political saw? Never let a crisis go to waste. North Dakota's Republicans haven't, posting on social media and issuing statements that Texas' problems prove that renewable energy is unreliable and the path to future energy safety is ... wait for it ... coal.
Yes, coal. The fossiliest of the fossil fuels. The fossil fuel that will soon enough be a dinosaur, despite the best efforts of Republican politicians to stop it from going extinct. While the rest of the nation, and some of the world, moves away from coal as an increasingly unaffordable and filthy option that is a major contributor to climate change, North Dakota's "finest" are working to turn the clock back to 1920.
From a jobs standpoint, it's understandable. Coal plants and coal mining are a major economic driver in the central part of the state and, if those disappear, great jobs will vanish with them. We've seen it in other areas dependent on coal, like West Virginia and Wyoming.
If North Dakota politicians wanted to be honest about it, they could make their case to preserve coal by laying out the indisputable facts.
"Look," they could say, "we know that coal is a fuel of the 20th century and that the world is moving on from it. But, we need to keep these coal plants and mines open as long as possible because without them we'll lose thousands of good jobs in areas of our state that will never again see jobs with those types of wages and benefits. We're desperate here. So that's why we're trying to find some way, some how to keep these coal jobs going."
That might actually garner some sympathy.
Instead, these shameless people like Sen. John Hoeven, Sen. Kevin Cramer, Rep. Kelly Armstrong and Gov. Doug Burgum decided long ago to demonize renewable energy and liberal politicians as the reason coal jobs are disappearing. It's a false narrative, a convenient tale that plays perfectly into the angry grievance politics so popular on the right. It's not the market, technological improvements or the decisions of businesses to supply what their customers want that's causing coal's inevitable decline, you see, it's the liberals and governments in liberal states that are making coal disappear.
And the Texas disaster is the consummate way to blame renewables for a power failure, which is exactly what North Dakota politicians have done. And they've done it in an effective way: Flood the zone with social media posts, press releases and opinion pieces saying, "See? We told you wind energy is unreliable. This proves it."
Republicans are nothing if not effective at shaping a narrative and forcing the other side to play defense.
So here's the ultimate defense: What they are saying is not true. They are lying.
It's the people in Texas in charge of its power grid who are telling the truth.
There are many credible news outlets reporting it.
A television station in Austin reported, "So yes, there are some issues with renewable energies during extreme weather events, but those issues are only a sliver of a larger problem that has left hundreds of thousand in the dark."
As of Tuesday afternoon, USA Today was reporting that of the 45,000 megawatts of power offline in Texas 67% was gas and coal, 33% was wind.
Bloomberg Green reported Tuesday that Texas wind turbines are falsely taking the brunt of the blame for the power issues, "because they're not the main reason broad swaths of the state have been plunged into darkness."
Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), says some wind turbines had to shut down from the brutal cold, "that's been the least significant factor" in the blackouts.
Woodfin said the main factors are frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and even nuclear facilities, as well as a limited supply of natural gas.
"We've had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event," Bloomberg quoted Woodfin as saying.
More from Bloomberg:
Wind shutdowns accounted for 3.6 to 4.5 gigawatts — or less than 13% — of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages, according to Woodfin. That’s in part because wind only comprises 25% of the state’s energy mix this time of year.
While wind can sometimes produce as much as 60% of total electricity in Texas, the resource tends to ebb in the winter, so the grid operator typically assumes that the turbines will generate only about 19% to 43% of their maximum output.
Even so, wind generation has actually exceeded the grid operator’s daily forecast through the weekend. Solar power has been slightly below forecast Monday.
“The performance of wind and solar is way down the list among the smaller factors in the disaster that we’re facing,” Daniel Cohan, associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, said in an interview. Blaming renewables for the blackouts “is really a red herring.”
A red herring.
That's way more boring than screaming about how Texas means we need to return to a reliance on coal. Sometimes the truth is boring.
One thing will decide whether the coal plants in North Dakota remain open, including the massive Coal Creek Station that is slated to be closed in 2022 unless a buyer can be found: The market.
If a power company decides it can buy Coal Creek and make it profitable enough to be worth it, it will remain open. If not, it will close. According to reporting from The Forum's Pat Springer, there are some interested suitors. We'll find out sometime this year whether they can make Coal Creek work for their bottom line.
Either way, what happens will have nothing to do with a dishonest narrative about Texas being pushed by North Dakota's Republican politicians.
In the meantime, good luck to the citizens of Texas. Some of us up north are worried about you and your safety — and not about pushing the fossiliest of fossil fuels down America's throat in a time of crisis.