Article written by Randy Eminger (reminger@tepn.org), Executive Director for Energy Policy Network. Used with permission.

In a state that leads the nation and many foreign countries in natural gas production, as well as oil and coal reserves, many of its citizens are literally without electric power. How could this happen to the ‘Republic of Energy’? The problem is the product of two adverse policies. Texas is deregulated, meaning whoever can sell the electricity at the lowest cost wins. With the heavy subsidies given to wind and solar by the federal government, other forms of generation like coal, natural gas, and nuclear struggle to compete. Second, like dozens of other states, Texas has heavily invested in renewable energy resources such as onshore wind due to favorable but skewed economics thanks to federal tax credits. The combination of these two policies led to the record-breaking addition of 10,700 wind turbines, totaling 32,000 MW (megawatts) of generating capacity. Wind now represents 25 percent of the electric generation capacity in Texas.

Simultaneously, electric utilities have been closing over 11,000 MW of coal and natural gas generation over the last five years. In 2018 alone, Texas’s utilities closed over 6,600 MW of coal plants, plus several natural gas plants. You might think closing the fossil plants would be okay with the 33,000 MW of wind in place. The problem is, renewable generation (wind/solar) is intermittent, meaning they cannot be counted on to generate electricity on-demand 24/7. As Texas learned, when ice or frigid weather hits, a significant amount of the 10,700 wind turbines froze up. Additionally, wind also rarely blows once the extreme weather fronts have passed through. On Feb 16, only 5 percent of the wind turbines were operating. The inability to supply power in frigid weather significantly contributed to rolling blackouts that left millions without power. The blackouts were more than an inconvenience, and they left customers in major cities like Houston and Austin without power for several days.

Although 91 percent of Indiana’s electricity still comes from dispatchable electric generation like natural gas and coal, the state has closed over 2,000 MW of dispatchable power plants in recent years. More troubling, the electric utilities in Indiana have announced the closing of an additional 4,000 MW of coal and natural gas generation by 2025. The vast majority of the new generation being added is wind and solar. If the current trajectory plays out, by 2030, Indiana’s renewable generation mix would be much like Texas (25%).

Indiana is fortunate to have electric rates that are 9 percent below the national average. While low-cost electricity is good for our state’s economy, reliable power is essential to life. Indiana should take a lesson from the Texas debacle. Moving too quickly to close reliable dispatchable power and replacing it with intermittent renewable sources can lead to significant problems. Don’t be like Texas.