Mullin in The Hill: The cold truth on energy

“I firmly believe it is not the governments job to pick winners and losers in our fuel mix”—Rep. Markwayne Mullin

Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin went after the “radical left” and “overregulation” in a recent op-ed piece for The Hill in which he defended the fossil fuel industry during the cold spell that killed dozens and resulted in rolling blackouts across Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

Here’s what he wrote in the opinion piece:

As the deadly cold snap worked its way across Middle America earlier this month one thing was made abundantly clear: there is not enough readily available energy in our country. Extreme weather set in, with wind and solar power failing as a result. And families, businesses, and communities were left stranded, facing rolling blackouts and soaring bills to come.

It took no time for the radical left to turn past concern for the families at risk to the opportunity for using this disaster as a justification that fossil fuels are terrible and that energy companies are price gouging consumers in a time of emergency. Make no mistake: the attack on diversified, reliable energy sources got us to this point.

The most reliable energy sources for electricity production are coal and nuclear because they have the benefit of the fuel source being stored on location. Unfortunately, overregulation has forced significantly less coal and nuclear usage in our energy production mix and a higher reliance on unreliable sources.

The Obama Era “Clean Power Plan” sought to eliminate coal plants by increasing the regulatory burden on their production of energy. Since 2010, 289 coal plants have closed. Under the Trump administration, the EPA attempted to roll back this rule but in January of 2021, a federal appellate court ruled against the Trump EPA and the use of coal for power continues to decline.

Despite being a completely carbon-free option that is always available, nuclear energy has decreased in our country. The upfront costs of building a new nuclear power plant are much higher than any other type of energy, whereas there have been tax incentives to invest in renewable sources that are less reliable. Not to mention the battle over where to store spent nuclear fuel makes this source all the more controversial.

The federal government’s heavy-handed regulation of our energy industry and move toward a “green economy” have forced us to have fewer options to choose from for our grid. When one source of energy fails, the other sources have to pick up the slack or the entire energy grid could shut down.

In 2010, Oklahoma saw a winter storm that started with an inch of ice on the ground before a half a foot of snow fell in some parts of the state. While there were power outages due to downed lines, we did not see the need for rolling blackouts like we have this time. In 2010, Oklahoma electricity was produced by 47 percent natural gas and 43 percent coal, with the remaining balance renewable.

Now, 43 percent of Oklahoma electricity is produced by natural gas. Renewable energy, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric, makes up 35 percent of our grid and coal makes up the remaining 21 percent. If we weren’t facing the situation we saw across the Midwest two weeks ago, these numbers would be championed. And for many reasons we are proud of this seemingly all-of-the-above landscape in Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, the conflation of use of all sources of energy with flexibility to use all sources of energy is an issue all consumers are now seeing firsthand. Since we don’t have a way to store wind and solar energy long-term, we must have a backup plan when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, or until Elon Musk invents a better battery. For better perspective, it would take the Tesla battery plant 500 years to produce enough batteries to store one day worth of energy for the United States. During this winter storm, we saw exactly what happens when we aren’t able to fill the existing production and storage gaps.

With the record low temperatures and large snow accumulations, wind turbines were inoperable, solar panels were covered, and wells were frozen, placing a huge strain on our energy grid. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas saw a 93 percent decrease in wind power from Feb. 8 to Feb. 16. In that same time frame, coal power went up 47 percent and natural gas spiked 450 percent, but it still wasn’t enough to meet the demand. Communities across several states endured rolling blackouts in order to boost the grid and still, thousands were left with no power at all.

I firmly believe it is not the governments job to pick winners and losers in our fuel mix, yet we are continually seeing the government incentivizing unreliable energy sources while demonizing fossil fuels and nuclear energy, despite the latter becoming cleaner and cleaner. The Biden administration and the radical left have been calling for the end of our use of fossil fuels entirely. Can you imagine how much worse this would have been if we were solely reliant on energy production from wind and solar? The outages could last days instead of hours, and in some places weeks instead of days, leaving families completely without power in extreme weather.

The result of this unreliable nature and lack of reserve options leaves no choice but for energy producers to take extreme measures. The cost of these extreme measures then gets passed along directly to consumers, and during this particular time it could be astronomical.

To get more specific, on the market the cost of natural gas to energy suppliers rose and fell dramatically due to supply and demand, at one point trading as high as $1,250 per million BTU. Companies may have no choice but to raise prices. The unexpected increase could be detrimental to those who have already been struggling to make ends meet. And to make matters worse, it could take months to sort out all the ripple effects.

The cold truth is that families will be forced to pay the price of our country’s decision to eliminate reliable energy options from our grid. Now more than ever we see the importance of having all options at our disposal.