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Texas power grid under scrutiny after massive winter storm outages

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Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott is blaming renewable energy for the power outages in his state in the wake of a deadly winter storm. But the state's own energy officials say otherwise. Dallas Morning News political reporter Allie Morris joins "Red and Blue" with more.

Video Transcript

- Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott is blaming renewable energy for creating power outages in his state in the wake of the deadly winter storm. That's at odds with the state's own Energy Department assessment. Abbott warned, if the broad environmental Democratic proposal billed as The Green New Deal were to be implemented, the nation could expect similar outages. The governor told Fox News the deal would even be, quote, "deadly" for the US. At a news conference earlier, he said that all energy sources there have been compromised. He also signed an executive order preventing the export of natural gas out of state.

GREG ABBOTT: I have repeatedly talked about how every source of power the state of Texas has been compromised, whether it be renewable power, such as wind or solar. But also, as I mentioned today, access to coal-generated power, access to gas-generated power also have been compromised, whether it be with regard to systems freezing up or equipment failures, as well as our nuclear power facility. So the fact is, every source of power the state of Texas has access to has been compromised because of the ultra-cold temperature or because of equipment failures.

- For more, I want to bring in Allie Morris. She covers politics for the "Dallas Morning News." Allie, thanks so much for joining us. So Texas has been led by Republican governors for a generation. Do you see any merit to Governor Abbott's argument that Democratic policies are to blame for the state's situation now?

ALLIE MORRIS: You know, well, you make a good point. Republicans have been in control for the last about two decade. And what we're seeing, really, in Texas right now is a failure across the board of all power generators here. So while there's been a lot of focus on wind generation-- certainly, turbines have frozen.

But what we're seeing a lot more problems with are natural-gas-powered plants, coal plants, and even a nuclear facility went offline. So we're really seeing power problems that kind of go across the scope of all types of energies, despite some of these attacks on renewables really being the only thing to blame. That's not really the truth of the matter of what's going on here in Texas.

- Yeah, on that point, Allie, how much renewable energy does Texas actually rely on?

ALLIE MORRIS: You know, our grid in Texas is powered, I believe, about 20% with wind generation. But the bulk really is natural gas. And here in Texas, we're relying on natural gas not only to-- for our electric power, but also for our heating. A lot of homes rely on natural gas for heat. And so that's one of the reasons why we're seeing a big squeeze here on some of the power generators. We've seen freezing temperatures across the state that have really affected the ability not only to pull natural gas out of the ground, but also to send it through pipelines to some of these generators.

And so the governor just had a press conference. He said, I believe, there's about 19,000 megawatts of gas power generation that's still not online in the state. But there's efforts to bring that back, as we see temperatures kind of thaw the situation here in Texas.

- I want to ask you about wind turbines because there has been some discussion about this. As you know, wind turbines work in much colder parts of the world than Texas. Why are they freezing there?

ALLIE MORRIS: It's a really great question because, you know, we do see wind turbines and a whole host of energy generation in the Northeast, in Northern Europe that's perfectly able to work under these types of temperatures. You know, Texas, our grid, I've been told by experts, really is built for our peak times in the summer, when everybody is drawing on electricity to try to cool their homes. And so what operators said today is that wind plants just don't have the equipment or the packages to really de-thaw the turbines here, just as some of the power plants here are not housed, I guess, indoors, as they might be in colder temperatures, which we were told they might be outside because that's more efficient in warm temperatures, which is usually when we have our energy peaks.

- Well, Texans have benefited financially from having its own deregulated power grid. How might that have factored into the current power failures?

ALLIE MORRIS: Yeah, you know, I think there's been a lot of attention on this, and I think some of it is that generators are really the ones that are in charge of making investments in their power plants. And so I think there has been some questions exactly to your earlier point about why aren't these power generators investing in weatherization. And I think, going forward, lawmakers in Texas have said they really want to investigate what happened, what went wrong here, and I'm sure that is going to be part of the discussion as we go forward.

- So lawmakers want to investigate this, but is there a sense, Allie, that political leaders bear some responsibility for what people in Texas are experiencing now? Or is this being viewed as a kind of fluke-- extremely rare weather, hitting a state that is generally not prepared for these events?

ALLIE MORRIS: You know, I think it's a combination of both. We've seen a lot of finger-pointing since the outages began overnight on Monday. The governor and lawmakers have called for an investigation of the council that oversees our grid, which ultimately, you know, made the decision to force some of these blackouts so that they could stabilize the grid and it wouldn't potentially go down, leaving people powerless for a much longer period of time.

At the same time, there has been criticism from Democrats that Republicans leading the state weren't giving the public enough notice or time to prepare for this type of situation. So I think, at this point, there's a lot of finger-pointing. And I'm sure, as lawmakers get into investigating, there will be some sort of accountability on the people who may be to blame in this situation.

- All right, Allie Morris for us. Allie, thank you very much.