Clean energy is taking over the Texas grid. State officials are trying to stop it.

“Clean energy is rapidly rising on the Texas power grid, but regulators in the Lone Star State are now considering a plan that could give fossil fuels a boost.
The zero greenhouse gas emissions trio — wind, solar, and nuclear energy — provided more than 40 percent of electricity in the state in 2022. It was a year when several Texas cities experienced their hottest summers on record, driving electricity demand to its highest levels ever as fans and air conditioners switched on. Winter proved stressful too, with freezing temperatures last month pushing winter electricity peaks to record-high levels, narrowly avoiding outages.”

“Texas leads the US in oil and natural gas production, but it’s also number one in wind power. Solar production in the state has almost tripled in the past three years. Part of the reason is that Texas is particularly suited to renewable energy on its grid. Wind turbines and solar panels in Texas have a high degree of “complementarity,” so shortfalls in one source are often matched by increases in another, smoothing out power production and reducing the need for other generators to step in. That has eased the integration of intermittent energy sources on the grid.

Coal, meanwhile, has lost more than half of its share in Texas since 2006. For a long time and across much of the country, the story was that cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing was eating coal’s lunch on the power grid. Coal was also facing tougher environmental regulations like stricter limits on mercury, requiring coal power plants to upgrade their equipment, and raising electricity production costs.”

“in Texas, natural gas’s share of the electricity mix has been holding around 40 percent for more than a decade. On the other hand, renewable energy has surged as coal withered. Wind alone started beating out coal in 2019 and is now the second-largest source of electricity behind natural gas in the state.

An important factor is that the state has its own internal power grid, serving 26 million customers and meeting 90 percent of its electricity demand. It’s managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT. In the freewheeling Texas energy market, the cheapest sources of electricity become dominant, and wind and solar — with low construction costs, rapid build times, and zero fuel expenses — have emerged as winners.”

“Some lawmakers are now working to tilt the balance toward fossil fuels. “There are different political figures who are trying to incentivize gas power plants or deny, prohibit, or inhibit renewables,” Webber said.

Last year, the Texas legislature passed a law that would prevent the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that “boycott” fossil fuels.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said one of his legislative priorities for this year is to secure more support for natural gas-fired generation. “We have to level the playing field so that we attract investment in natural gas plants,” Patrick said during a press conference last November. “We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power.””

“While wind and solar power are ascendant, they are intermittent, and regulators want to make sure there is enough dispatchable power like natural gas to ramp up on still, cloudy days. The new proposal would create a credit scheme that would encourage more of these dispatchable plants to come online and extend a lifeline to some existing generators that are struggling to compete. But it would also raise the costs of electricity production.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club noted that the proposal leaves the door open for other tactics for balancing electricity supply and demand, like energy storage, increasing energy efficiency, and demand response.”

Supreme Court Limits EPA’s Ability To Impose Costly Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cuts

“The U.S. Supreme Court the West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that it “is a major questions case.” As such, the Court ruled 6–3 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not have clear authority from Congress to regulate the entire U.S. electric power production industry through exercising “unheralded power representing a transformative expansion of its regulatory authority in the vague language” in a rarely used section of the Clean Air Act. This decision will likely curtail future efforts by the Biden administration to significantly cut the emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel-burning power plants that contribute to man-made global warming.”

“So what is the major questions doctrine? “The Supreme Court has declared that if an agency seeks to decide an issue of major national significance, its action must be supported by clear statutory authorization,” explained the Congressional Research Service in a recent analysis. Certainly, the huge costs imposed by new regulations that are not clearly authorized by Congress would seem to qualify as an issue of national significance. In fact, in his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts notes, “EPA’s own modeling concluded that the rule would entail billions of dollars in compliance costs (to be paid in the form of higher energy prices), require the retirement of dozens of coal-fired plants, and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs across various sectors.””

“In her dissent, Associate Justice Elena Kagan counters by pointing out the Obama administration’s EPA calculated that by 2030 the annual public health and climate benefits of proposed regulations under its Clean Power Plan would be between $34 to $54 billion while the costs would amount to $8.4 billion. While electricity would cost more, consumers would save $7 monthly on their electric bills due to increased energy efficiency. A 2016 study in the journal PLOS One similarly found that the health co-benefits outweighed the costs incurred from reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Despite the fact that the benefits of costly and transformative regulations might outweigh their costs that still does not mean for the Court’s majority that their issuance is not a major question requiring clear direction from Congress before going forward.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,'” concludes Chief Justice Roberts. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in [the Clean Air Act]. A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.””