A Free-Market Energy Blog

Tomlinson on the Texas Grid Three Years Ago (prediction fail!)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 23, 2024

Ed. Note: With the 3rd anniversary of the Great Texas Blackout (February 2021) this week, it is worth revisiting an (egregious?) forecasting error of Houston Chronicle business editorialist Chris Tomlinson. The conflicted journalist (married to a multi-millionaire renewables developer) has continued to posit the false narrative that natural gas failed, not wind, solar, and central planning in the state. This post was originally published at MasterResource.

“Fossil fuel-supporting Chicken Littles have done their best to spread fear of renewable energy, warning that relying on wind, solar and storage would lead to blackouts and economic devastation.” ( – C. Tomlinson)

Three years ago this month, Houston Chronicle business editorialist Chris Tomlinson wrote that no iceberg was ahead for the Texas grid–and concerns about the wind/solar takeover was special-interest drudge. True, the warnings from the free-market community were long in coming–but they turned out true for the right reasons.

Josiah Neeley, then with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, wrote back in 2012:

“It is well known that Texas is undergoing a major challenge in maintaining resource adequacy due to improper price signals; less well known is that a significant portion of the problem can be laid directly on the doorstep of subsidies for wind generation…. Congress should allow the PTC to expire; if not, we may see the end Texas’ world-class energy-only electricity market.

Tomlinson’s three-year-old editorial, “Evolving Texas grid marks beginning of the end for fossil fuel electricity” (December 25, 2020) follows.

Fossil fuel-supporting Chicken Littles have done their best to spread fear of renewable energy, warning that relying on wind, solar and storage would lead to blackouts and economic devastation.

For years, I have denounced the propaganda promulgated by lobbyists financed by the oil and gas industry. Now, the latest data proves that the New Year will mark the end of the beginning for clean energy, and the beginning of the end of our reliance on coal and natural gas for electricity.

The tipping point was revealed in the latest capacity report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the grid operator that delivers power to most of the state. After several years of thinning reserve generation capacity due to coal-fired plant retirements, solar facilities are adding cushion.

ERCOT runs one of the world’s leading competitive wholesale markets for electricity. Rather than dictate what kind of power plant an energy provider should build, generators compete to sell the lowest-cost electricity. In Texas, demand sets the price, not a political appointee.

Utilities have been shutting down old, expensive coal-fired and natural gas-fueled power plants, while others have constructed wind and solar facilities subsidized with tax credits. Texas’s electricity reserve margins dropped below target levels in 2018 and 2019, stirring a lot of debate about reliability and higher prices.

“These business cycles of retirements and new investments are expected in the ERCOT market, and it is ERCOT’s job to maintain reliable electric service through the various changing conditions,” ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said in a statement. Most of the new investments are paying off.

ERCOT expects to add 3,039 megawatts of utility-scale solar resources, 1,765 megawatts of wind and 816 megawatts of natural gas-fired generation next year. The grid will have 86,842 megawatts of capacity to serve an expected peak demand of 77,244 megawatts in 2021, the council said.

In addition, ERCOT is working on adding large batteries that will provide even more capacity during the hour or so every August when demand peaks. The reserve capacity in 2021 will be 15.5 percent, well above the target of 13 percent, and will rise to 27 percent in 2022, ERCOT said.

Solar and wind power’s predominance in new generation is typical across the country, where major corporations and consumers want more of their electricity from sources that do not contribute to climate change.

No new coal-powered plants are planned for the United States. New nuclear power technologies are a decade away from deployment. New natural gas plants struggle to compete on price with solar and wind, even after renewables lose the federal tax subsidies that are phasing out over the next few years.

President-elect Joe Biden also wants to make the U.S. power grid carbon neutral by 2035 to fight climate change. While there are still plenty of fossil fuel Chicken Littles declaring that goal impossible, innovators are describing plenty of pathways to achieving net-zero greenhouse emissions.

“For an industry that has focused heavily on solar and wind, supportive federal actions could help progress timelines for further expansion into new technologies, including advanced batteries and other forms of storage, offshore wind, and green hydrogen technology,” the consulting firm Deloitte explains in its new Renewable Energy Outlook.

Batteries and green hydrogen, both of which I’ve written about recently, offer novel and affordable ways to store energy when proverbially, the wind does not blow, and the sun does not shine. Carbon capture technology can also offset carbon emissions for those times when natural gas is needed.

Federal investment in these new technologies will be critical to meet the 2035 net-zero goal for electricity generation and even more important to make the entire economy net-zero by 2050. Both targets are essential to prevent warming to levels that imperil human life.

Making those investments will also generate economic returns. Federal incentives could trigger $1 trillion in private capital investment and create 1 million new clean energy jobs, according to a report from energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie and the American Clean Power Association.

“Transforming the U.S. power grid is technically and commercially feasible, with appropriate policy support. This activity would unlock a tremendous economic development opportunity for infrastructure investment and associated jobs,” said Aaron Barr, principal consultant in Wood Mackenzie’s Energy Transition Practice.

Every week another organization shares a new plan for reaching net-zero emissions by 2035, and every technological innovation and cost reduction makes fossil fuel generation less attractive. The transition is well underway.

Those who make their living off fossil fuels can keep claiming the sky is falling, but the trajectory is clear. The energy powering the future will not come out of the ground.

And here we are three years later. Texas’s wounded grid has summer and winter problems that have required duplicating the grid with expensive storage (not needed with fossil-fueled generation) and ERCOT monies for thermal reserve incentives. Nationally and internationally, government-drilled energy transformation is causing higher prices, ballooning federal budget deficits, and consumer angst. The environment is suffering too from renewable blight and sprawl.

Will Chris Tomlinson make any mid-course correction. Does he have any incentive to do so?


  1. John W. Garrett  

    People like Bill McKibben, Jeremy Grantham, Seth Borenstein, Al Gore, Mike Bloomberg, Gavin Schmidt, Sheldon Whitehouse, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Kathy Hochul, and Jennifer Granholm will never admit that they’ve been completely wrong.

    They simply don’t have the intellectual integrity to do so.


  2. Denis Rushworth  

    “…expensive storage (not needed with fossil-fueled generation)…”

    Mr. Bradley,

    As you know coal-fueled power stations have onsite fuel storage, diesel stations the same. How many hours or days worth of fuel I do not know. But I believe one of the fixes for the 2011 Texas gas plant outage was to add some gas storage so they could operate for some time after failure of their pipeline source.

    Was this not done. Was it found to be “to expensive?”


    • rbradley  

      Yes, on-site storage, even line pack for natural gas, for the fossil fuels.

      Why was storage neglected as well as on-the-shelf freeze-off prevention? It was because of a variety of government interventions against vertical and horizontal integration of the gas and electric industries; a loss of the “obligation to serve” in the transfer from utilities to the ISOs/RTOs; and low margins overall from the wind/solar takeover of the grid. A statewide blackout is the ‘planned chaos’ of government intervention, not real free markets. Also the climate models and NASA/NOAA predicted a mild Texas winter, no thank you.

      It is no coincidence that the worst blackout in history times ten occurred within an ISO with a $65 billion expenditure on intermittent, dilute energies.


  3. Mike Keller  

    Nuclear has massive amounts (years) of on-site stored energy. Coal plants typically have several months of on-site coal. Natural gas is limited to the gas in the pipelines and storage facilities, unless electric powered gas compressors are used with the pipelines. Gas turbine powered compressors are normally used, unless dim witted politicians require using electric compressors to reduce emissions.

    Wind and solar energy storage is essentially zero. Reliance on those resources for critical energy needs is profoundly dumb. Worse, the use of the resources has virtually no bearing on the climate while the environment gets trashed. The only beneficiaries are special interest groups and politicians getting re-election money from the special interest groups whom the politicians subsidize using money extracted from taxpayers and consumers.


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