By David Schuman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Millions of people in Texas are demanding to know when their power will come back, and why it’s been off so long during a winter storm.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is blaming ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is in charge of operating the state’s power grid. The system is isolated from the rest of the country, is outside federal regulation, and has infrastructure that was not ready to function in such cold weather.

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“They’ve walled off the Texas electric system from the rest of the country,” said Joseph Sullivan, with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Some conservatives are blaming the environmental movement, insisting that frozen wind turbines show the limits of alternative energy sources. Minnesota energy leaders are debunking those claims, saying the problems in Texas are a failure of planning, not energy sources.

Minnesota’s energy system is part of a much larger electric grid that powers many states. The collaboration allows states to give and take, sharing the load.

“We put all our resources in the ground with the knowledge and interconnections into our neighboring states and into this large region,” said Sullivan.

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The second major difference between the two states is that Minnesota’s utilities are winterized. Wind turbines have heating packs and pipes are insulated. So to argue that Texas’ calamity is caused by renewable energy’s limitations is just not accurate, Sullivan argues.

“Renewables have nothing to do with this. Coal plants have frozen up. Nuclear facilities are not operating in Texas. Natural gas plants are not operating,” he said.

Beth Soholt, executive director of the St. Paul nonprofit Clean Grid Alliance, says she expects utilities here to add more renewables to their portfolios.

“They’ve learned a lot about how to operate in severe weather conditions with the Minnesota wind farms. The cost of wind and solar have come down dramatically,” she said.

Wind energy accounts for more than 20% of the electricity generated in Minnesota, which makes Minnesota a top-10 wind state in the country. That takes pressure off of natural gas, which takes pressure off of other resources.

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Electricity prices in Minnesota homes are almost exactly average compared to the rest of the country.

David Schuman