The Wall Street Journal is Spewing Green Energy Lies
The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal is one of the most influential voices of the center-right in our nation. It claims it is “Guided by Principle, Grounded In Purpose”. As such, while it has the right to promote unpopular opinions, it also has a responsibility to cease trafficking in falsehoods, misrepresentations and outright lies. On no subject has the WSJ EB become more unhinged than on the subject of green power and climate change.
Exhibit A is yesterday’s (2/15/21) editorial entitled, “A Deep Green Freeze”. This ‘opinion’ lays out a false narrative that the ongoing power blackouts across the state of Texas are due to a misguided drive to replace coal and natural gas with wind and solar energy to produce electricity. This is simply not true. The piece goes on to state several other falsehoods: that coal is more dependable than natural gas as a source of power, that frozen solid Texan wind turbines are a major reason for the blackouts, residential heat pump systems are inefficient in cold weather, California’s rolling blackouts last summer were due to green energy rather than a heat wave and fire risk, and that the Biden administration plans to banish fossil fuels.
The entire story in all its glory can be found at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-deep-green-freeze-11613411002
Such poor journalism is an increasingly common occurrence at the Editorial pages of the WSJ: skim the headlines, make the story fit the desired narrative and damn the facts. For some reason, the WSJ Editorial Board does not have to adhere to the save rules of journalistic integrity as the rest of the paper’s reporters. Consider how the front page of the WSJ reported on the Texas cold snap the next day:
In “Why Is Texas Experiencing Power Outages”[https://www.wsj.com/articles/texas-storm-power-outage-11613425923], the WSJ explained on 2/16/21 that a major contributory problem of the blackouts is that Texas manages its own separate state power grid, that it is the only one in the nation which is not under Federal jurisdiction and that, “Texas likes it that way and has taken sometimes dramatic steps to ensure its grid is overseen in Austin, not Washington, D.C”. The bare-bones Texas system is designed to provide cheap energy at the cost of resiliency. The state’s average residential electricity price was 8.8 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2019 compared to more than 10.5 cents for the nation as a whole [https://www.globalenergyinstitute.org/average-electricity-retail-prices-map]. Texas’ grid operator has underinvested in winterizing plants in the state, and staging backup peak capacity while resisting the installation of long-distance high-voltage lines that could be used to ship in power from outside the region. The trade off is cheaper power…except when there isn’t any.
The WSJ’s “Heard On The Street” column was even more explicit in disputing the conclusions of the paper’s own Editorial Page. In “Don’t Blame Wind for Texas Electricity Woes”, reporter Jinjoo Lee points out that wind only makes up 10% of Texas’ power supply in the winter, and the cold has shut down operation of coal and natural gas plants through frozen water intake valves just as effectively as ice on giant wind turbines. In a direct repudiation of his own paper’s editorial board Mr. Lee concludes, “While the grid must be better prepared, resorting to cliched criticism certainly doesn’t help.” [https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-blame-wind-for-texas-electricity-woes-11613500788]
We can turn to The New York Times to find some additional fact-checked reporting. In today’s “A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids”, addresses that global warming means generally hotter weather, longer heat waves, more intense wind and rain storms, and potentially more severe cold snaps across temperate regions of the earth. It points out that many wind turbines in the upper Midwest are winterized to continue to produce power in conditions similar to what Texas is now experiencing. While yes, heat pump systems require more electricity in extreme cold to warm up a house (as do all heating systems), the major problem in this area is that many Texans use older inefficient electric resistance heaters which place a major strain on the grid. The truth, in contrast to what the WSJ EB would have us believe, is that modern heat pump systems are quite efficient. The NYT article also points out that Texas could spend a bit more to ensure more resilience in its grid in other ways such as storing more natural gas at power plants as is common in the northeast and, “pay extra to keep a fleet of backup power plants in reserve in case of emergencies, as is often done in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Anyone who followed the rolling blackouts in California in the summer of 2020 knows that they were primarily driven by utilities’ fears of litigation risk from downed electric lines igniting an explosive fire in conditions of extreme heat, tinder-dry forests and strong winds. This is in contrast to the WSJ’s Editorial Board’s position that the blackouts were caused by high demand as a setting sun reduced solar power inputs to the local grid. However, the Wall Street Journal’s own reporting in “New Blackouts Darken California” on 9/8/20 stated that, “PG&E starts cutting power in parts of the state due to high winds, to reduce the risk of wildfires…California utilities in recent years have resorted to public safety power shutoffs in which they cut off electricity to certain areas to reduce the risk of their power lines sparking wildfires when wind speeds pick up.”
Finally, we can turn to the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board’s major point made at the end of “A Deep Green Freeze”: that the Biden Administration wants to “banish” fossil fuels. While many green voters would indeed like to see that take place, this is not the position of our current president. Fossil fuels will not disappear from use in the US in the next four or eight years. What President Biden is promoting is a transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy where the US will become a leader in new technologies. Under our Constitution, any editorial board has the right to argue that this is a misguided policy. However, journalistic ethics and the need for a well-educated electorate demands that such positions are not based on falsehoods, distortions and lies.
The Wall Street Journal should immediately publish a correction to the errors in “A Deep Green Freeze” and hold its Editorial Board to the same standards as its other reporters. Until it does so, the Opinion Page’s promise that “every word we publish is the product of rigorous reporting , research and debate”, is no more than a lie.
Mr. Ellman is the author of “Hot Stocks: Investing for Impact and Profit in a Warming World” from Rowman & Littlefield.