A deadly, record-shattering cold wave tested the nerves of Oklahomans this week.
High demand for electricity caused the Southwest Power Pool to declare a Level 3 energy emergency Monday and Tuesday, leading to rolling electricity supply interruptions in parts of the state and throughout the region. The forecast has improved modestly, but the trial may not be past.
High demand was exacerbated by supply problems. Frozen oil fields slowed the supply of natural gas to generators. Windmill-generated electricity was frozen solid.
The extreme cold also led to the potential for natural gas cutoffs to commercial and residential customers. Natural gas is the basic heating fuel for most Oklahoma homes and businesses; once service is cut off, returning it isn’t as simple as repressuring the lines.
To state the obvious, Oklahoma’s infrastructure isn’t built to withstand below-zero weather for long periods. The longer they last, the more problems crop up and the shorter the public’s nerves become.
Given the realities of climate change, the issue can’t be simply dismissed as the quirks of a one-off disaster. Warmer weather is on the horizon, but does anyone think this is the last time we will be tested by extremes of hot and cold? An all-fronts approach to the ongoing problem must address supply, demand and hardening our society to the challenges of climate through energy efficiency and conservation.
We have very little patience for those who took pleasure in seeing stock photos of frozen windmills and came to the hasty conclusion: So much for renewable energy.
More than a third of the state’s electricity is created by renewable energy, mostly from wind power. We need more of that, not less. Expecting fossil fuels to solve the problem resembles nothing so much as a lung patient reaching for cigarettes.
Yes, windmills don’t create power when the wind doesn’t blow or when ice stops their blades. And gas-fired generators generate nothing when there is no gas.
The solution seems to be a balanced energy portfolio as our economy transitions to a more sustainable future. Words like balance and sustainable aren’t always popular, especially in unprecedented circumstances such as the past week. That doesn’t mean they aren’t the proper path forward.
In the meantime, we should all take a moment to recognize the things that worked well in recent days.
Our police, firefighters and first responders were there when we needed them.
The city’s water crews were on top of line breaks. Plumbers responded to homes with burst pipes.
Neighbors reached out to neighbors and made sure everyone was warm, fed and cheered. The Oklahoma standard was affirmed again in acts of generosity large and small.
These are not small things. In a disaster, they are the keys to survival, the only things that matter.