Don’t blame failing wind energy for the rolling blackouts that shut off the power for thousands during last week’s cold snap. Don’t point the finger at the Lincoln Electric System, Nebraska Public Power District or any other utility either.
Blame the jet stream and global warming, or what some scientists are calling “global weirding.”
In the last few years, climate scientists have verified that temperatures in the Arctic have gone up, causing ice to melt and even more warming. That has upset the balance between the very cold Arctic and warmer readings to the south, causing the jet stream, the upper atmosphere winds that push weather systems across the continent, to “wobble.”
The mid-February jet stream wobble let a blast of extremely cold air slide down from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. The subzero temperatures created a spike in demand for power that threatened to overwhelm the resources of the Southwest Power Pool, forcing the power management agency to which Nebraska’s utilities belong, to order “load shedding” that became the rolling blackouts.
Immediately after, Gov. Pete Ricketts declared the blackouts “completely unacceptable” and jumped on the GOP bandwagon blaming failed wind energy for the shutdowns. Wind generation did drop during the deep freeze. But it represented just a small percentage of the power loss, which also hit natural gas.
Because the Arctic air covered such a large area, demand spiked to an unprecedented level, and, together with generation failures, triggered the rolling blackouts, which, though unfortunate, lasted only an hour or two in Lincoln.
There will be legislative hearings to examine what happened with Nebraska’s power supply over those two weeks, why it occurred and, undoubtedly, some suggestions to prevent it from happening again.
Some of those solutions, such as building in additional short-term emergency generation capacity into the system are obvious and necessary.
But the examination needs to extend beyond power alone and look at how Nebraska can respond to the root cause of the blackouts -- climate change.
Specifically, the Legislature should pass Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh’s LB483, which would direct the University of Nebraska to develop “an evidence-based, data-driven strategic plan to provide methods for adapting to and mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events or climate” that could be considered by the Legislature.
Nebraska must develop a plan to seriously address climate change. And it needs to do so as quickly as possible, after several efforts similar to Cavanaugh's failed to advance in recent years.
For, as the polar plunge demonstrated, climate change is real -- with extreme weather events likely to occur more often in summer and winter -- and its impact can be devastating.