Science is Freezing Texas

  • Posted: March 16, 2021
  • Category: Energy
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The recent contretemps in Texas has spun the pedals driving grindstones across America. As the freezing blackout crisis spread, the sound of axes being ground threatened for a time to do the unthinkable, drown out the Green chorus. Fortunately for the equanimity of Adorable America, not to mention their collective sanity, the status quo quickly reasserted itself with the calm clucking of climate doomsayers resuming its sedating influence among the great and good.

Unfortunately, most of the axes being ground belonged to the odious partisans of fossil fuels, in particular the natural gas industry. But the media, caught unaware by the magnitude of the crisis, briefly listened to this collection of scamps and scalawags, even daring to show pictures of frozen windmills. It was if Marie Antoinette in the court of Louis XVI had listened to peasants crying out in the countryside over the price of bread and pleaded with her husband for the doors of the grain storehouses to be opened.

But the axes were quickly blunted as it quickly grew apparent that the natural gas system in Texas had its own share of unfortunate events during the prolonged cold snap. People, like myself, from Colorado have always had a hard time adjusting to design standards for natural gas infrastructure in Texas. We were invariably laughed at for our “gold plated designs”, always a very very bad thing to be said of engineers seeking employment. As those jocular Texas pros sneeringly showed us the door, spendthrift wastrels from Colorado that we were, we would hear their comments as the door slammed shut – “We don’t need no stinking heated buildings, pipe insulation or heat tape.”

Visiting compressor stations or even small gas plants in the States of the Lonely Star or Exploding Sooners, a visitor from Colorado might think he had made a wrong turn, winding up in some overgrown plot of weeds, a spot for the junk tractors of a delinquent farmer rather than an operating natural gas facility.

While the problems of natural gas supply in the Texas cold snap were greatly overstated, there were problems. Before it is processed and delivered to your house or a power plant, raw natural gas contains water, sometimes a lot of water. And water has this unfortunate tendency to freeze when it gets cold. And water is one of Murphy’s most reliable henchmen, if water can find a place to freeze – it will!

The glitches in natural gas supply gave much needed cover for the failures of our present masters and their sycophantic “experts” in the design of Texas’s electrical grid. The darling children came a cropper, solar panels covered in snow and wind turbines flash frozen in place by misting rain. In a sane world, the architects of our future sustainable, artisanal and responsibly sourced Eden would be chastened, reminded once again that Mother Nature is not an innocent waif in need of succor, but a b***h goddess eagerly wreaking havoc where and when she will. Instead of sanity, Marie Antoinette returned to lecturing the peasants on the nutritional value of cake.

While natural gas is the red headed step-child of today’s electrical power grid, at least it is accepted even though just barely tolerated. Two other children in the family of electrical generators would joyfully welcome the elevated status accorded natural gas.

Being the unwanted bastard from a clandestine affair is far better than their own wretched place in the family. Consigned to the dank root cellar and trotted out for public shaming when the grid’s architects have been drinking or desire to once again signal their virtue, Texas has two large nuclear power plants that, except for one short lived snafu, performed admirably during the cold snap.

It seems that electrical utilities in Texas share the attitude of the State’s natural gas people toward water and freezing temperatures. And so for an hour or so, Murphy exacted a toll on one of the nuclear units, marginally reducing output. But as nuclear power in Texas provided less than 5% of the needed load, their neglected heat tracing mattered little.

In a sane world, the Green intelligentsia would worship at the shrine of nuclear power. Its non-polluting baseload dispatchable power, its cheap and reliable gigawatts could free grubby humanity from the “pollution” caused by our foolish dependence on dishwashers and pick-up trucks.

But then sanity is such an elusive commodity and of dubious utility. What would our “experts”, politicians and celebrities do with it even if they found it? For that matter, what would I do with it? Can writing a blog and sanity comfortably co-exist?

And then there is the other wretched urchin, even more forlorn than nuclear – coal fired power. One must be sympathetic to this ragamuffin. Coal was the favored child only a short time past, back when Tipper Gore was noted and quoted while her husband Al languished in senatorial obscurity as the legacy son of a former member.

But wouldn’t you know, Al caught a wave with the coming of the progressive apparatchiks, surfing to fame and fortune just as Tipper’s inconvenient truths put her into a nunnery. And just as happened to Tipper Gore, coal’s inconvenient carbon tumbled it from grace into the purgatory of dark shame.

Back before the world turned upside down, I pursued a short lived and ultimately futile career of cogeneration power development. Doing so I had on occasion the opportunity to speak with the operators of coal plants, conversations that went nowhere – for very good reasons.

Coal simply was superior in so many ways to natural gas or anything else for that matter. Chief among coal’s advantages was simply being cheaper than any other source of power – by very large margins. It’s not even close. Another big reason for the dominance of coal was its reliability.

The view out of a coal plant’s control room window provided the source of that reliability, great piles of coal – just sitting there ready to be fed into the boiler. Rain or shine, freezing cold or summer heat, the coal plant would continue on its appointed rounds, generating cheap and reliable electrical power. Coal plants are an electrical grid operator’s dream, throttling up or down to match the electrical grid’s needs with virtually no loss in efficiency.

But alas, the world is in fact upside down or as Hamlet memorably put it – “The time is out of joint”. The times are indeed out of joint and coal plants are being shut down even faster than the statues of Confederate generals are being toppled. They are being replaced with power sources that are everything the coal plants are not.

Instead of power generators that run rain or shine, freezing cold or summer heat, we are replacing them with generators totally dependent on weather. Instead of an electrical grid operator dream, their new toys are a grid operator’s nightmare. And the fact that we are replacing the cheapest option with the most expensive is no small thing.

This odd cultural masochism, something akin to repeatedly slapping one’s self in the face, comes about because of carbon balance in the atmosphere – specifically the rise in carbon dioxide levels. This increase is laid at the door of fossil fuels, coal being the greatest offender. Currently atmospheric carbon dioxide sits at 416 parts per million (PPM), approximately 150 PPM above the “natural” level. This increase in atmospheric CO2 has caused alarm verging on panic among influential segments of our population.

The panic resulting from this increased CO2 level has had enormous effect; industries have risen and fallen, hundreds of thousands of people have gained or lost jobs, hundreds of millions of people have been burdened with substantial increases in their cost of living.

One might note that this great disturbance in the Force has come about because of Science.  While libraries have been filled with the justifications for this disruption and commotion, it is important to point out that the only thing that can be said with scientific accuracy, the only hard fact in this loquacious edifice of erudition, is that current atmospheric levels of CO2 are at 416 PPM, having risen from the expected “natural” level of 250 PPM over the past 150 years, otherwise known as the time of the Industrial Revolution

The panic among the good and great has arisen from computer modeling of future effects this increase in atmospheric CO2, will have on the future climate of the planet. This fear driven panic has given rise to an enormous tsunami smashing through the economy and culture of the Western World.

To date, a neutral observer must conclude, that the results of this panic have been overwhelmingly negative, particularly on the poor. To no one’s surprise, what benefits to be gained have primarily accrued to the already prosperous Adorables while the costs have been borne by the long suffering Deplorables and faceless poor on their urban plantations. Anything that raises the costs of basic necessities will hurt those at the bottom of the economic pyramid much more than the cushioned top tiers.

The losers in this seismic shift in society, at least those with a voice, have pushed back, sometimes with logic but most often a cry expressing simple emotional trauma, a playground response of “Am not!!” What else is one to do if one’s life is thrown into upheaval by a priestly caste speaking a language no one understands?

And it is not as if that influential segment of the population driving the seismic shift understands the science, or the Science, either. The models that have been used to initiate this earthquake are great engines of intricate calculation that defy the understanding of all but the priests. As an engineer who used similar but simpler computer models in my working career, I have a healthy respect for their malleability especially as their complexity increases, they are puppets mouthing the words of their puppeteers.

It was my luck, my great fortune, to be in Southern California when Texas recently froze. On our daily walk through the neighborhood of our rental house, I would pass a yard with signage speaking to the beliefs of the homeowner. Similar signs were much in evidence in the recent election.

The signs state a set of beliefs laudable, on their face statements I expect virtually all reasonable people would agree with. But rather than a list of unobjectionable, even banal, statements, I have come to see them as a creedal statement. They are in fact the articulation of a religious faith, a faith mouthing a form of Christianity Lite, but replacing Christ with Science. In fact, I couldn’t help but see the yard signs as a secular echo of The Apostle’s Creed, that recitation of Christian faith that I memorized and recited weekly in the church of my youth.

One of the central belief statements on the yard sign was the unobjectionable “SCIENCE IS REAL”. As someone who spent his life in the application of science, I can only agree. Of course, science is real, or at least that part of it that engineers can use. But where Christianity offers hope, “SCIENCE IS REAL” reveals no reason for hope, only illuminates the blind canyon of our mortality. “SCIENCE IS REAL” underlines the Preacher words in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes:

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity

What profit hath a man of all his

Labour which he taketh under the sun?”

But given the circumstances in which these signs were deployed and my own often fallible common sense, I believe this statement to be intended as a political statement – with a very specific agenda behind it.

I do admire what I believe is the spirit of the homeowner behind these signs. As a political statement, they lay out a platform of ideas which might serve as the beginning of a dialog between people of differing views. But it is so much more than that. Even if the homeowner means it to be no more than a rejoinder to the auguries of fascism endemic in the Deplorable world view, it is in fact a statement of faith, evangelistic in spirit, calling the passerby to join into a communion of that faith.

But just as The Apostle’s Creed requires definition, exposition, the application of interpretation to action, so too does this statement of faith. “SCIENCE IS REAL!” Of course it is, but what does that mean? Statements of faith require a practical theology, informed by the laity, otherwise the theologians are left in their ivied towers arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Without the leavening hand of the flock’s humble pastors, the Grand Masters of the Inquisition become intoxicated by smoke from the pyres of burning heretics.

The thing about theology is that the thoughts and arguments of unbelievers count for nothing. Advocates of fossil fuel or “climate change” skeptics can marshal facts, statistics and debate points, but to what end? All those axes being ground, as well as the real world lessons that could have been drawn from the travails of Texas’s pain are of no avail. The faith driven by the models of Climate Science, as well as its interpretation, will continue to be the exclusive province of the priestly “experts”.

The Christian faith has been greatly enriched by the give and take between those who teach and those who live according to that teaching. To date, the faith of Science in “SCIENCE IS REAL” has not benefitted from that rough and tumble debate.

Ok, “SCIENCE IS REAL”, but again, what does that mean? The great masses of the faithful, Adorable America, do not appear to engage in questioning or debate, speaking only dogma from the catechism of Science passed down by the “experts”. Do any of those families with the signs in their yards proclaiming those credal beliefs question the dogmas of their faith?

If “SCIENCE IS REAL” and the burning of fossil fuels is an existential threat to humanity, then how come they exhibit such reluctance to getting real? How can it be that nuclear power is not embraced? So far only isolated incidents, such as the Texas freeze or the California blackouts & wildfires, presage the looming widespread malfunctions of our electrical grid that are almost certainly in our near future. Why are we not pursuing real solutions instead of the wishful thinking put forward by artisanal urban dilettantes and their self-interested billionaire backers?

Why are we following the Soviet model of subsidy, regulatory diktat and government favoritism in our childish attempts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than the free market approach of a “carbon tax”? Isn’t Economics a science too? Doesn’t Economics condemn to abject failure the path on which we travel?

Why does this credal faith attack the practice of “fracking” so virulently? Won’t our electrical grids collapse like a poorly constructed house of cards without plentiful and cheap natural gas? But cheap natural gas is only possible because of “fracking”. Green power is only possible if “fracking” makes possible the cheap natural gas undergirding its facade, at least until Bill Gates brings to market his composting toilets powered by the perpetual motion of a hydrogen economy.

If “SCIENCE IS REAL”, why is Adorable America simply a great mass of sheep, obedient to their shepherds? Surely both SCIENCE and science advance in the free exchange of ideas and opinion, the continual questioning of basic principles, while the bleating of sheep only serves to entice the wolves. Perhaps L. Ron Hubbard was simply ahead of his time, a prophet calling out in the wilderness, baptizing followers into the future faith of SCIENCE.

Most puzzling to me is the lock step adherence to speculative predictions of esoteric climate models by the acolytes of SCIENCE while the straightforward well understood science of “XX” and “XY” chromosomes in human beings is disputed or ignored. But then I imagine theology can seem contradictory to those outside the faith.

Even in such things as the implementation of Covid vaccination, SCIENCE ignores its very foundation – Mathematics. In America, we are in a situation where life saving vaccinations are constrained by supply and must be rationed. Even a reasonably astute 8th grade student using simple arithmetic can readily prove the advantage in lives saved by inoculating 200 people once, achieving 75% immunity for them, to our SCIENTIFIC methodology of inoculating 100 people twice, achieving 95% immunity for them. If “SCIENCE IS REAL”, why did we do it this way? And why doesn’t anyone from the communion of faith speak out?

In Christianity or any other religious belief, a leap of faith is required. But once that leap is made, the house of faith must be internally consistent or the faithful wallow in schism and chaos, easily victimized by the wolves always at hand. That has been the great strength of the Christian faith over the centuries. It has been internally consistent, because it is in fact built on the timeless and infallible Word of God.

In Christianity that foundation upon which the house is built is Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice allowing us reconciliation with God. As I understand it, the foundation of this competing faith is Science. If the faith proclaimed by “SCIENCE IS REAL” is to be more than a yard sign, it must be built on science and it must be consistent.



2 Responses to “Science is Freezing Texas”

  1. Brad says:

    Indeed, consistency is the problem with all faith outside of the One who is constant and true. It might not be illegal to be human, but it is dangerous. Not only can humans do things that are illegal they can be stupid too. Like when they create laws to give rights to one human by taking rights from another. Or when they apply science conveniently to support one cause while ignoring it when it contradicts another cause. They have been ignoring biology for a while, and now it is getting ridiculous. I am glad that some people recognize there are increasing problems in our society. But do they see the correlation to the abandonment of the Bible. They even know enough to hint at the real solution. But will they realize kindness is everything because it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance, and without repentance we have nothing. Who will tell them?

  2. Geoff Singleton says:

    Bill, thank you for your stimulating article. I think the more we can understand science the more we can wonder of God’s greatness.
    Texas is isolated as a grid system so the benefits of a grid are therefore limited.Texas would have benefitted like Arkansas from the benefits of electricity coming into their area from excess possible generation hundreds of miles away. Nuclear is carbon free and is a fundamental component of base load generation. Renewable generation is more difficult to dispatch onto the system but it is practical. I visited the British control centre (which I helped develop) a few years ago and was shown how these difficulties could be overcome. Investment in Transmission of electricity is required because the sources of the generation are a long way from the centres of load. China is leading the way with the development of 1.2 MV d.c. transmission lines from nw China to the populated areas on the east coast. This is enabling the Chines to close coal fired power stations. This does require holistic thinking and investment.

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