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In the face of devastating storms, Texas must work toward a clean energy future

The heartbreaking loss of life over the weekend in Valley View, as well as in Oklahoma and Arkansas, was a reminder of the terrible power of nature.

Preparing for a tornado is difficult, especially for those living in trailers or RVs. As is often the case after such a tragedy, communities quickly came together to distribute supplies and provide as much help as possible, even as more threatening weather conditions loomed in our area. The kindness of neighbors and communities is encouraging at times like these.

As we sit here writing this in a dark room in Dallas with the power outage yet again, it is important to realize that what has happened to our neighbors north of Dallas is not an isolated event, but part of a larger pattern.

It's hard to link a single weather event to our climate change. But we do know that weather events are becoming more severe. From heat waves to hurricanes to tornadoes, we are experiencing changes on our planet that are linked to human use of fossil fuels. This remains a political point of contention, but not a scientific question.

The increase in severe weather is leading to more tragedies and consequences, including not only deaths but also property damage so extensive that in some parts of our country it has become nearly impossible to find affordable insurance, or sometimes any insurance at all.

It is not alarmist to state what should be clear: Human society must work toward developing and deploying energy sources that rely less on the combustion of fossil fuels. The state of Texas has been doing important work in this area for years. We are now the world leader in wind energy and the national leader in solar energy.

These forms of energy are excellent and deserve subsidies to encourage their development. But their downside is obvious. They don't work when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Battery technology is a promising bridge to a future where we can get our electricity from carbon-free sources, but it isn't currently advanced enough to provide power for several days without wind or sun. Nuclear energy could potentially make the difference, but it comes with its own risks and prohibitive costs.

Texans need electricity on demand, which has traditionally been generated by burning fossil fuels. In extreme heat and extreme cold, the availability of electricity is a matter of life and death.

But we also need to focus politically on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. In a state where oil and gas interests continue to exert excessive influence on policy, we are moving in the wrong direction.

State lawmakers, led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, appear determined to regulate natural gas production, citing the federal government's preference for solar and wind energy.

It is true that Texas depends on natural gas production to provide the energy we need in the short term. But the state government should not promote natural gas production as a reliable, instantaneous energy source over new technologies or even nuclear power.

Former Public Utility Commission Chairman Peter Lake wisely advised Texas to adopt a reliability standard to ensure that not only would we be able to maintain power during extreme weather events, but that we would also have the power we need over the long term.

However, the plan endorsed by the commission was neutral as to the source of that energy, or as Lake put it, “as long as there is an on and off switch.”

A market shift to natural gas might provide short-term relief, but the long-term consequences will be devastating. This should not be a political question. It should be a question of science and technology.

As a nation, we have made great strides in using clean energy sources. We can do more, and we should do it together.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Our colleagues in the newsroom have compiled a list of resources to help victims of the North Texas tornadoes. For more information, please visit this link.

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Anna Harden

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