FACT CHECK: Viral Post Claims The Department Of Energy ‘Blocked Texas From Increasing Power’ Ahead Of The Winter Storm

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

A lengthy post shared on Facebook claims “Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy blocked Texas from increasing power ahead of killer storm.”

Verdict: False

The Department of Energy approved the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ (ERCOT) request to allow specific power plants to exceed emissions limits from Feb. 14 to Feb. 19, an Energy Department emergency order and an ERCOT notice show. An Energy Department spokesperson confirmed the post’s claims are inaccurate.

Fact Check:

A severe winter storm swept Texas last week, leaving dozens dead and millions temporarily without electricity, The Texas Tribune reported. Since then, a viral claim has spread online that the Department of Energy “blocked Texas from increasing power ahead of killer storm.”

“Wanna know what REALLY happened this week?” reads a Feb. 20 Facebook post that has been shared over 800 times. “Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy blocked Texas from increasing power ahead of killer storm.”

The lengthy post goes on to claim that acting Energy Secretary David Huizenga “did not waive environmental restrictions to allow for maximum energy output in Texas” and that, instead, the Biden administration “basically ordered” ERCOT to “throttle its energy output by forcing it to comply with environmental green energy standards.” The post includes screen grabs of the Department of Energy order that allegedly did such things.

Kevin Liao, press secretary for the Energy Department, told Check Your Fact in an email that “the exactly opposite is true.” (RELATED: Did CPS Energy Release This Statement About The Power Grid?)

“On February 14, ERCOT formally requested the Department of Energy (DOE) issue an emergency order to address electric generation shortages in Texas caused by unprecedented cold weather conditions,” Liao said. “Later that day, DOE approved a Section 202(c) emergency order that allowed specified power plants to generate up to their maximum capacity in order to manage the expected increase in electricity demand.”

ERCOT, which oversees Texas’ power grid, did indeed send a request letter on Feb. 14 to the Energy Department. The letter asked the Energy Department to issue an emergency order “authorizing all electric generating units located within the ERCOT interconnection to operate up to their maximum generation output levels under the limited circumstances described in this letter, notwithstanding air quality or other permit limitations.”

In the Feb. 14 letter, ERCOT asked the Energy Department to allow specific Texas power plants to exceed federal permit restrictions on nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions. It also mentioned wastewater release limits.

The Energy Department granted ERCOT’s request the same day, the emergency order on the agency’s website shows. ERCOT on Feb. 14 also put out a notice to market participants saying the Energy Department had granted its request.

“Given the emergency nature of the expected load stress, the responsibility of ERCOT to ensure maximum reliability on its system, and the ability of ERCOT to identify and dispatch generation necessary to meet the additional load, I have determined that additional dispatch of the Specific Resources is necessary to best meet the emergency and serve the public interest for purposes of FPA section 202(c),” Huizenga wrote in the emergency order. “Because the additional generation may result in a conflict with environmental standards and requirements, I am authorizing only the necessary additional generation, with reporting requirements described below.”

The emergency order allowed specific ERCOT power plants to operate above the permitted environmental levels “to the times and within the parameters determined by ERCOT for reliability purposes” from Feb. 14 to Feb. 19, according to the order. While there is nothing in the text of the order to indicate that the Energy Department “blocked Texas from increasing power,” it did stipulate that ERCOT must “exhaust all reasonably and practically available resources,” including importing electricity from other states, to “minimize an increase in emissions.”

Many of the Facebook post’s claims appear to be lifted from a Feb. 20 InfoWars article titled, “Smoking Gun! Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Killer Storm.” InfoWars has spread misinformation and unfounded conspiracy theories in the past.

ERCOT and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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