People Are Blaming Frozen Wind Turbines For The Texas Blackouts. They're Wrong

Windfarms are perfectly capable of operating in much colder periods in other places. Meanwhile far more gas-fired power stations have shut down in Texas, but that is getting far less attention. Image credit: fokke baarssen/Shutterstock.com

The deep freeze currently affecting the United States has had terrible consequences but by far the biggest impact is in Texas, where for 4 million people power has gone out when it's most needed. The crisis has many causes, but in an effort to attribute a problem with very different origins, wind power is being offered up as a scapegoat by those with intentions to smear renewable energy.

When much of California suffered heat-wave-driven blackouts in August last year, conservative politicians rushed to blame Democrat administrations and renewable energy. Some played on the rivalry between America's two most populous states, California and Texas.

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With Texas now suffering even worse power failures, the same people again rushed to blame wind power. The fossil fuel industry, struggling to compete with ever-cheaper renewable energy sources, had plenty of incentive to join in. Statements claiming the lack of power is all because of iced-over wind turbines have been dutifully shared millions of times on social media, even on the other side of the world.

The situation is certainly devastating. Without heat sources, people are dying in the bitter cold particularly in houses not insulated against conditions such as these. Others are getting sick from carbon monoxide poisoning trying to bring inside unsuitable heat sources like generators or barbecue pits. However, responsibility for the blackout is a different matter, and using these devastating circumstances to attack renewable energy is not helping matters.

Some claims are obviously absurd, such as blaming the Green New Deal, a program that has yet to be legislated, let alone implemented. It's also not clear how wind power is responsible for many houses losing gas access.

Photos of helicopters attempting to de-ice immobilized wind turbines have been circulated online to demonstrate their unreliability in cold weather, despite wind farms successfully operating in much colder places. In fact, a photograph widely shared by Republican Congress members and oil and gas consultants of a fossil-fueled helicopter coming to the rescue of a frozen turbine is actually a demonstration from Sweden in 2014, not Texas in 2021.

Images like this are often used to imply so much fuel goes into de-icing operations as to nullify wind's benefits. Even in Scandinavia, de-icing is only needed a few times a winter. Modern wind turbines produce so much power they prevent the burning of enough coal or gas to pay back helicopter fuel within hours.

The central allegation that losses in wind generation are the reason many Texans' lights are off, runs bang into the essential fact far more gas and coal generation failed than wind. The accusations started when about 4 GigaWatts of renewable energy generators were out of action, which later reached 16 GW. However, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), 30 GigaWatts of gas and coal were offline at the same point. It was the loss of these traditional sources that caused ERCOT to start blacking areas out. Wind production was within expectations.

Some of the missing fossil fuel production was from powerplant equipment failure, but failures in fuel delivery mattered much more. Failures in maintaining old infrastructure proved disastrous, which certainly isn't the fault of too much wind. Although perhaps it's better than one mayor, who blamed the problem on citizens' laziness.

“Gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Professor Micahel Webber of the University of Texas told the Texas Tribune. However, claims this is deliberate have also been refuted

Rushing to blame renewables is standard practice for its detractors whenever a blackout occurs on a grid with more than a few percent wind and solar. The claims, however, false, get made as soon as the lights go out, sometimes by fake accounts. It often takes a while for the true cause to be found, and in the meantime, the idea clean power sources are also rickety has been implanted in many people's brains.

Those preferring to help than spread misinformation online can find organizations saving lives in Texas here.

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