Wind Turbines and Approaching Storm, Texas. (Jeffrey Miller/Getty Images)
On Sunday night as a massive winter storm hit Texas, Luke Legate, a publicist for the fossil fuel industry, tweeted a picture of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine blade.“A helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels onto a wind turbine made with fossils fuels during an ice storm is awesome,” Legate wrote.There was just one problem: The picture Legate tweeted, and which has been shared tens of thousands of times, was not taken in Texas last weekend but rather in the Uljabuouda mountains in Arjeplog, Sweden, in 2014. That picture, and others like it, have been repeatedly recycled by climate deniers every time a cold snap has affected the power grid.
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.
Over the past few days, millions of Texans have suffered through plunging temperatures and rolling blackouts. While the freezing air has caused some wind turbines to break down, the overwhelming majority of the energy shortfall in the state has come from a massive failure of natural gas production in the state.But why let facts get in the way of a good story?As the narrative that frozen wind turbines were the cause of Texas’ rolling blackouts gained traction on social media, conservative lawmakers in thrall to big oil and gas weighed in by spreading the same disinformation.Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn shared the false narrative on Monday. Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw got involved on Tuesday.
On Facebook, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, known for spreading misinformation and amplifying conspiracy theories on social media, simply said: “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas."Some lawmakers outside of Texas also got in on the act, with Lauren Boebert, a freshman Congresswoman from Colorado who has dabbled in conspiracy theories like QAnon, had her own spin on the theory:
Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines shared Legate’s tweet on Tuesday, saying: “This is a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal.”
These claims were boosted by an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday titled “The Deep Green Freeze”. In it, the WSJ’s famously conservative editorial board argued that “power shortages show the folly of eliminating natural gas — and coal” before concluding that the “Biden administration’s plan to banish fossil fuels is a greater existential threat to Americans than climate change.”By Tuesday night, the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, was bringing the lie that renewable energy was at fault for the blackouts in Texas to a national stage when he appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News.“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Hannity before laying the blame for the blackouts solely on the failure of wind and solar.
It should come as no surprise that just like Cornyn, Miller, Daines, Crenshaw and Boebert, the oil and gas industries are among Abbott’s biggest donors.
The reality is that yes, some of Texas’ wind turbines were frozen by the cold weather. That means that at some points in recent days, Texas’ renewable energy was providing slightly less power to the grid than was predicted by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees electricity production in the state.But at other times over the past few days, wind was actually providing more energy to the grid than ERCOT predictions. That’s because wind turbines tend to provide less energy to the grid in the winter, and so ERCOT plans for wind to contribute a small proportion of the overall energy mix.The majority of Texas’ shortfall in energy production that has caused massive blackouts this week didn’t come from renewables but from fossil fuels, with natural gas production seeing the most disruption.
“Texas is a gas state, [and] gas is failing in the most spectacular fashion right now,” Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Texas Tribune.This assessment was echoed by ERCOT itself.“It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” Dan Woodfin, a senior director at the agency, said during a Tuesday call with reporters.But such facts don’t seem to matter to those keen to continue to profit from the fossil fuel industry, including the Republican lawmakers who receive millions from the oil and gas industry every year.