Not Real News

This Tuesday photo shows power lines in Houston. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting wind turbines freezing over in the cold weather were primarily responsible for Texans losing heat and electricity this week. Failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels combined, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, said in a press conference Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels combined, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid, said in a press conference Tuesday.

With millions of Texas residents without power this week amid frigid temperatures, some government officials and conservative commentators falsely claimed that wind turbines and solar energy were the main culprits.

“We should never build another wind turbine in Texas,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “The experiment failed big time.”

“This is a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana.

A viral photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine was shared with claims it showed a “chemical” solution being applied to one of the massive wind generators in Texas.

The only problem? The photo was taken in Sweden years ago, not in the U.S. in 2021. The helicopter sprayed hot water onto the wind turbine, not chemicals.

Natural gas and coal provide the bulk of electricity in Texas, “and that’s the bulk of the cause of the blackouts,” according to Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

ERCOT said Tuesday that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources. On top of that, while Texas has ramped up wind energy in recent years, the state still relies on wind power for only about 25% of its total electricity, according to ERCOT data.

The agency confirmed that wellhead freeze-offs and other issues curtailing supply in natural gas systems were primarily to blame for new outages on Tuesday after severe winter weather caused failures across multiple fuel types in recent days.

Renewable energy is a popular scapegoat for new problems as more frequent extreme weather events strain infrastructure, according to Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“It’s easy to focus on the thing that you can see changing as the source of why an outcome is changing,” Grubert told the AP. “The reality is that managing our systems is becoming more difficult. And that’s something that is easy to blame on the reaction to it, but it’s not actually the root cause.”

Associated Press writers Ali Swenson in Seattle and Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.