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February 18

Freezing out the Lights: Texas Wind Farms

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More than 4.2 million people were left without power after a rare cold front brought record-breaking freezing conditions to the state of Texas. Now, with a severe winter storm system battering States from Texas and Oklahoma to Illinois and Connecticut, and even the Maritimes; the likes of Fox and certain members of the GOP have begun blaming windmills for the power outages in Texas. Yes, the snow and freezing rain we’ve seen here recently is the same system that is bringing the southern United States to a standstill. Despite the unprecedented weather system, wind generation has actually exceeded the grid operator’s daily forecast through the Valentine’s Day weekend.

The conservative news media echo chamber in the U.S. has targeted many people and many things over the past several years. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, among others, has tried to point the finger at renewable energy sources such as wind turbines for the rolling blackouts seen in the state. “So it was all working great until the day it got cold outside. The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died,” said Carlson on his Monday show. This comes after the Governor of Texas called for an investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of 75% of power in the state.

While wind power skeptics claimed the week’s freeze means wind power can’t be relied upon, wind turbines — like natural gas plants — can be “winterized,” or modified to operate during very low temperatures.

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Meanwhile, Enercon, a manufacturer supplying wind turbines for various projects in our region, including that of Naveco Power has long-standing de-icing measures. These measures have worked to increase the annual energy production of wind turbines by roughly 3-5% in locations in northern Quebec, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Many of Texas’ power generators have not made those investments necessary to include de-icing technology in their wind turbines to prevent disruptions to equipment since the state does not regularly experience extreme winter storms. In Eastern Canada, since 2010, wind energy developers like Naveco Power, ensure that de-icing measures are included with our wind turbines to protect them, and make sure they’re operating efficiently year-round, no matter how hot or cold.

Overall, wind shutdowns accounted for 3.6 to 4.5 gigawatts -- or less than 13% -- of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages, according to Woodfin. That’s in part because wind only comprises 25% of the state’s energy mix this time of year. While wind can sometimes produce as much as 60% of total electricity in Texas, the resource tends to ebb in the winter, so the grid operator typically assumes that the turbines will generate only about 19% to 43% of their maximum output.

According to Dan Woodfin, a senior director of ERCOT, the main factors behind the outages have been frozen instruments at natural gas, coal, and even nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas. “We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event”, he said to Bloomberg.

Overall, Texas wind shutdowns accounted for 3.6 to 4.5 gigawatts -- or less than 13% -- of the 30 to 35 gigawatts of total outages. That’s in part because wind only comprises 25% of the state's energy mix this time of year.

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Meanwhile, conservatives have zoomed in on a particular idea that helicopters are being dispatched to de-ice turbines to “prove” wind turbines are not clean energy. The meme has been shared everywhere from a prominent Texas oil and gas consultant who racked up more than 32,000 retweets as of Tuesday morning sharing an image of a helicopter de-icing a turbine and Rep. Lauren Boebert, the gun-wielding member of Congress from Colorado, who urged her half-million followers to “Keep that in mind when thinking how ‘green’ windmills are.”

This image that has been shared recently by conservatives and anti-renewable energy folks in the states is as fake as it gets. The insinuation is that helicopters are being used to de-ice windmills that look like they just came out of the next ice age. This image is from Alpine Helicopters, a Swedish company, that does everything from giving people a lift to heli-skiing to working on power lines. In 2014, the group began working on de-icing wind turbines, according to a white paper authored by the company’s CEO for Swedish energy consultancy, Energiforsk. What is funnier is that the carbon emissions used to de-ice a turbine using a helicopter are dwarfed by the carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants.

Wind turbine de-icing technology has been developed, tested, and proven over time and is operating effectively in Canada. The windmills in Texas haven't been built with the same tech, and have no defense against frigid temperatures.

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All in all, wind turbines freezing are not to blame for the power outages facing the southern United States. Fossil fuel sources are by far the main cause of the outages, according to the utility operating them. Wind turbine de-icing technology has been developed, tested, and proven over time and is operating effectively here in Canada. The windmills in Texas have not been built with the same technology, and have no defense against frigid temperatures, and still are not the root cause of the power outages facing Texans. Anti-renewable energy conspiracies 0, windmills 1. Try again.

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