Viral photo of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine is from Sweden, not Texas; current power outages in Texas are due to multiple fuel types going offline
Texas is experiencing extremely cold temperatures due to a current winter storm, causing millions of households to lose power. These power outages are due to multiple fuel types going offline, primarily natural gas. While helicopters can use hot water to de-ice wind turbines, the image in the viral posts is from 2014 of a wind turbine in Sweden. There is no evidence that suggests helicopters are currently using chemicals to de-ice wind turbines in Texas.
Misleading: The image used in the viral posts is not of a wind turbine in Texas that iced up during the recent winter storms. Instead, the photo is from 2014 of a wind turbine in Sweden.
Incorrect: Multiple fuel types generate electricity in Texas, including natural gas, coal, and wind. The recent power outages in Texas are due to multiple fuel types going offline, primarily natural gas, and are not solely the result of frozen wind turbines.
The claims that helicopters are using chemicals to de-ice wind turbines and that frosted wind turbines are responsible for power outages in Texas were published by numerous users on Facebook and Twitter in February 2021 (see example here and here), receiving hundreds of thousands of interactions on the social media platforms. These claims are inaccurate and misleading, as the image in the posts is from 2014 of a wind turbine in Sweden and the current power outages are caused by multiple fuel types going offline, primarily natural gas. The posts don’t provide any evidence that helicopters are currently using chemicals to de-ice wind turbines in Texas.
Many of the posts imply that the helicopters are currently being used to de-ice wind turbines in Texas due to the recent record-breaking cold temperatures. However, the image in these is from 2014 and of a wind turbine in Sweden. As stated in an Earther article about the claim, “The image is from Alpine Helicopters, a Swedish company.” The article continues to describe how the image appeared in a company slide deck and 2015 article about the company’s process for de-icing wind turbines.
Helicopters can use hot water to de-ice wind turbines, but the 2015 article states, “No chemicals are added to the water.” This directly contradicts the claims that the helicopters are spraying chemicals made from fossil fuels. Other methods for de-icing wind turbines include using drones, heating elements within the turbines, and solar-powered systems.
Texas is currently experiencing extreme cold-temperatures and power outages throughout the state. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages 90% of the state’s electricity and power to 26 million customers.
Nearly half of the electricity generated in Texas comes from natural gas, while 20% comes from coal, and another 20% comes from wind (see figure below).
According to an ERCOT news release published on 15 February 2021, “Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable.”
In a press conference on 16 February, Dan Woodfin, a senior director for ERCOT, said, “It appears that a lot of the generation that’s gone offline today, either tripped or had to go offline, has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system,” as reported in an AP fact-check. Therefore the claim that wind turbines alone are responsible for the power outages in Texas is incorrect.