Fact Check: Is Texas Using Helicopters With Chemicals to De-Ice Frozen Wind Turbines?

Upwards of 4 million Texas residents remained without power late Tuesday afternoon after uncharacteristically cold temperatures plunged the state into power outages.

Before long, opponents of green energy alternatives were pointing to the region's wind turbines as the culprit, and a viral photo began to circulate along with claims that Texas is using helicopters to de-ice their turbines.

The Claim

Conservative voices from Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to commentator Steven Crowder jumped to criticize sustainable energy, including what they claimed was proof that new alternatives are not as "green" as they claim.

Some conservatives on social media were gleeful over the claim, including Crowder, who was one of many to share a photo of a helicopter allegedly de-icing Texas turbines.

His retweet included a widely shared photo of "A helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels onto a wind turbine made with fossil fuels during an ice storm is awesome."

BRB, framing this. https://t.co/81oPgjBpL9

— Steven Crowder (@scrowder) February 15, 2021

The Facts

Freezing temperatures in a state known for mostly mild winters thrust Texas residents into turmoil early Tuesday. By late afternoon, the number of people estimated to be without power rose from about 2.6 million to 4 million.

Wind turbines frozen mid-rotation were responsible for at least part of the overall catastrophe—the New York Times reported that at least half of the state's wind energy grid was out of service. Roughly 25 percent of Texas' overall energy supply comes from wind turbines, while the rest is solar, natural gas, nuclear and coal-powered electricity.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas told the public it would be working throughout the day to de-ice the turbines, among other items on its to-do list. It didn't take much time for Boebert to tweet that the outages demonstrate why green energy is a bad idea.

"You know how you unfreeze frozen windmills? By sending up a helicopter that shoots out chemicals onto the blades. You need fuel for the helicopter. Keep that in mind when thinking how 'green' windmills are," she tweeted.

You know how you unfreeze frozen windmills?

By sending up a helicopter that shoots out chemicals onto the blades.

You need fuel for the helicopter.

Keep that in mind when thinking how “green” windmills are.

— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) February 16, 2021

While it's true that helicopters are sometimes used to de-ice turbines, the photo making the rounds on social media was not a snapshot from Texas. Earther first reported that the image is of a 2014 Alpine Helicopters expedition to de-ice turbines in Sweden, and they weren't using chemicals but hot water as the solution of choice for getting turbines spinning again.

What's more, the fossil fuels expended by the helicopters to drop hot water on frozen turbines is minimal, which means that even when de-icing is required, wind energy is still much more sustainable than coal or natural gas.

ERCOT did not respond to requests for comment regarding how they planned to de-ice their turbines, but no evidence emerged of the operator using helicopters to spray chemicals over wind farms. ERCOT Senior Director of System Operations Dan Woodfin said earlier in the day that high winds were already spinning unfrozen coastal turbines in the right direction again.

The Ruling

False.

While helicopters are one way of de-icing frozen wind turbines, there is no proof that Texas is using this method, much less spraying "chemicals."

The photo shared by Crowder and others is more than 7 years old and was taken in Sweden, not Texas.

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A finished wind turbine complex is shown in southern Wyoming on July 21, 2009. Roughly 25 percent of Texas' overall energy supply comes from wind turbines. Reuters