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Photo does not show a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine in Texas

February 17, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Photo shows a helicopter spraying a frozen wind turbine with chemicals in Texas.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The photo is from 2015 and shows a helicopter de-icing a frozen wind turbine in Sweden with hot water, not chemicals.

THE FACTS: As subfreezing temperatures swept the U.S., false claims circulated on social media blaming frozen wind turbines for widespread power outages in Texas.

While wind turbines that went offline were a contributing factor, they were just one of the numerous reasons that led to the power outages, Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said during a press conference on Tuesday.

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“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,” Woodfin said.

During the press conference, ERCOT president Bill Magness said some wind turbine generators were frozen, but nearly twice as much power was wiped out at natural gas and coal plants.

But renewable energy became the focus of a variety of false claims circulating on social media around power outages related to the storm.

“In Texas today . . . A helicopter, using fossil fuels, spraying de-icer, made with fossil fuels, to de-ice a wind turbine, manufactured using fossil fuels, that is supposed to produce clean energy without using fossil fuels,” said the caption on a Facebook post misrepresenting the photo.

A Facebook user shared a screenshot of the old photo with the caption, “Green new deal. Praying for Texas.” In reality, no version of the Green New Deal exists in Texas.

The photo belongs to Alpine Helicopter, a company located in Boden, Sweden. The photo shows a helicopter carrying a water tank that shoots a stream of hot water onto the turbine’s blade to melt ice.

“This is our helicopter back in 2015,” Mats Widgren of Alpine Helicopter told The Associated Press in an email. Widgren said only hot water was used, no chemicals.

Alpine, along with Skellefteå Kraft, a Swedish power company, started demonstrating the process in winter 2014 at Skellefteå Kraft’s Uljabuouda wind farm near Arjeplog, Sweden.

“I have taken this photo at Uljabuouda wind farm located close to the community (Arjeplog) Sweden…” Hans Gedda, who was then a consultant for Alpine Helicopter, confirmed to the AP in an email.

The photo was featured in a 2016 report by Gedda and Widgren detailing a project that examined the used hot water in de-icing wind turbines between 2014-2016.

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“To reduce the emission of CO2, the method to de-ice the wind turbines by helicopter, is a better option than not doing anything at all,” the report states. “This is both from a financial and environmental perspective, as the wind turbines otherwise would have been at a standstill with no production at all.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536