The snake-oil lobby reveals its true colours

Earlier this year I spotted that in 2020, solar and wind generated more electricity in Texas than coal.

Since 2015, the amount of wind-generated electricity has more than doubled in Texas, and last year 23% of the state’s power came from wind turbines.

Meanwhile, only 18% came from coal.

Five years ago, wind contributed less than 12% of the state’s power, while 28% came from coal.

Quite the turnaround.




So said all the Republicans, aka the recipients of hundreds of thousands of petro-lobby dollars.

The trouble is…

Well actually, there’s quite a bit of misguided hysteria here.

I would like to start with the helicopter photo. You can see it here.

It was shared by oil and gas execs, lobbyists and conservative politicians alike.

With comments like “Wow, this fossil-fuelled heli with its oil-based spray to help a frozen wind turbine built by fossil fuels – looks pretty green”.

I have dealt with this before.

Yes, it takes fossil fuels to build a wind turbine through industry and transport, etc.

However, research has shown that from six months into its productive life, wind turbines turn carbon negative.

These things are set to produce clean, carbon-free power for 20-30 years at this point. Providing carbon-free electricity for 19.5-29.5 of them.

Not every footballer who isn’t Leo Messi is pointless and not everything that isn’t perfect is bad.

Anyway, in this particular case there’s something else going on – the cartoon character Archer would call it “classic misdirection”.

Because while the image is being shared as a tool to convey that wind turbines are frozen over, so are useless in a cold snap when you really need power, and need fossil fuels to bail them out…. It’s actually not true.

The image is from a test in Sweden in 2014.

Imagine my joy when looking into this and finding this out. It’s fake news!

The original image, from Luke Legate, a publicist for the fossil fuel industry, was retweeted tens of thousands of times. Including by Lauren Boebert, a gun-wielding member of Congress from Colorado, who urged her 537,000 followers to “keep that in mind when thinking how “green” windmills are.”

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn shared the false narrative on Monday. Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw got involved on Tuesday, blaming frozen wind turbines for the outages.

By Tuesday night, the state’s Republican actual governor, Greg Abbott, was bringing the lie to the national stage, on Fox News.

But why….

A picture tells a thousand words – but about what?

About them. The sharers, the liars and the donors.

While it’s true helicopters and even drones can be used to de-ice wind turbines, the image is a classic, cropping up whenever certain interest groups want to make a point. It originally rose to prominence in conservative media and meme-makers in 2016, after Watts Up With That?, a climate science denial blog with a rabid following, shared it.

This image tells us more about the lengths people are going to, in the hope of discrediting renewables and savings fossil fuels.

Despite what politicians are doing to discredit renewables in this case, earning their fossil fuel lobbyists’ cheques (eurgh), renewables are not to blame for this crisis.

But they’re telling us it is, because they are being paid to do so.

They are selling out their state and its inhabitants.

They are boarding flights to Cancun while their citizens freeze. (Ted Cruz actually did this last week – incredible).

Am I being hyperbolic?


This is from Gizmodo, emphasis mine:

Federal campaign finance data shows more than 30 companies in the oil and gas industry, from multinational names like Exxon and Chevron to local power players like Texas Transeastern and Wildhorse Energy, gave tens of thousands of dollars to Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw over the past year.

Cornyn was a big recipient of industry money. Between 2019 and 2020, Cornyn raked in more than $50,000 from Marathon Petroleum’s PAC and $25,000 from natural gas infrastructure company Sempra Energy’s PAC, as well as $25,000 from utility giant NextEnergy and $40,000 from Koch Industries.

He also did well with oil and gas power players individually: CEOs or other key executives of Western Refining, Hunt Oil Company, Chief Oil and Gas, Walter Oil and Gas, Magnolia Oil and Gas, Occidental Petroleum, Cox Oil, Hilcorp Ventures and Kinder Morgan all donated $50,000 or more each to PACs associated with Cornyn’s campaign in the last election cycle.

Crenshaw also made out handsomely from the industry last cycle. The oil and gas industry overall donated $453,247 to Crenshaw last year. Oil and gas was his largest industry donor.

Cruz wasn’t up for reelection last year, but the industry didn’t forget about him. He still bagged $14,000 from Chevron’s PAC and $10,000 from Exxon’s—a little spending money, we guess—as well as tens of thousands of dollars in individual contributions from employees of 30 oil and gas companies.

All told, these three Texas Republicans alone snagged more than $1.1 million from the industry in the 2020 election cycle.

But it wasn’t just these three Texans in the nation’s capital doing dirty work for fossil fuels. On Tuesday, as millions in his state suffered through the cold and without power, Gov. Greg Abbott made an appearance on Sean Hannity where he ripped into renewables. The blackout “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Hannity.

“Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis… It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.

Syed Javaid Anwar, the CEO of Midland Energy, was Abbott’s top donor between 2019 and 2020, giving a total of $1,617,500…

I am pretty lost for words, to be honest.

Shouldn’t there be rules about lying after receiving donations?

Or something?

To stop politicians blatantly distorting the truth at the expense of their citizens because they received hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so, from companies which benefit from those very distortions?

It’s QE driving CEO bonuses and share schemes higher while ordinary folks’ wages stagnate.

It’s the rotting of a society from the inside. It’s messed up.

Challenging the lies

The truth is that ERCOT, the Texas Energy agency, released data showing that wind was generating much more than expected during the period of the outages. Wind is never expected to be at full capacity during winter as winds are quieter, but in the last week, wind has not been letting the side down.

It’s been generating 25-40% more than the state utility was planning for.

In any case, it’s classic very-good-not-perfect logic. Do the emissions from one helicopter once every few years compare to a coal or a gas plant? No sir.

In fact, according to one analyst’s calculations, the carbon emissions from de-icing a turbine actually saves two days’ worth of emissions compared to coal-fired power.

A report by Alpine Helicopters found a similar climate benefit. De-icing a 3MW (mid-sized) wind turbine was a “better option than not doing anything at all, from a financial and environmental perspective.”

The energy used to de-ice the turbine using a helicopter was recouped in just over four hours.

Wind was not the problem.

They are, as always, an intermittent source of power – dependent on conditions.

No system should just be 100% renewables today.

But they should be a strong part of every energy mix, and they should definitely be backed up by grid- and small-scale storage.

Energy storage of various capacities would have helped in the current situation, as would a much higher share of renewables.

Why? Because the cold doesn’t necessarily affect them.

Apparently a few turbines did freeze over in this case, but the technology exists to heat turbines, and it is commonplace across Scandinavia. Its absence is a failure not of the technology – which is there for the taking – but of ERCOT, the independent utility provider.

ERCOT has also avoided connecting its grid to neighbouring systems, in order to avoid federal regulations. However, this meant it couldn’t import power from other states.

And without a solid energy storage network, it had no decentralised back-up power.

But the main reason, it seems pretty clear by this point, was the freezing over of numerous fossil fuel assets, be it gas wells or coal plants.

Oil supply fell by more than 3 million barrels per day in Texas, the beating heart of shale oil.

The total power generating capacity of fossil fuels was off by 21.4 Gigawatts (a huge chunk of total production in the state), and nuclear was off too.

This is two things – it is a climate change event (extreme cold in Texas – I wonder if this is the inconvenient truth we were all told about). It is also a failure of grid management and utility provision.

It is not the fault of any one fuel or technology, but of planning, and grid load management.

For the homeowner in areas which might face a cold snap, the case for an in-house battery has never been stronger. A few solar panels and a battery can get you through a nightmare like this.

Need I remind anyone of the case of Costa Rica, which suffered from months without power in large parts of the country after Hurricane Maria struck.

Since then, they have gone hard for renewables and energy storage.

Why? Because in the immediate aftermath of a crash, you have back-up power stored across an area, and renewables start producing again immediately, re-stocking storage and powering homes and critical infrastructure.

But perhaps the main point is that blaming renewables is beside the point.

The reason this has been so surprising and damaging is that this is an extreme weather event, the likes of which climate scientists have been warning us about for decades now.

Everyone thinks this stuff is way out in the future – well it’s not. It’s all over the news today, in 2021.

Renewables are one of the main ways in which we are fighting against more instances like this.

No, they’re not perfect.

In fact, there’s only a small chance that renewables like solar and wind can provide 100% of our power. Somewhere between 50% to 75% is probably more likely.

And yes, well noticed, they are intermittent so will need a lot of battery storage to back them up.

But they are part of the solution to the extreme weather in Texas, not the problem.

And mis-used images from 2014 aren’t going to change that.

The politicians taking money from fossil fuel companies and then lying about the current situation should be hung out to dry. The public should be lobbing tomatoes in their general direction, crying “shame” as the bells ring out.

All the best,

Kit Winder
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Market updates

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