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Fact check: Image of helicopter de-icing a wind turbine comes from Sweden, not Texas

Amid a deep freeze in Texas that has wreaked havoc on the U.S. energy sector, posts on social media claim to show a recent picture of “a helicopter, using fossil fuels, spraying de-icer, made with fossil fuels, to de-ice a wind turbine” in Texas. The image in question has been miscaptioned: it does not come from Texas, but rather Sweden, and it is several years old.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Examples of posts making this claim can be found here , here and here .

As reported here by tech and science website Gizmodo, the image in the posts actually shows a helicopter doing a de-icing test on a windfarm in Uljabuouda in Arjeplog municipality, Sweden during the winter of 2014.

The image appeared in a Jan. 21, 2015 article on the Swedish news site Ny Teknik that describes the ice-melting technology (here) where it credits the photo to Alpine Helicopter. The photo also appears in a presentation titled “Airborne de-icing solution for wind turbines” from the Swedish company Alpine Helicopter (see slide 9) here). 

In 2016, the image appeared in a post on “Watts Up With That,” a blog promoting climate change denial (here). It also appeared on the blog EnergySkeptic.com in early 2019 (energyskeptic.com/2019/wind/).

The image recirculated on social media during a rare deep freeze in Texas that forced the state’s electric grid operator to impose rotating blackouts because of higher power demand (here).

As Reuters reported here , it is true that ice storms knocked out nearly half the wind-power generating capacity of Texas on Feb. 14 as the cold snap locked up turbine towers while driving electricity demand to record levels.

The winter energy woes in Texas came as bone-chilling cold, combined with snow, sleet and freezing rain, gripped much of the United States from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and into the mid-Atlantic states over the weekend.

The effects of the deep freeze are by no means unique to wind power or other forms of renewable energy. Historic subzero cold has knocked out about 3.3 million barrels per day of refining capacity, which equals 18% of national capacity, according to Reuters calculations, and industry analysts say crude production could be affected for days or weeks (here).

Several posts call out the “irony” of "a helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels onto a wind turbine made with fossils fuels during an ice storm” (here). As the Ny Teknik article explains (here), however, the Alpine Helicopter is spraying hot water, not a chemical.

The article does say that the water is heated using an oil burner. But as Gizmodo points out (here), climate and clean technology analyst Ketan Joshi (twitter.com/KetanJ0) noted in a 2016 fact check (here) that the amount of greenhouse gas used to de-ice a wind turbine with a helicopter is very small compared to the amount emitted by power plants fired by gas and coal.

VERDICT

Miscaptioned. The image in question does not show wind turbines in Texas, but in Sweden.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here  .

Update Feb. 17, 2021: Adding to paragraphs 10 and 11 to address liquid sprayed by helicopter

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