Much of the language of anti-renewable energy discourse occurs through visuals. It’s relatively important on social media; pictures travel much faster than words.
Wind turbines, in particular, lend themselves to this style of misinformation. They’re physically significant in and of themselves. And one of the longest running visuals used to attack renewables is a picture of a helicopter spraying some unidentified fluid onto an ice-covered wind turbine.
It has been around since at least 2015. It was, in fact, shared then by Liberal MP Craig Kelly, and I wrote about it back then, here at RenewEconomy. By my calculations in that post, the wind turbine cancels out the emissions from the helicopter de-icing the blades within 20 minutes (Kelly claimed it would take decades).
The core idea here is the ‘how ironic!’ gambit. Anything that seems to suggest renewables are an environmental disaster is seen as some ironic twist about an environmental saviour turning out to be a messy, harmful wreck. It’s a narrative that explains many anti-renewable memes: birds, recycling, mining for raw materials. Many of these are valid points exaggerated to the point of silliness to score an easy win.
The de-icing meme originates from a media article posted in 2015, in which a Swedish wind farm underwent a series of tests to evaluate the best option for de-icing turbine blades. In cold climates, wind operators often simply let the turbines sit idle until the sun thaws out ice on blade, but recent models incorporate several different types of heating elements to attempt to resolve this issue and increase operation. In a recent update, the operator of the wind farm in the picture wrote:
“The solution for wind power in cold climates, as developed by Skellefteå Kraft, is unique. It involves covering the wind turbine’s blades with a thin layer of carbon fibre which is heated when necessary to prevent ice from forming. Ice sensors then detect when there is a risk of ice formation and start the de-icing system before ice can be formed.
Our wind turbines in Uljabuouda and Jokkmokksliden/Storliden were the first wind farms to use the de-icing system. The results from these farms have laid the foundation for future development work. For Stage 3 of the Blaiken wind farm we are using a system that involves both a heating foil in the blades and circulating hot air inside the blades. These two techniques have been used separately before, but never together.”
In the wake of a major blackout in Texas, and a fake claim that wind turbines freezing in the cold were principally to blame for the event, it has really taken off again. It’s cropped up in several places but easily the most prominent is Twitter.
The post, by Luke Legate, has been retweeted 28,000 times, quoted 3,000 times and liked 82,000 times, at the time of writing. Legate takes the 2015 image, obviously taken in cloudy weather, and claims that it’s taken “during an ice storm”. A phrase, “Climatism – Tracking Anthropogenic Climate Alarmism,” has been added – a reference to a climate denier blog founded many years ago (that could have been added by someone else).
Importantly, Legate’s biography on Twitter says “Texas Public Affairs at G. Fox Consulting. Energy. Pipelines. Small Biz #grassroots.” G Fox Consulting’s clients include industry lobby groups ‘American Natural Gas Alliance’ and the ‘Texas Oil and Gas Association’. Legate himself has been on speaking tours to promote fossil fuels. “Increasingly, more and more, it is more of a challenge representing the benefits of the oil and gas business because there are some people who do not want the oil and gas business. There are a lot of activists and groups and candidates for office all across the country who want to stop all fossil fuels,” he said in 2019.
Despite these clear links to the Texas fossil fuel industry, the meme caught the attention of Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, who shared it with the happy comment “net zero here we come!.”
There’s little hope the falsehood underpinning the meme or the fossil fuel industry links of the person who shared it played into the decision to post it.
There is something of a resurgence of clean energy misinformation occurring in the US. It could be due to the lack of a steady flow from a despotic President. It could just be the looming potential of new clean energy under Biden. Whatever it is, it’s a huge, noticeable resurgence of misinformation that’s very, very hard to ignore.
Ketan Joshi is a European-based climate and energy consultant.