Texas media outlets are aggressively debunking right-wing misinformation about the winter storm power outages
Correction (2/19/21): Media Matters credited one of the articles and an editorial to the San Antonio Express-News. In fact, these were unlabeled reprints from the Houston Chronicle.
While Fox News has been pushing the lie that renewable energy is the primary cause of the winter storm blackouts in Texas, local media outlets -- especially newspapers -- have done an excellent job of debunking these lies. This commitment to the facts shows how local media can act as a bulwark against right-wing misinformation, both during and beyond crises, to keep their communities safer and hold poor political leadership accountable.
The fact is that Texas’ power grid failed in the sub-freezing temperatures because Texas electricity regulators failed to require that the state’s electricity generating plants weatherize for severe cold -- leading instruments to freeze, natural gas pipelines to seize up, and other such problems that are preventing these plants from generating power. Wind energy actually overperformed expectations during the crisis. And the widespread blackouts amply demonstrate the need to upgrade infrastructure to prepare for the challenges of climate change, which is causing extreme and unpredictable weather events.
Right-wing misinformers such as Fox News have instead been lying to audiences that renewable energy is to blame. Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed on February 15 that the Texas power outages are due to its “reckless reliance on windmills.” Multiple Fox News shows ran with Carlson’s lies the next day. On Hannity, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claimed the situation in his state “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America” and primarily blamed renewable energy. Over the course of approximately a day and a half, Fox News lied 128 times about the cause of the Texas blackouts.
But many local media outlets in Texas are debunking this right-wing misinformation:
- A February 17 Austin American-Statesman article explained Texas’ various sources of energy and detailed how failures from natural gas-fired power plants were more to blame than renewables.
- A February 17 Texas Tribune article debunking Republican attacks on renewable energy was titled “Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans blamed green energy for Texas’ power woes. But the state runs on fossil fuels.”
- Another Texas Tribune article, which went into detail about the state’s leaders failing to heed warnings to winterize the power grid, also debunked the blame on renewable energy sources. The article explained that the state failed to “account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists.”
- On February 16, The Texas Tribune ran an article titled “No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages.” The Dallas Morning News republished the story for its readers the next day.
- The Dallas Morning News also reposted another Texas Tribune article explaining that “Texas largely relies on natural gas for power. It wasn’t ready for the extreme cold.” The Tribune report also cited an electrical engineering expert warning that the state must do more to prepare for more frequent extreme weather events caused by climate change.
- A third Dallas Morning News article explained how Gov. Abbott is switching blame for the blackouts from wind energy to natural gas depending on his audience as “an attempt to shield himself from conservatives’ disfavor and perhaps a result of ‘panic and deflection.’”
- A February 18 Houston Chronicle article also covered Abbott’s double-talking about the power outages and noted: “Renewable energy sources make up just a fraction of the state’s total energy supply and do not account for the extent and duration of the outages that were still blanketing much of Texas as of Wednesday, according to industry experts and Abbott himself.”
- A February 17 editorial from the Houston Chronicle declared: “Gov. Abbott's 'wind turbine' excuse is full of hot air, while Texans are dying.”
Texas TV news outlets have also at times rebutted this right-wing misinformation. While some are just covering Abbott walking back his lies on Fox News, others are using their social media accounts, websites, and airwaves to more aggressively debunk the lies that renewable energy is to blame for the blackouts.