solar panels on blue background
Andrea Austria/Media Matters 

Research/Study Research/Study

How right-wing media used a Texas hail storm to bash solar power projects

Local news reports relied heavily on anti-renewable energy activists

  • Right-wing media are helping local anti-renewable energy activists spread unsubstantiated claims that a damaged industrial solar project may be leaking toxic chemicals into a Texas community’s water supply, while other conservative pundits on social media amplify viral video of the storm’s aftermath to bash solar energy. 

    On March 15 and 16, severe and destructive hailstorms hit central and north Texas. In the aftermath, local media reports amplified unconfirmed concerns from local anti-solar activists about the panels at a local solar farm damaged by the storm supposedly leaching cadmium, a toxic metal. Those credulous reports — and a social media video showing footage of damaged solar panels — helped trigger a deluge of commentary from right-wing websites and influencers who falsely insisted that solar power is unsafe and unreliable.

  • Social media users shared video of a large-scale solar project in Fort Bend County, Texas, that sustained visible damage from a hailstorm

    • Severe storms hit central and north Texas from March 15-16, with residents reporting “baseball-sized” hailstones damaging their property. The storm left thousands of residents in the Houston area without electricity after “numerous” power lines reportedly went down. Residents described hearing large hailstones striking their homes and cars in the night, which they said sounded like gunshots as they landed. [KRIV, 3/15/24; KPRC 2 Houston, 3/15/24; Facebook, 3/15/24; HailTrace, 3/15/24; Fort Bend Herald, 3/19/24]
    • A 3,300-acre solar project called Fighting Jays Solar in Fort Bend County, Texas, sustained significant damage from the hailstorm. According to its website, the project — which is roughly four times the size of New York City’s Central Park — has been in commission since 2022, and generates 350 megawatts of energy. Aerial footage showed what appeared to be thousands of panels with extensive cracks, presumably from the hail. One of the companies that developed the project, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, told Newsweek that it was “assessing the extent of the impact of the storm on the generation of the project, while the plant continues to safely operate at a reduced capacity.” [Fighting’s Jay, accessed 3/27/24; GlobalData, accessed 3/28/24; Newsweek, 3/26/24]
    • On March 25, an X user shared aerial footage showing several sections of solar panels that appeared to have been smashed by hail, asking, “Who pays to fix this green energy? @StateFarm? @FarmBureau? @Allstate? Or you the taxpayer?” Right-wing and anti-renewable energy social media accounts shared the post and footage widely. [Twitter/X, 3/26/24, 3/25/24]
    • According to experts, solar panels are hardier and safer than renewable energy opponents suggest. Solar panels are built to withstand severe weather and can still function even if they crack, though panels can become less efficient if the damage is bad enough. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study found that “solar panels that have been subjected to severe weather events produce about 1% less energy per year after these events.” [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 8/21/23; National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/24/24; Utility Dive, 2/1/24]
  • Local news raised concerns about “busted solar panels” that could be “leaking chemicals” after the storm, but largely failed to report that those concerns came from anti-solar activists

    • ABC affiliate KTRK published an article titled “Fort Bend Co. neighbors want to know whether solar panel farm's hailstorm damage leaked chemicals” which relied heavily on an interview with local anti-solar activist Nick Kaminski. The article focused on Kaminski’s concern that chemicals oozing from solar panels that were smashed in the storm would contaminate his water, writing: “Experts said that most of the time, large solar farm panels are made of compound cadmium telluride. This is something Kaminski is worried about because he uses well water. ‘That's what we take a shower with, we drink with,’ Kaminski explained. ‘It could be in our water now.’” [KTRK, 3/22/24] 
    • An article on Fox affiliate KRIV’s website, titled “Needville community concerned about thousands of busted solar panels,” relied almost entirely on quotes from Kaminski and another anti-solar activist, Myles Fuqua. The article cited Kaminski as someone who was “worried about the environmental impact before the solar farms were built,” saying, “My concern is the hail damage that came through and busted these panels we now have some highly toxic chemicals that could be potentially leaking into our water tables.” The article also quoted “Mikes Fugua,” seemingly a misspelling of local anti-solar activist Myles Fuqua, who said: “There's numerous makeup in the chemicals on this thing. The majority of them are cancer-causing.” [KRIV, 3/22/24]
    • Experts say there is little evidence that cadmium telluride from functioning solar farms is harming surrounding communities. The vast majority of solar panels today don’t even contain the metal, and the ones that do use safer, more stable formulation of it. The developers behind Fighting Jay’s have said their panels are silicon-based and do not contain cadmium. “The silicon-based panels contain no cadmium telluride and we have identified no risk to the local community or the environment,” a spokesperson for Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners told Newsweek. [Newsweek, 3/26/24; Inside Climate News, 10/12/23]
    • Since 2021, Kaminski has been a member of “Stop Solar Farms,” a Facebook group with 6,000 members. On March 20, Kaminski posted photos of the damage in the group and wrote, “All these chemicals leaking into our water tables are going to be lovely.” Members of the group and similar local groups regularly post disinformation about renewable energy. [Facebook, 3/20/24; Znet, 4/11/23; Distilled, 10/28/22]
    • Fuqua is also a member of “Stop Solar Farms” and has expressed anti-solar energy views on Facebook. In the Stop Solar Farms group, Fuqua posted photos of panels that had seemingly been damaged in the hail storm, writing, “We said it was going to happen, and it did.” In 2022, Fuqua wrote in a post, “Anyone thinks that solar is cool and the way to go can kiss my ass.” [Facebook, 3/22/24, 9/27/22]
    • The KRIV article also did not mention that Fuqua sued three solar companies for creating a “private nuisance” by constructing a separate commercial solar farm in Fort Bend County, which he argued would “substantially interfere with” the “use and enjoyment of” his property and diminish its value. Fuqua later voluntarily dropped one of the companies from the lawsuit, and legal proceedings surrounding the claim have been suspended until July 2024. [Trellis, 6/30/23, 2/23/24]
  • Citing local reports, Fox News, The Gateway Pundit, and The Daily Caller ran with Kaminski's anti-solar narrative

    • A Fox News report on the damage sustained during the storm detailed local “concern about vulnerable ‘green’ tech,” citing Kaminski as simply a “Needville resident.” The article also quoted fossil fuel shill Daniel Turner, the executive director of Koch-connected Power the Future, who claimed that the storm illustrated renewable energy’s “enormous drawbacks. And it's doing the American people a great disservice to obfuscate these very obvious shortcomings." [Fox News, 3/27/24; DeSmog, accessed 4/2/24]
    • The Daily Caller regurgitated KTRK's and KRIV’s coverage. The story honed in on Kaminski’s complaints and amplified the widely shared X post featuring aerial footage of Fighting Jays’ damaged panels. [The Daily Caller, 3/26/24]
    • Conspiracy theory outlet The Gateway Pundit published a story titled “Texas Hail Storm Destroys Thousands of Acres of Solar Farms.” The article cited Kaminski’s interview with KRIV and embedded social media posts showing damaged panels. [The Gateway Pundit, 3/26/24; Reuters, 12/3/21]
  • Other right-wing figures spread footage of the storm's aftermath on social media to suggest renewable energy isn't safe or reliable

    • An anti-renewable energy group fighting solar development in Knox County, Ohio, amplified the viral video showing aerial footage of hail-damaged panels. Knox Smart Development is a dark-money funded group that is currently attempting to derail a large-scale solar project in Ohio. The group, which locals suspect is funded by the CEO of a methane gas producer, amplified the viral post on its website. [Canary Media, 3/15/24; Knox Smart Development, archived 3/26/24]
    • Another Ohio anti-solar community group, Preserve Knox County, posted the video on its Facebook page. [Facebook, 3/23/24]
    • Climate denial and conspiracy account Wide Awake Media: “Net Zero fail: A single hail storm in Damon, Texas, destroys thousands of acres of solar panels.” The post continued: “Is it really wise to make ourselves dependent on expensive energy infrastructure that can be rendered permanently useless by a bout of bad weather?” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24, Media Matters, 9/19/23]
    • Brownstone Institute president and Epoch Times contributor Jeffrey Tucker: “Is it really this bad? Can a huge solar panel farm really be rendered useless by a hail storm? If so, this whole endeavor is preposterous. It's a step backwards for humanity, which is probably the point.” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
    • Ryan Maue, a White House scientist under then-President Donald Trump who was fired after promoting climate skepticism: “Flag this Hail storm demolished thousands of solar panels and neighbors concerned about toxic, cancer causing chemicals leaching into well water.” He added, “Every solar farm apparently has the potential to become the next Superfund site.” [Twitter/X, 3/25/24]
    • Power the Future President Daniel Turner: “A hail storm in Texas caused extensive damage to thousands of acres of solar panels. Green energy is the future... in a world with no hail.” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
    • “ULTRAMAGA” account SaltyGoat: “Thousands of acres of solar panels are destroyed following a hail storm yesterday in Damon, Texas But sure... Let's try and run the world off of this BULLSHlT!!!” [Twitter/X, 3/26/24]
    • Right-wing account Citizen Free Press: “Hail storm in Texas yesterday destroys thousands of acres of solar farms. The Climate Mafia was unavailable for comment.” [Twitter/X, 3/25/24]
    • Will Tanner, co-founder of the right-wing American Tribune, repeated that the solar panels were “leaking a toxic compound … into the water.” He wrote: “In yet another massive L for 'green' energy boondoggles, a massive swathe of solar panels in Damon, Texas were taken out by a hail storm. And not only were the expensive panels rendered useless by the weather, but now they're leaking a toxic compound, cadmium telluride, into the water. So not only do Texans get intermittent energy instead of constant energy, not only do they waste thousands of acres of land with solar farms, but now the pointless panels are leaking into the groundwater.” [Twitter/X, 3/25/24]
    • Right-wing MAGA account “I Meme Therefore I Am” wrote: “BREAKING: 1,000’s of Solar Panels Decimated During Hail Storm at Damon, TX Solar Farms How is that for ‘clean green energy’?!” [Twitter/X, 3/25/24]
    • RedState contributor Bonchie: “‘Saving the environment’ by covering it in dozens of square miles of inefficient solar panels that can’t even survive a hail storm.” [Twitter/X, 3/25/24]
    • Newsmax anchor Alex Kraemer cited footage of damaged panels at Fighting Jays to argue for nuclear power. She said, “I recently just saw on Twitter, this massive field of those solar panels completely destroyed by hail. I mean, it's just, you cannot keep up with that kind of stuff. You've seen what happens to those windmills. Let’s just meet in the middle and use the nuclear power.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 3/28/24]
  • In reality, fossil fuel production is unsafe and unreliable, not renewables

    • The negative health impacts of burning fossil fuels are well-documented. Research from University College London found that in 2018, burning fossil fuels was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally. A January report from Human Rights Watch also found that largely Black communities in Louisiana in close proximity to several petrochemical plants and refineries are facing “severe health harms including elevated burdens and risks of cancer, reproductive, maternal, and newborn health harms, and respiratory ailments.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/25/24; The Guardian, 2/9/2021]
    • Extreme heat and cold temperatures have caused fossil fuel infrastructure to malfunction. During a deadly winter storm that killed hundreds in 2021, natural gas equipment failed to withstand the storm’s cold temperatures. In summer 2023, oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana decreased energy production due to extreme heat, which led to extensive power outages and higher gas prices. [Spectrum News 1, 7/28/23; Forbes, 10/9/23; The Texas Tribune; 1/3/22]
    • As Texas experiences more extreme weather events, the Electric Reliability Council Of Texas, which controls the state’s energy grid, has increased its reliance on solar energy. On March 26, amid a flurry of tornado warnings, the state set a new record for daily solar energy use. [Twitter/X, 3/26/24; ABC News, 3/25/24; Amarillo Globe-News, 3/26/24]