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Are frozen wind turbines to blame for the rolling blackouts?

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(KWWL) - Social media has put wind energy through the wringer following the nationwide strain on the power grid following severe winter weather with posts saying frozen wind turbines are chiefly to blame. Utility companies and reports from grid operators say that's not the case.

As temperatures in the south dropped to extremely low temperatures for the region and icing conditions did cause some wind turbines to stop working, however not to such a degree as they are being blamed for. According to Dan Woodfin, senior director of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the outages can be mainly attributed to failures in the natural gas distribution network and thermal generating stations using natural gas and nuclear energy.

However, Texas lawmakers, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott in an interview with Fox News, and others jumped onto the theory that wind turbines were solely to blame to the rolling blackouts and power outages in Texas.

Texas also separated itself from the rest of the nation's power grid and formed ERCOT in 1935 as a response to the Federal Power Act that gave the federal government the authority to regulate utility companies that engaged in interstate commerce. By forming their own power grid and agreeing to not sell power across state lines, Texas isolated itself from the rest of the country in an effort to avoid regulation. The state currently has minimal connections to outside power sources.

Here in Iowa, and much of the north, wind turbines and other power generating stations are winterized. Geoff Greenwood, MidAmerican Energy spokesman, said that MidAmerican invests in cold weather kits for wind turbines to keep them operational even in the extreme cold.

"It includes the heating elements that help warm up the components inside the cell, which is that big gearbox behind the turbine. We try to make sure that everything is good," Greenwood said.

None of the company's turbines were down due to the cold in Iowa, but there are currently a handful offline.

"We have a small number of turbines offline just like we do yearround here and there. Obviously, we want them all online all the time cranking out energy. Their performance depends on a lot of things like how much wind we're getting," he said.

The offline turbines are being worked on and with it not being very windy in the state lately, the turbines aren't putting out their maximum output.

In Governor Reynolds' Wednesday news conference, it was mentioned that none of the state's three major utilities: Black Hill Energy, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy, were forced to instate rolling blackouts.

Tuesday morning, Southwest Power Pool, which regulates a portion of the grid in western Iowa, announced the potential for rolling blackouts as the grid struggled to keep up. They have since reversed the directive as conditions improved. Most of Iowa is attached to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator that did not issue a rolling blackout notice.

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