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Perhaps by some sort of miracle, wind turbines continue working during Minnesota winter.

Almost exactly a year ago, 11 wind turbines near the Twin Cities froze up. The turbines, older models imported from California, hadn’t been properly winterized. When cold weather set in, hydraulic fluid inside the turbines gelled and the blades stopped turning.

The fix was relatively straightforward – simply replace the fluids with something that can handle the cold.

But that didn’t stop wind opponents from using the incident as an opportunity to crow about the unreliability of the “staggeringly inefficient” turbines. Business news site VentureBeat declared that the incident “may be highlighting brand new concerns about over-reliance on wind as a renewable energy source.”

As anyone who lives in a cold climate (or who has a basic grasp of high school physics) knows, cold can wreak havoc on machinery. Diesel cars and trucks, for instance, need to be switched to special grade of fuel that’s less likely to gel in cold weather. I use automotive transmission fluid to lubricate my bike in the wintertime because the chain lube in my garage has turned into the consistency of molasses.

Extreme cold is an equal-opportunity equipment-breaker.

Well, now the tables have turned a bit, and it’s coal plants in Texas that are struggling to operate in the cold. Temperatures dipping into the teens are forcing several of the state’s power plants to shut down, prompting hours-long rolling blackouts across the state. Update: The Texas Tribune reports that some wind turbines and natural gas plants were affected as well.

Texas lawmakers are calling for hearings. “We’re trying to figure out – how do we keep the lights on?” state Sen. Troy Fraser told the Dallas Morning News.

Do you suppose they’ll hear “brand new concerns” about over-reliance on coal?

Photo by windimages via Creative Commons

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.