This story was originally published April 3, 2019. It has been updated with Trump’s December comments on windmills.
The Spanish have that famous book with the knight who goes tilting at windmills because he thinks they’re hulking giants.
The Americans have the President whose hatred of windmills is no less epic. He thinks they’re cancer-causing bird killers that drive down property values, and he fought against putting them within sight of his golf course.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump renewed his longstanding attacks on windmills during a speech to a conservative student group, this time putting an America First gloss on his opposition.
“I never understood wind,” he said. “You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody I know. It’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly – very few made here, almost none.”
He then repeated claims he’s made before about windmill installations depressing house prices nearby, and killing bald eagles, echoing claims he started making earlier in the year.
“Hillary wanted to put up wind,” Trump said at a fundraiser for Republicans in Washington last spring, kicking off an extended riff about the evils of windmills – wind turbines, more accurately – and the inadequacy of wind energy. It’s worth looking at in full since it’s clearly becoming part of his stump speech and feeds into his larger distrust of renewable energy and his mocking of climate change.
Trump: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75% in value.”
Trump fought for a decade against the Scottish government’s effort to install a renewable energy wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen, which could be seen from his eponymous golf course there. He called them a “horrible idea” and “ugly” in court documents.
The case of Trump vs. the Scottish windmills went to the UK’s Supreme Court in 2015, according to Quartz. The wind farm was completed in 2018. In February, adding insult to injury, Trump’s golf course was ordered to pay the Scottish government’s legal bills from the case, according to the BBC.
Note: Trump does not have quite the same disdain for offshore oil drilling, which his administration has pushed through an executive order, although it exempted Florida, where Trump owns seaside property. Other states have complained too and a judge in Alaska recently blocked Trump’s drilling effort for Arctic waters and areas in the Atlantic ocean.
As to whether windmills affect property values, the evidence is mixed. This was the subject of a CNN Fact Check when Trump made the claim last month, saying windmills drove property values down 65%. Trump’s claim wasn’t supported by the facts when he said 65% and it’s supported even less now that he’s upped the damage to 75%.
Trump: “And they say the noise causes cancer. You told me that one, OK.” (Then he made circles with his hands and a noise with his mouth.) “You know the thing makes so…”
It’s not clear who it was who told this to Trump, but there’s no evidence to back it up. There are frustrations with noise from wind turbines and those have led to reports of things like insomnia and dizziness among some people who live near wind turbines. Scientific studies have not identified any human health risk.
Trump: “… and of course it’s like a grave yard for birds. If you love birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill because it’s a very sad, sad sight. It’s like a cemetery. We put a little statue for the poor birds. It’s true. You know in California if you shoot a bald eagle they put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills they wipe them all out. It’s true. They wipe them out. It’s terrible.”
Yes, wind turbines kill birds. Hundreds of thousands of them, according to the American Bird Conservancy. The US Fish and Wildlife Service suggests some bird death estimates on both sides are affected by bias. Killing far more birds than wind turbines are traditional power power lines. But there are also a lot more of them.
Regarding eagles, the Obama administration greatly increased the number of protected bald or golden eagles that can be killed or injured by wind turbines before wind energy companies face penalties.
Trump: “I told the story about, at CPAC, the woman, she wants to watch television and she says to her husband, ‘Is the wind blowing? I’d love to watch a show tonight, darling. The wind hasn’t blown for three days. I can’t watch television, darling. Darling, please, tell the wind to blow.’”
If the wind stops blowing on one day, the electricity does not go off. Wind energy is fed into the power grid. People get electricity from the power grid. About 6% of total US electricity comes from wind energy, according to the Department of Energy. It’s much higher in a few states – more than 30% in Iowa and South Dakota. But it has been growing as a portion of US energy production and is expected to provide 20% of US electricity by 2030. It would not be sustainable to provide all electricity from wind power, but it is an important contributor.
By the way, the US power grid is horribly outdated and updating it from a regional set of three grids to a national one would be a massive investment but make the country much more energy efficient and stable.
Trump: “No, wind’s not so good and you have no idea how expensive it is to make those things. They’re all made in China and Germany, by the way, just in case you, we don’t make them here, essentially.”
The wind industry has been on a tear. The fastest-growing occupation in the US in 2017 was wind turbine technician, although it’s still a small part of the economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 105,000 Americans are employed in the wind industry across all 50 states, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. The industry is reliant on imports from “a wide array” of countries, according to the Energy Department.
According to the Energy Information Agency, US wind turbine manufacturing is dominated by three companies: General Electric, Siemens and Vestas.
But each of these has both international and domestic manufacturing facilities. Vestas, a Danish company, for instance, has a large plant in Pueblo, Colorado. GE makes turbines in China, but also in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Trump also bragged that the US was now the top producer of oil and natural gas in the world and said that happened over the last two years. It’s true that the US recently eclipsed Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s top oil producer, but it capped a spurt of growth that began in 2011, according to the Energy Information Agency.
He’d clearly like to focus there. Trump’s budget, which is unlikely to become law, proposed cutting federal funding for research into renewable energy at the Department of Energy by 70%.