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Here’s why Trump hates windmills, aka wind turbines

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If you are reading this article on or around April 15, 2022, it may be because Donald Trump recently complained to Fox News’ Sean Hannity on wind turbines. He went through a familiar litany about the number of birds killed by wind turbine blades and the alleged cost of wind to generate power. If you’ve heard him talk about windmills (or, as he calls them, windmills), you’ve heard what he said to Hannity.

If you are reading this at some other time in the future, you are reading this because Trump offered Hannity or someone else the same complaints on the same subject. You are reading this article because you were curious enough to finally Google “why Donald Trump hates windmills” and, through the magic of search engine optimization, landed here.

Because Trump will never stop complaining about wind turbines. It is perhaps his oldest political opinion and one that is almost completely impervious to reason. In that light, it’s instructive: no one will convince Trump that he’s wrong about wind turbines or that his justifications for hating wind turbines are outdated or false, and he’ll just dig because people tell him he is wrong.

This is what we should expect from all of his most fervently expressed political views.

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The particular history of wind turbines begins 16 years ago in Scotland. In 2006, Trump purchased a large chunk of property on the country’s northeast coast with the intention of turning it into a golf resort. Six years later, it opened as Trump International Golf Links.

It was not as easy a path as Trump would have hoped. The local government initially rejected his proposal, fearing that the area where he hoped to build was environmentally sensitive. However, the national government intervened on Trump’s behalf and construction began in 2010.

What Trump seems to ignore when he bought the land is that three years prior a new offshore wind farm had been proposed. Following preparatory work, a formal request for construction was filed in 2011. And that’s when the war began.

Initially, Trump had only one concern: that the offshore turbines would spoil the view from his course. After all, he clearly had no objection to environmentalism; at one point he insisted that his proposed resort “has had tremendous support from environmental groups” and that the resort was “in fact the biggest thing I’ve ever done for the environment”. Before long, Trump filed a lawsuit against the farm.

Trump’s relationship with the Scots has soured. This is partly because he launched a war against a local family whose property he wanted to buy – a war he won in court but which resulted in him being eviscerated in public. Michael Forbes, one of the people who stood up to Trump’s takeover effort, was named “Top Scot” in an award sponsored by Glenfiddich Scotch, urging Trump to ban alcohol from his properties. There was also a documentary.

It was also when Trump’s opposition to wind turbines became embroiled in politics. He began attacking Scottish officials on Twitter, including at least one official who had helped him overcome local opposition in the first place. He started tweeting regularly – hundreds of times – about alleged threats posed by wind turbines.

Wind turbines are “disgusting”, “noisy” and “bad for people’s health”, he claimed. They “threaten the migration of birds”. They “ruin the beauty of certain parts of the country”. They are “bad for the environment” and “cause enormous damage to their local ecosystems”. They are “a scourge on communities and wildlife”. They kill so many birds that they “make hunters look like nice people”. Etc.

In a familiar pattern, Trump took isolated anecdotes or unconfirmed accusations and elevated and exaggerated them to try to subdue his opponents. At one point in early 2013, for example, he told the story of a collapsing wind turbine in a bid to convince a Scottish lawmaker he had previously worked with to block the wind farm project.

But he also intertwined his attacks on wind power with American Politics. The release of Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ has drawn attention to climate change in the United States, with politicians generally lining up to back efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. In 2009, that included Trump himself, one of the business community’s signatories to an ad in The New York Times calling for action.

The election of Barack Obama and the emergence of the Tea Party movement, however, overlapped with a federal effort to cut emissions that quickly became a point of political opposition for Republicans. By the end of Obama’s first term, climate change was entrenched in the fight against the culture war, with the GOP criticizing his efforts to expand green jobs and energy production. Trump was then flirting with a presidential race and incorporated his complaints about wind power in Scotland into his social media template here in the United States.

This campaign came to nothing. When Trump decided to run four years later, he focused much more on immigration than on the climate. In an interesting episode in November 2015, however, the early favorite was forced to confront his anti-wind past.

At an Iowa town hall, a woman whose husband worked for a local turbine maker asked Trump if he supported wind power generation subsidies. Trump had very publicly mocked those grants on several occasions — but he was also a guy who had spent decades figuring out how to get the deal done. So here’s a voter he needed the vote for, and suddenly Trump’s stance went from “never” to “I’m okay with subsidies, to some extent.”

That was about as close to a wind power embrace as Trump would get. Once elected, he abandoned any sense of wanting to appeal to those who did not already support him and mocking wind turbines became part of his campaign shtick. He regularly pushed the line of his complaints, such as when he suggested that the noise from wind turbines might cause cancer. This is not the case.

It was never really clear that he even understood the basics of climate change that would explain why wind power was useful. But that wasn’t the question. He had an inescapable applause line that struck all good haters: liberals, hippies, environmental crackpots, etc. So he deployed it again and again, partly because it worked and partly out of habit.

Since this is a compendium of Trump’s opinions on the subject, we should quickly skim through some of his claims and debunk or contextualize them. So:

  • Wind turbines can kill birds, as explained in a New York Times article the week of his April interview with Hannity. (Initial research suggests that painting a blade black reduces that risk.) But Trump’s complaints about saving migratory birds are somewhat undermined by his administration’s attempt to gut a law protecting these birds and by the fact that Trump is a big proponent of another much more common bird killer: buildings.
  • Wind energy is relatively inexpensive form of energy. And although it depends on the wind (obviously), there are systems (batteries) that can store energy during periods when the wind is lower. Nor is it true that the power outage in Texas in the winter of 2021 was due to frozen turbines.
  • The United States imports a lot of wind turbine parts from overseas, but there are also hundreds of domestic manufacturers (such as in Iowa). Part of the push a decade ago was for the country to invest more in the production of turbines, solar equipment and batteries in the United States so as not to lose an economic advantage, but that push has been in party thwarted by political opposition to spend money on green energy.

That Trump continues to make sweeping and often outdated statements about wind energy is not surprising. That’s what he does!

What’s remarkable is that this particular thing has become so obsessed with its model. Before bringing up the subject on the Hannity show in April, he did so in March and January. He can’t resist it. It’s just part of his political worldview, albeit spotted with errors and despite the bizarre genesis of his obsession.

After a brief victory of Trump’s efforts to block the wind farm off the coast of Scotland, it was built and commissioned in 2018. It has an installed capacity of 96.8 megawatts of energy, enough to power 80,000 homes . There are no reports of turbine collapses and no known incidents of noise-related cancer.

In photos of Trump’s resort course posted on Instagram, no turbines are visible in the distance.




Washington

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