What Trump gets wrong about wind power
President Donald Trump fancies himself an expert in wind power. Over the weekend, he gave a speech at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit — a far-right, alt-right adjacent nonprofit student organization — in West Palm Beach, Florida where Trump extolled some of his expertise on windmills, renewable energy and the universe. The problem is that basically nothing he said is true.
Trump has a long history of knowing basically nothing about wind power despite speaking on it with unearned authority. He's always more than happy to flash his credentials, and did so at the Turning Point USA event, telling the audience, "I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody." Alas, he's still got his basic facts wrong on the topic. So let's run down Trump's misunderstandings of wind power — new and old — to dispel some of the misinformation that the President of the United States has casually floated to anyone willing to listen over the last few years.
Wind power is expensive
During his speech over the weekend, President Trump took aim at the Green New Deal, claiming that its backers want to push us to a "have an economy based on wind." What exactly that means is entirely unclear. On its face, it sounds like Trump thinks that people want to turn wind into a currency, which is very silly and not at all a thing that anyone thinks. What he likely was trying to say was that wind power is expensive and would upend our economy that is enabled by cheap but dirty fuel sources like natural gas and coal. It's a generous interpretation, but he does go on to explicitly say, "It’s very expensive" just a few sentences later. And he's said in interviews in the past that he believes, "Wind is very, very expensive" — so we'll assume that's where he was going with that line of thought.
While the president's speech isn't clear, the facts are: wind has steadily been getting less and less expensive. A recent analysis from Energy Innovation found that wind, along with solar, will be more cost-effective sources of energy than coal in the coming years. The U.S. Department of Energy reported in a 2016 study that renewable energy costs were down by as much as 64 percent from just eight years earlier. For the majority of the world, planet-friendly energy sources like wind and solar power are actually cheaper than dirty-burning alternatives. The idea that wind power is expensive dates back more than a decade now when the technology was new and not mass-produced, therefore more expensive to adopt — and it's been on Trump's mind since he got heated about the possibility of a wind farm going up near his golf course in Scotland in 2006. Times have changed, with production becoming more common and technology becoming more efficient. Trump hasn't updated his talking points to reflect that, though he'd really be scoring some points if it was still the early 2000s.
Wind power doesn't create jobs
One of the central tenets of Trump's campaign was that he was going to bring back jobs — in particular, manufacturing jobs — to the U.S. He's had at best middling success, with the industry actually in decline in recent months. So it's strange that one of his primary talking points when it comes to wind power is claiming that it doesn't create opportunities here in the US. During his Turning Point USA speech, while speaking about wind turbines, he claimed, "They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none."
There are certainly wind turbines made in those countries. But the largest producer is actually a company named Vestas, which is headquartered in Denmark and has manufacturing plants in Germany, China and the U.S. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), there are 500 factories building wind-related parts and materials across 43 states. As of 2016, there were at least 25,000 manufacturing jobs related to wind power in the U.S. GE, an American-based company, is the largest provider of wind technologies in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And building the parts for turbines aren't the only wind-related jobs out there. These structures have to be constructed and maintained. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind energy technician is one of the fastest growing jobs in the country, and as the technology is adopted, more jobs will be created throughout the supply chain to meet that demand. Wind power is something that the Trump administration should be celebrating, as it is providing jobs. Instead, they are trying to tamp it down because of some outmoded beliefs about energy consumption.
Wind turbines hurt property value
Trump owns properties all over the world, and he has become convinced that those properties will be worth less if there are wind turbines anywhere near them. During his Turning Point USA speech, he suggested that, "if you own a house within vision of some of these monsters, your house is worth 50 percent of the price" — "monsters" of course referring to wind turbines. This has become something of a talking point for the president, though his figures change regularly. Earlier this year, he told an Ohio crowd, "if you're in sight of a windmill, watch the value of your house go down by 65 percent." In another instance, he claimed it dropped housing prices by as much as 75 percent.
There's really no basis in fact for this claim. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Real Estate Research analyzed more than 122,000 home sales that took place between 1998 and 2012 and were within at least 10 miles of wind turbines. The researchers concluded that there is "no unique impact on the rate of home sales near wind turbines." Another study conducted by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Rhode Island dug into the prices of more than 48,000 homes within a five-mile radius of a wind turbine. The researchers found "no statistically significant negative impacts on house prices." On an individual basis, some homes may see a very slight decrease in their value if views are somehow obscured by windmills, but there is no evidence to suggest that homes that have nearby wind farms suddenly lose a huge chunk of their value. In fact, major roads and electricity transmission lines were found to have more adverse effects on home value than wind turbines.
Wind turbines kill birds
A classic argument made by Trump against wind turbines is the idea that they are simply large bird-killing machines. During his latest speech, he riffed on this idea, telling the audience, "They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? You just go. Take a look. A bird graveyard. Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life." He also claimed that the turbines are killing bald eagles and maybe should be faced with jail time for doing so:
You know, in California, they were killing the bald eagle. If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years. A windmill will kill many bald eagles. It’s true. And you know what? After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off. That’s true, by the way. This is, they make you turn it off after you, and yet, if you killed one they put you in jail. That’s okay. But why is it okay for these windmills to destroy the bird population? And that’s what they’re doing.
The idea that Trump cares about the bird population is pretty questionable to begin with. His administration reversed a rule that considered the accidental killing of birds by wind turbines to be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and also implemented changes earlier this year to the Endangered Species Act that will certainly result in the deaths and possible extinctions of more animals, including birds. But regardless of Trump's own contribution to the dwindling bird population, the fact is that wind turbines are not killing birds at the rate that Trump claims.
Yes, birds do die as a result of wind turbines. But the American Wind Energy Association points out that "collisions with wind turbines account for about one-tenth of a percent of all ‘unnatural’ bird deaths in the United States each year." And you know what kills far more birds? Fossil fuels, of course. According to a 2012 study, wind farms killed about 46,000 birds in 2009 while nuclear power plants killed 46,000 and fossil fuel plants killed as many as 24 million. The threat of climate change, caused by human reliance on fossil fuels, has put as much as two-thirds of all birds in North America at risk of extinction over the course of the next century. Wind power would represent an improvement in air quality, with less carbon emissions being put into the atmosphere. That would improve the quality of life for birds, and help to prevent the earth's temperature from rising to a level where the planet becomes largely unlivable for many of our feathered friends.
Wind turbines cause cancer
It didn't come up during Trump's latest rant about wind power, but it's worth noting that the president has said previously that noise from the wind turbines cause cancer. It doesn't. Of course it doesn't.