Trump: "I have a problem with wind"

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In a recent interview with the New York Times, President-elect Trump claimed there are three reasons to oppose wind power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we disagree with each of them. We thought we'd break them down and add some facts to a discussion that threatens to undermine one of the most important global efforts of our time. Here are Trump's three main points:

  1. Wind turbines kill birds (even the golden eagle)
  2. Wind turbines are bad for the atmosphere due to their steel construction
  3. Energy from wind isn't commercially viable

You can read the full transcript of the NYT interview here but here's an excerpt:

The wind is a very deceiving thing. First of all, we don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan. They’re made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere.

The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies. In other words, we’re subsidizing wind mills all over this country. I mean, for the most part they don’t work. I don’t think they work at all without subsidy, and that bothers me, and they kill all the birds. You go to a windmill, you know in California they have the, what is it? The golden eagle? And they’re like, if you shoot a golden eagle, they go to jail for five years and yet they kill them by, they actually have to get permits that they’re only allowed to kill 30 or something in one year. The windmills are devastating to the bird population, OK.

With that being said, there’s a place for them. But they do need subsidy. So, if I talk negatively. I’ve been saying the same thing for years about you know, the wind industry. I wouldn’t want to subsidize it. Some environmentalists agree with me very much because of all of the things I just said, including the birds, and some don’t. But it’s hard to explain. I don’t care about anything having to do with anything having to do with anything other than the country.
— Donald Trump

We wouldn't normally include such a long quote, but we thought you'd enjoy President-elect Trump's turn of phrase in its full, unfiltered glory

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Bird protection groups are in favour of wind

To quote the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; "the RSPB supports a significant growth in offshore and onshore wind power generation in the UK". It couldn't be put more succinctly than that.

Climate change is set to have a devastating impact on the environment, which is a far greater threat to birds than wind farms. Of course, governments and wind farm investors should do all they can to minimise the danger to birds. However, this is not a significant hurdle. The RSBP scrutinises hundreds of UK wind farm applications each year, and 94% of those are safe enough for the RSPB to give their blessing.

You can read more about the RSPB's policies here.

 
Robin doesn't seem to mind wind power
Robin doesn't seem to mind wind power
 

Wind has very low carbon intensity

Steel, of course, takes energy to produce. However, the carbon cost of this energy is dwarfed when other factors are taken into consideration. We can do this by considering the lifecycle carbon emissions associated with each type of electricity generation. This is a common method used to compare technologies on an environmental basis and is recommended by bodies such as Defra because it considers the full impact of each technology by calculating the emissions associated with it from cradle to grave, not just the period where it's generating electricity.

Over the course of its lifetime, a wind turbine will produce 400 times less carbon per kWh than coal. A study conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 put the median carbon cost of onshore wind at an equivalent of 11 grammes of CO2 per kWh over its lifetime. Which is similar to nuclear, hydro, solar and a lot lower than the 820 grammes per kWh of Mr Trump's beloved coal power.

 
Trump is against steel makers
Trump is against steel makers
 

You can read the full IPCC report here. The key figures are on the right-hand side of page seven.

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Wind is commercially viable

The cost of wind per unit of electricity is already on par with the likes of new-build coal and nuclear. According to Lazard Investment Bank, coal costs $65-150 per MWh, compared to $32-77 for wind. This cost advantage already gives wind the edge over coal, before the carbon cost is even considered. It's easy to criticise wind, claiming the supply is unreliable and dependent on the weather, but this is solved through energy storage. When Denmark was generating 140% of its energy needs through wind power, it simply exported it to be stored as potential energy in Germany and Sweden's hydro dams.

Wind engineer
Wind engineer

Plus, the efficiency of wind power is improving at a rate of knots. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates the cost of wind will decrease by 19% for every doubling of installed capacity. By comparison, the cost reduction for existing technologies, like coal, is a fraction of a percent.

How much can Trump actually change?

Experts aren’t yet in agreement about the extent to which Trump will be able to reverse recent climate change policy. He could repeal President Obama's executive orders, which he seems set to do. This would likely move US climate policy decisions from national decision makers to individual states. When Reagan starved the EPA of funding in the 1980s, most policies were made at the state level, rather than federal.

Trump will Axe Obama's climate plans
Trump will Axe Obama's climate plans

Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is Trump's inconsistency. He has shown a willingness to reverse direction, which makes it difficult to know quite what's going to happen. He has previously stated he would pull out of the Paris agreement. But in the New York Times interview above he said he would just "take a look at it." Everyone is closely watching this space. As Trump tells us, he's a businessman, so it's possible he may end up seeing the benefits of new and competitive technology.

Here's hoping.

  

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