Donald Trump is the kind of guy who doesn’t even bother to do his homework before he gets up on stage to demonstrate his ignorance to the world. It would be funny if he wasn’t the person in charge of making public policy for the nation. Even worse is the fact that his followers don’t even seem to care if their dear leader knows anything or not.
Trump put his ignorance on full display in a recent speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he made a series of ludicrous statements about wind turbines:
Trump starts out by proudly proclaiming: “An economy based on wind. I’ve never understood wind. You know that I know wind mills very much. I’ve studied it better than anyone I know. It’s very expensive.”
With that statement Trump displays how little he knows about wind energy, despite his claim to be an expert on the topic. Lazard, an energy investment firm, estimates that the levelized cost of energy in a new onshore wind farm ranges between $28 and $54 per MWh without any subsidies, and it costs between $11 and $45 per MWh with US federal energy subsidies. In comparison, unsubsidized combined cycle natural gas, which is the cheapest energy from fossil fuels, ranges between $44 and $68. In addition, Lazard calculates that the unsubsidized levelized cost of onshore wind energy has dropped by 70% between 2009 and 2019.
The cost of wind energy varies widely due to the differences in the available wind in different regions of the US, but most of the wind farms are constructed in the central wind corridor stretching between Eastern Montana, North Dakota and Western Minnesota in the north down to Texas in the south, where energy costs are closer to the lower range provided by Lazard. 59.1% of the 96,433 MW of wind turbines, that were installed in the US at the end of 2018, are located in the states of N. Dakota, Minnesota, S. Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Trump then claims that wind turbines “are made in China and Germany mostly. Very few are made here–almost none.” In reality, the vast majority of the wind turbines installed in the US are made in the US. According to the 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report produced by the US Department of Energy, over 85% of the nacelles (which is the head usually containing the generator, gearbox, drive train and brake) are assembled in the US. Between 75% and 90% of the towers used in wind turbines in the US are manufactured in the US and between 50% and 70% of the blades and hubs are manufactured in the US.
Trump erroneously assumes that the wind turbines installed in the US must be made in China, since China makes so many other things for sale in the US. Trump has obviously never bothered to look up who makes the wind turbines which are installed in the US. The only Chinese company to supply wind turbines in the US was Goldwind with a mere 2.2% of the US market in 2018. Goldwind has been trying to enter the US market since 2009, but almost all its turbines in the US are installed in two wind farms which the Chinese company owns in Texas, because it hasn’t managed to convince other American energy project developers to use its turbines.
In comparison, GE Renewable Energy captured 39.7% of the US market in 2018 for wind turbines, edging out out Vestas at 38.0%, which is headquartered in Aarhus, Denmark. Vestas and GE have been trading places as the largest supplier of wind turbines for the US market, with GE leading in 2012-2015 and 2018, but Vestas winning in 2011, 2016 and 2017. Nordex, which is headquartered in Rostock, Germany, controlled 11.4% of the US market in 2018, and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) controlled 8.3%.
Considering that 41% of the shares in Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy came from the Spanish company Gamesa, when it merged with Siemens in 2017 and the company is headquartered in Zamudio, Biscay, Spain, it is questionable whether it can be considered a German company. Likewise, 29.9% of Nordex’s shares are owned by Spanish company Acciona which merged with Nordex in 2016. If we consider SGRE, Nordex and Vensys to be German, then 20.0% of the US wind turbine market was controlled by German companies in 2018.
Trump believes the wind turbines installed in the US are “mostly” made in China and Germany. Only 2.2% of the turbines installed in 2018 which came from the Chinese company Goldwind and the 0.3% that came from the German company Vensys were likely “made” in China and Germany, respectively (if “made” means that the majority of the turbine comes from those countries).
Out of the roughly $11 billion that was invested in wind energy in the US in 2018, roughly $2 billion of that was spent on importing wind turbines and their components. China is the largest supplier of imported wind turbines and their components, but that isn’t much compared to the total size of the US wind market. 42% of the $0.9 billion in imported blades and hubs in 2018 came from China and 10% of the $0.3 billion in imported generators and parts came from China. Although German companies supplied a fifth of the wind turbines used in the US in 2018, very little of those turbines is produced in Germany. Only 7% of the $0.2 billion in imported wind-powered generating sets came from Germany and very little of the other imported turbine components were from Germany.
The proportion of imported components in wind turbines has fallen and America is spending less on importing turbine components compared to a decade ago. $5.9 billion was spent on imported wind turbines and their components out of $18 billion in total investment in wind energy in 2008, compared to $2.0 billion in importations out of $11 billion in total investment in 2018.
Very little of the components used by the four leading wind turbine manufacturers that control 97% of the US market come from either China or Germany. Most of the content in the wind turbines from these four companies come from the roughly 140 wind turbine and component manufacturing and assembly facilities operating in the United States.
The current market leader, GE, manufactures its wind turbine blades in Grand Forks, North Dakota and Little Rock, Arkansas, plus over the border in Gaspé, Quebec, Canada. GE makes its nacelles and hubs in Pensacola, Florida and it designs its onshore wind turbines in Greenville, South Carolina.
Nonetheless, wind turbines from the American company GE usually have a higher proportion of components from China than the other 3 market leaders, which are European companies. Most GE turbines have gearboxes which were made in China. GE has jointly developed gearboxes with Nanjing High Speed & Accurate Gear Company (NGC) since 2006 for use in its onshore wind turbines. In 2009, GE set up a joint venture with A-Power Energy Generation Systems, which is based in Shenyang, China, to manufacture gearboxes.
Vestas has invested $1 billion in 4 manufactured plants in Colorado since 2010. It makes blades and nacelles in Brighton, Colorado and blades in Windsor, Colorado and towers in Puebla, Colorado. This location in the middle of the central wind corridor gives it lower transportation costs than its competitors to the prime locations to build American wind farms, which is why Vestas has been able to challenge GE for the top spot in the competitive American market.
In addition, Vestas gets some of its turbine blades for the North American market from TPI Composites which is based in Scottsdale, Arizona and is the largest independent maker of wind turbine blades. TPI manufactures blades in Newton, Iowa, Matamoros, Mexico and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico and does its engineering in Warren, Rhode Island and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico; however, TPI also makes blades in Dafeng, China for Vestas and Acciona.
The Spanish company, Acciona, which was merged into Nordex in 2016, has been manufacturing nacelles in West Branch, Iowa since December 2007. In Spring 2019, Nordex started manufacturing its own blades in Matamoros, Mexico.
Siemens has been manufacturing its wind turbine blades in Fort Madison, Iowa since 2007 and its nacelles in Hutchinson, Kansas since 2010. Gamesa started manufacturing nacelles, blades and towers in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania and blades in Ebensburg, Pennyslvania in 2006, but these plants have been closed.
Because Trump is currently engaged in a trade war with China, he should know that China supplies only a small fraction of the wind turbine components used in the US, but Trump clearly hasn’t bothered to study the issue. Even worse, Trump is publicly attacking the wind industry which employs 114,000 Americans, which is more than double the 53,583 Americans that are employed in coal mining.
Trump then demonstrates even more ignorance when discussing the emissions from wind turbines:
“A tremendous amount of fumes and everything–you talk about the carbon footprint–fumes are spewing into the air. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything. Right?”
The resins used to construct the fiber glass blades used by wind turbines do emit fumes in the factory. These fumes can cause respiratory problems such as tight chest, shortness of breath and wheezing, plus eye and nose irritation, headache, dizziness and nausea. Blade factories have to follow standard work safety guidelines for working around chemicals.
Trump, however, is clearly referring to the carbon emissions from wind turbine manufacturing, when he talks about “fumes,” which reveals his ignorance about the topic. When the full life cycle emissions are included from the fabrication, transportation and onsite construction of turbines, wind energy has the lowest carbon footprint of any type of energy. According to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group III, onshore wind energy emits 11 (7.0 – 56) grams of CO2-equivalent per kWh of generated electricity and offshore wind energy emits 12 (8.0 – 35) g CO2-e / kWh. In comparison, combined cycle natural gas and coal emit 490 and 1001 g CO2-e / kWh, respectively.
Then, Trump claims, “if you own a house within vision of these monsters, your house is worth 50% of the price.” The majority of articles published in scientific journals find that wind farms do not have a negative impact on property values. However, there is one study of 11,300 property transactions over a 9 year period in New York published in the journal Land Economics in August 2012, which concluded: “nearby wind facilities significantly reduce property values in two of the three counties studied. These results indicate that existing compensation to local homeowners/communities may not be sufficient to prevent a loss of property values.” Nonetheless, there is no study that finds a 50% loss of property values near wind turbines, so Trump must have made it up.
This is not the first time that Trump has made up fantastical claims that wind turbines lower property values. In April 2019, Trump stated in a speech before the National Republican Congressional Committee: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one, okay? Rerrrr rerrrr!” Not only are there no cases of a wind turbine lowering the value of a house by 75%, but there are also no studies finding that the noise from wind mills causes cancer.
Trump finally finds a way to criticize wind turbines that isn’t completely fabricated, when he bloviates: “You want to see a bird graveyard. Go under a wind mill some day. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Wind turbines do kill birds, but several academic studies have found that wind farms kill fewer birds than fossil fuel energy generation per MWh, which is why wind energy is endorsed by virtually every environmental group. For example, B. Sovacool (2009) found that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible for between 0.3 and 0.4 bird fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity, while fossil fueled power stations are responsible for roughly 5.2 bird fatalities per GWh. Some of the early wind farms in California and Spain were poorly sited in the flight paths of birds, so they killed a lot of birds, but wind farms being built today undergo environmental review so they aren’t placed in common flight paths.
Then, Trump veers again into complete fabrication, when he states: “You know in California, they were killing the bald eagle. A wind mill will kill many bald eagles. It’s true, and you know what? After a certain number, they make you turn it off.”
I was unable to find a single case of a wind turbine killing a bald eagle in California, when I did a Google searches on the topic. Wind turbines kill mostly golden eagles, not bald eagles. A 2013 study that looked at 85 instances of wind turbines killing eagles between 1997 and 2012, found that 80 of the fatalities were golden eagles, whereas only 5 were bald eagles. This higher proportion of deaths by golden eagles is surprising because there are 70,000 bald eagles in the US, compared to 20,000 golden eagles. Bald eagles live mainly on fish, so they commonly fly over river and lake bottoms where turbines are unlikely to be placed because those are not good spots to catch the wind. Furthermore, the bald eagle population is not very high in the wind corridor over the Great Plains where most of the wind turbines in the US are located.
It is likely that most eagle deaths are not reported, so the number of eagle deaths is undercounted. Californian ornithologist Shawn Smallwood, who studies raptor deaths by wind turbines, estimates that 100 eagles are killed per year by wind turbines in the US. Considering that there are 57,700 wind turbines installed in the US, the probability of a single wind turbine killing a bald eagle in a year is 5/85 x 100/57700 = 0.01%, and if that turbine operates 20 years, it will be 0.2%. Trump’s fantasy that “a wind mill will kill many bald eagles” is nearly impossible. The probability of a single wind turbine killing two bald eagles is 0.0004% and killing three bald eagles is 0.0000008%.
A president who has any personal integrity would never make up blatant lies as Trump does to smear the wind industry. What makes Trump’s lies so appalling is that he publicly proclaims his concern for protecting the environment, energy independence and American jobs, while smearing an industry that is helping the US achieve those goals.
Trump’s lies about wind energy don’t just stem from sheer ignorance about the topic. They also come from his hatred of wind turbines being constructed near his golf courses. Trump sued the Scottish government in 2012 for approving a plan by the energy utility Vattenfall to construct 11 offshore wind turbines in Aberdeen Bay. Trump believed that the proposed wind farm would ruin the view from his Menie gold course. Trump testified before the Scottish parliament in April 2012 that wind turbines would harm Scotland’s tourism, but then he famously refused to provide any proof to support these claims. In 2013, Trump unsuccessfully tried to join a private lawsuit against the Viking wind project on the Shetlands. Trump’s case against the Aberdeen Bay wind farm went all the way to the UK Supreme Court where Trump lost in December 2015, but he managed to delay the wind farm’s construction for a number of years. After the court ruled in February 2019 that Trump must pay the legal fees of the Scottish government to fight his lawsuit, Trump’s firm that owns the Scottish golf course refused to pay the bill. In November 2019, Trump’s firm finally came to a settlement with the Scottish government and agreed to pay $290,000 for the government’s legal fees.
By making public speeches as the president of the US which attack wind turbines, Trump has confused the interests of the nation with his personal interests. Trump sees no problem with using the office of the presidency of the United States as a platform to fabricate blatant lies and carry out a personal vendetta against the wind industry.
Trump’s blatant spewing of misinformation about wind turbines could cause thousands of Americans to lose their jobs, damage America’s ability to compete in the new global economy based on clean tech, and further hasten the ongoing ecological crisis of global warming which is caused by burning fossil fuels. What makes Trump scary is not the fact that he operates without any regard for facts or any semblance of verifiable truth. Rather, Trump is a menace to society, because roughly a third of Americans are willing to blindly follow him in his fact-free rants, and most of them don’t seem to care about who or what gets harmed in the process.