He ranted about “big windmills” that “destroy everybody’s property values, kill all the birds.” They’re unreliable, he claimed, darkening people’s homes. “And then, all of a sudden, it stops; the wind and the televisions go off,” he added. “And your wives and husbands say, ‘Darling, I want to watch Donald Trump on television tonight. But the wind stopped blowing and I can’t watch. There’s no electricity in the house, darling.’ ”
Trump makes these charges repeatedly. Typically he makes them against “windmills,” a word that refers to old-fashioned structures used for pumping water or grinding grain into flour, while actually meaning “wind turbines,” used today for electricity.
This time, he attacked wind farms during American Wind Week. Yes, there is such a thing, and we’re in it.
“It’s hard to fully understand the motivation of the president,” says Tom Kiernan, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association. “The wind industry is powering the economy in rural America.”
In April, at a Republican fundraising dinner, the president warned, “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value.” He asserted that “the noise causes cancer.” Also, “It’s like a graveyard for birds,” he added. “If you love birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill.”
There’s no evidence wind farms cause cancer, lower property values or cease electricity production when the wind abates. (If that were the case, why build them?)
Wind turbines do kill birds. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lots of things kill far more birds: cars, cell towers, power lines, building glass (found in Trump properties) and, least surprising of all, cats, who destroy an estimated 2.4 billion birds a year.
Trump is like Cervantes’s Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills — that is, jousted — believing they might be monstrous giants. What have wind turbines ever done to Trump?
Here, it gets personal. Which, for Trump, means business. In 2006, he purchased 1,800 acres of property to develop as a luxury golf resort in Scotland, the old sod, his mother’s birthplace.
Trump fought and unsuccessfully sued to prevent a wind farm from being built off the Aberdeenshire coast, claiming it would destroy the view of “perhaps the greatest golf course anywhere in the world” and, potentially, lower revenue.
The 11-turbine facility was completed last summer, but not before Trump had unleashed a windstorm of tweets between 2012 and 2014, promulgating various theories that made wind energy the scourge of our times.
He cautioned that collapsed turbines were a threat to children: “Any turbine in proximity to a school must go!” They hoard government subsidies: “vast amounts of money to subsidize ugly wind turbines.” They “have a warming effect on the climate.”
More? Wind turbines are “disgusting.” These “monstrosities are ruining landscapes,” particularly Palm Springs. They specifically target our national bird and “causes the ‘programmatic’ killing of bald eagles.”
Wind turbines are produced by our leading trade enemy: “We should look to China where big time pollution takes place as they manufacture inefficient and costly wind turbines for Scotland!” As bird killers, “They make hunters look like nice people!” (Trump’s older sons, Don Jr. and Eric, are hunting enthusiasts.)
They’re a threat to farmers: “Iowa is the second leading state in the nation when it comes to wind energy! Sad distinction, farm land lost!”
Tilting at windmills is not necessarily smart politics in 2019. “I’m confused by what the president is saying,” Kiernan says. “I do believe it’s a political miscalculation.”
A third of all Iowa’s electricity is generated by wind turbines, which are supported by Republican stalwarts in the state, U.S. Sens. Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst.
Grassley branded Trump’s cancer comment in April “idiotic,” noting that the president’s rant against wind farms “didn’t show much respect for Chuck Grassley as the grandfather of the wind energy tax credit.” This week, being Wind Week, Ernst introduced legislation promoting industry job training. According to a recent poll, 85 percent of Iowa voters say that it’s important to expand renewable wind and solar energy.
Wind farms are all over the country and range in size from a single turbine to one with more than 2,000 near Palm Springs. Top regions for wind energy tend to be rural and richly Republican. Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota, which all voted for the president, boast the highest percentage of wind energy for electricity production. “Eighty percent of the wind farms that have been built since 2016 have been in states that went for Trump,” Kiernan says.
Trump adores coal and natural gas. “We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal,” he said in 2018. Ergo, he’s against wind.
Renewable wind energy was embraced by former president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, for whom Trump seems to renew his antipathy on a regular basis.
“If Obama keeps pushing wind turbines our country will go down the tubes economically, environmentally & aesthetically,” he tweeted in 2012. In April, he excoriated his former presidential rival: “Hillary wanted to put up wind. Wind.” At a rally in Michigan, Trump exclaimed, “If Hillary got in . . . you’d be doing wind. Windmills. Weeeee.”
He reminded his supporters, as he’s said before, “I know a lot about wind.” For Trump, it’s been a long and windy road.