President Trump bypassed the climate session of the Group of Seven meeting Monday, and afterward he redoubled his commitment to America’s use of fossil fuel. “I’m not going to lose that wealth,” he said at a news conference. “I’m not going to lose it on dreams and windmills, which, frankly, aren’t working too well.”
Good news — neither the president nor anyone else will lose their wealth because of wind energy. On the contrary. A green energy system is cheaper, cleaner and safer than most systems dependent on fossil fuel. And it’s more conducive to dreams of a future on this planet.
When I travel and discuss energy in my role as former minister for the environment and now chair of the climate and energy committee in the Danish Parliament, I am often confronted with the same misunderstandings the president put forward in his comments Monday, as well as those in previous comments, when he linked wind energy to cancer and power blackouts. Such perceptions disregard the astonishing developments within the wind industry in the past five to 10 years. Allow me to point out a few facts:
First, regarding the power produced: When I hear the president say “windmills,” I picture the small wooden structures used for grinding flour in the 17th and 18th centuries. A wind turbine is not that. Today the wind industry builds giant turbines that can each produce enough electricity to cover the annual consumption of more than 4,000 American homes, or 10,000 European ones, a huge increase over previous turbines. Each turbine equals a small power plant and can be twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. If you put a number of these turbines together, you can easily power a whole city or state.
Second, regarding cost: Wind energy has experienced a dramatic decrease in price over the past five to 10 years. Both land wind and offshore wind cost half what they did a decade ago. We’re now seeing private developers bid for subsidy-free offshore wind farms in the Netherlands, for example. Quite a change from the subsidy era, when the technology was maturing.
Europe is not unique. The cost cuts are seen all around the world. According to Bloomberg News: “Wind and solar are now cheapest across more than two-thirds of the world. By 2030 they undercut commissioned coal and gas almost everywhere.”
When it comes to green electricity, cost is king. Companies — and countries — are going to extreme measures to lower the costs of wind. Now Denmark is looking to build an artificial island hundred miles off the coasts in the North Sea. An “Energy-island” can lower costs by connecting several gigantic offshore wind farms. This would mean fewer transmission lines, virtually no neighbor complaints and a safe harbor for the crews working on the construction ships. Imagine stepping foot on a remote island built solely for the purpose of lowering green energy costs.
And then there are the blackouts: Please do not fear blackouts caused by green energy. Power outages are mainly a result of aging electricity grids and poor design, rather than green energy itself. Denmark may be a small country, but the complexity of stabilizing the green energy here is the same as it would be anywhere. If it works here, it can work in the United States, too. In Denmark, 50.1 percent of our 2017 domestic electricity production came from wind — at times 100 percent — but the country averages only 15 minutes of power outages a year, compared with two hours in the United States. If all you good Americans can put a man on the moon, you can also balance an energy grid that faces fluctuations.
As for cancer: If wind turbines caused cancer, all Danes would be wind-turbine cancer survivors, because we started putting up turbines 40 years ago. Wind turbines do not cause cancer, whereas the dangers of coal-fired power plants and particles from fossil-fuel-powered cars are well established.
BNP Paribas, the world’s eighth-largest bank, predicts that cars running on gasoline will soon be able to compete with electric cars running on green energy only if oil is produced at $9 a barrel (it trades at more than $50 a barrel). Few countries can achieve that level. But wind energy can also be transformed into gas or liquid fuel through electrolysis, and this fuel can be used directly in existing car and truck engines.
The wind industry creates jobs, including blue-collar ones, and that goes for the United States as well as Europe. Wind and solar energy together account for twice as many jobs in the United States as the entire coal industry.
And finally comes the best news for the United States: The Midwest and the coasts are simply perfect for wind energy. Midwestern states have large areas with very high wind speeds and few neighbors. This makes for optimal conditions for the cheapest type of wind energy: land turbines. The coasts have on their side large markets for their electricity.
So why invest in the more expensive solution? A smart and forward-looking economy should be focused on harvesting all the free energy we get from the sun and wind and use it for cars, industry and homes.
I happen to agree with the president: America should be great again. So why not get the country back at the forefront of technology development, and make it the leader on renewable energy? We’re cheering for you from over here.