The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Trump hates wind turbines

Turbines of the new Burbo Bank offshore wind farm stand in a calm sea in the mouth of the River Mersey on May 12, 2008, in Liverpool, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

If you are reading this article on or around April 15, 2022, it may be because Donald Trump recently complained to Fox News’s Sean Hannity about wind turbines. He ran through a familiar litany about the number of birds killed by turbine blades and the purported cost of wind for generating energy. If you have heard him talk about wind turbines (or, as he calls them, windmills), you have heard what he told Hannity.

If you are reading this at any other point in the future, you are reading it because Trump offered Hannity or someone else the same complaints on the same subject. You are reading this article because you were curious enough to finally Google “why does Donald Trump hate windmills” and, thanks to the magic of search-engine optimization, landed here.

Because Trump will never stop complaining about wind turbines. It is perhaps his oldest political opinion and one that is almost completely impervious to any reason. In that light it’s instructive: No one will convince Trump that he’s wrong about wind turbines or that his rationales for hating wind turbines are outdated or wrong, and he will dig in simply because people are telling him he’s wrong.

This is what we should expect of all of his most fervently expressed political views.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

The particular story of the wind turbines begins 16 years ago in Scotland. In 2006, Trump bought a large chunk of property on the country’s northeastern coast with the goal of turning it into a golf resort. Six years later, it opened as Trump International Golf Links.

It was not as smooth a path as Trump would have hoped. The local government originally rejected his proposal, out of concern that the area where he hoped to build was environmentally sensitive. The national government stepped in on Trump’s behalf, however, and construction began in 2010.

What Trump appears not to have known when he bought the land, though, is that three years prior a new offshore wind farm had been proposed. Following preparatory work, a formal application for construction was filed in 2011. And that’s when the war started.

At the outset, Trump had only one concern: that the offshore turbines would ruin the view from his course. After all, he clearly had no objection to environmentalism; at one point he insisted that his proposed resort “has received tremendous support from environmental groups” and that the resort was “actually the greatest thing I’ve ever done for the environment.” In short order, Trump filed a complaint against the farm.

Trump’s relationship with the Scots deteriorated. In part it was because he launched a war against a local family whose property he wanted to buy — a war that he won in court but led to his being eviscerated in public. Michael Forbes, one of the people resisting Trump’s buyout effort, was named “Top Scot” in an award sponsored by the Glenfiddich whisky brand, prompting Trump to ban the liquor from his properties. There was also a documentary.

This was also the point at which Trump’s opposition to wind turbines became intermingled with politics. He began assailing Scottish officials on Twitter, including at least one official who had helped him overcome local opposition in the first place. He started tweeting regularly — hundreds of times — about the purported threats posed by wind turbines.

Turbines are “disgusting looking,” “noisy” and “bad for people’s health,” he claimed. They “threaten the migration of birds.” They are “ruining the beauty of parts of the country.” They are “bad for the environment” and “cause tremendous damage to their local ecosystems.” They are “a scourge to communities and wildlife.” They kill so many birds that they “make hunters look like nice people.” And so on.

In a familiar pattern, Trump took isolated anecdotes or unconfirmed accusations and elevated and exaggerated them to try to overpower his opponents. At one point in early 2013, for example, he shared a story about a wind turbine collapsing in an effort to persuade a Scottish lawmaker he had worked with previously to block the proposed wind farm.

But he also intertwined his attacks on wind power with American politics. The release of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” brought increased attention to climate change in the United States, with politicians generally lining up in support of efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In 2009, that included Trump himself, one of the business-community signatories to an ad that ran in the New York Times calling for action.

The election of Barack Obama and the emergence of the tea party movement, though, overlapped with a federal effort to curtail emissions that quickly became a point of political opposition for Republicans. By the end of Obama’s first term, climate change was firmly embedded in the culture-war fight, with the GOP criticizing his efforts to expand green employment and energy production. Trump was by then flirting with a presidential run and folded his complaints about wind energy in Scotland into his social-media patter here in the United States.

That campaign didn’t go anywhere. When Trump did decide to run, four years later, he focused far more on immigration than climate. In an interesting episode in November 2015, though, the primary front-runner was forced to confront his anti-wind past.

More than 10 months after leaving office, former president Donald Trump maintains a powerful hold over the Republican Party. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

At a town hall in Iowa, a woman whose husband worked for a local turbine manufacturer asked Trump if he supported subsidies for wind energy production. Trump had very publicly scoffed at these subsidies repeatedly — but he was also a guy who had spent decades figuring out how to close the deal. So here was a voter whose vote he needed, and suddenly Trump’s position went from “never” to “I’m okay with subsidies, to an extent.”

That was about as close to an embrace of wind power that Trump would offer. Once elected, he dropped any sense of wanting to appeal to those who didn’t already support him and mocking wind turbines became part of his campaign-rally shtick. He would regularly push the line of his complaints, as when he suggested that maybe the sound from wind turbines causes cancer. It … doesn’t.

It was never really clear that he even understood the basic elements of climate change that would explain why wind energy was useful. But that was beside the point. He had a go-to applause line that hit all the right enemies: liberals, hippies, environmental weirdos and so on. So he deployed it over and over again, partly because it worked and partly out of habit.

Because this is meant to be a compendium of Trump’s views on the subject, we should quickly run through some of his claims and debunk or contextualize them. So:

  • Wind turbines can kill birds, as a New York Times story that ran the week of his April interview with Hannity discussed. (Initial research suggests that painting one blade black reduces this risk.) But Trump’s complaints about saving migratory birds are undercut quite a bit by the fact that his administration tried to hollow out a law protecting those birds and by the fact that Trump is a big proponent of another, much more frequent killer of birds: buildings.
  • Wind energy is a relatively inexpensive form of energy. And while it is dependent on wind (obviously), there are systems (batteries) that can store energy for times when wind is in lower supply. It’s also not the case that Texas’s power outage in the winter of 2021 was a function of freezing turbines.
  • The United States imports a lot of wind turbine parts from overseas, but there are hundreds of domestic manufacturers as well (as in Iowa). Part of the push a decade ago was for the country to invest more in the production of turbines, solar equipment and batteries in the United States to not lose an economic advantage, but that push was stymied in part by political opposition to spending money on green energy.

That Trump keeps making broad and often outdated claims about wind energy is not surprising. This is what he does!

What is remarkable is that this particular thing has become so fixated in his patter. Before mentioning the subject on Hannity’s show in April, he did so in March and in January. He can’t resist it. It’s simply part of his political worldview, however mottled with error and despite the bizarre genesis of his obsession.

After a brief victory for Trump’s efforts to block the wind farm off the coast of Scotland, it was built and began operation in 2018. It has an installed capacity of 96.8 megawatts of energy, enough to power 80,000 homes. There are no reports of turbines collapsing and no known incidents of noise-related cancer.

In photos of the course at Trump’s resort posted on Instagram, no turbines are visible in the distance.

Loading...