Trump's wind power comments fact checked

UNITED STATES: On 22 November, Donald Trump was interviewed by senior journalists from the New York Times, in which he made his first comments on wind power since the election.

President-elect's grasp on wind-power facts falls short

Here we publish, verbatim, what the President-elect had to say on the subject:

Michael Barbaro, political reporter: Mr. President-elect, can I press you a little further on what structures you would put in place to keep the presidency and the company separate and to avoid things that, for example, were reported in the Times in the past 24 hours about meeting with leaders of Brexit about wind farms …

Donald Trump: About meeting with who?

Barbaro: Leaders of Brexit about wind farms that might interfere with the views of your golf course and how to keep, what structures, can you talk about that meeting, by the way?

Trump: Was I involved with the wind farms recently? Or, not that I know of. I mean, I have a problem with wind …

FACTCHECK: The UK Independence Party (Ukip), prominent in the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union, says Trump urged the party to campaign against the development of wind farms in Scotland in a meeting with Ukip leader Nigel Farage in the weekend after his election win. So, very recently.

A Ukip spokesman, Andy Wigmore, quoted Trump as saying: "Let's put them offshore. I don't want Scotland, the most beautiful country ever, to be sullied by these awful windmills."

But Trump's enthusiasm for offshore wind has not extended to Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, now proceeding within sight of his luxury Menie golf resort in Aberdeenshire.

The Trump Organisation’s challenge to this development went to the UK’s Supreme Court in October 2015 and was rejected on 16 December 2015.

Barbaro: But you brought it up in the meeting, didn’t you?

Trump: Which meeting? I don’t know. I might have.

Barbaro: With leaders of Brexit.

Many voices: With Farage.

Trump: Oh, I see. I might have brought it up. But not having to do with me, just I mean 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.

FACTCHECK: His comment on domestic wind turbine manufacturing is false.

Few wind turbines are shipped globally because they are so bulky. More than than 21,000 US factory workers make a majority of US wind farm content domestically.

The US wind power supply chain consists of more than 500 active factories in 43 states, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

US manufacturing facilities can produce some 10GW of turbine nacelles, 7GW of blades and 6GW of towers annually, according to the government’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL).

Domestic content is high for nacelle assembly (>85%), towers (80-85%), and blades and hubs (50-70%), but is much lower (<20%) for most of the internal nacelle components.

In 2015, America’s imported blades and hubs came mostly from China, measured by dollar value, followed by Brazil, Denmark and Spain, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF)

The US’s three major OEMs each assembles turbines in America. US-based GE, with the largest cumulative installed capacity, centres its manufacturing in Pensacola, Florida.

Vestas’ four plants in Colorado, where it makes blades, nacelles and towers, employ about 4,000; it employs more people in the US than in its home market, Denmark.

Germany’s Siemens has about 600 workers in a blade manufacturing plant in Fort Madison, Iowa and about 360 in a nacelle and hub assembly plant in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Trump: 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.

FACTCHECK: Steel is not emitted into the atmosphere during component manufacture or by wind projects.

There are the usual emissions associated with any heavy manufacturing process, but making wind turbine components is not especially dirty.

Trump's apparent concern for emissions from wind turbine manufacture is impossible to reconcile with his enthusiasm for the coal industry and his disdain for climate change science.


Trump: The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies. In other words, we’re subsidising 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.

FACTCHECK: Wind turbines kill fewer birds than do cats, buildings or the fossil fuel industry.

Current mean estimates of wind turbine deaths vary widely and one reputable source says that US turbines kill 20,000 to 573,000 birds yearly, compared with the oil industry’s 500,000 to one milion, and cats’ 1.3–4.0 billion.

Without subsidies, US wind plants are cheaper than coal and nuclear and almost as cheap as natural gas, according to BNEF data.


Trump: 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.

FACTCHECK: Trump’s claim about the penalty shooting a golden eagle is false. A first penalty is a maximum fine of $5,000 or one-year imprisonment. 

His comment that wind project operators can legally kill 30 eagles yearly is also false.

Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued the second eagle take permit ever to an energy company, Alta Wind X, LLC, allowing three golden eagle kills over the next five years.

The first permit was issued in 2014 for five eagles ‘takes’ at a wind project over five years.


Trump: 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 subsidise it.

FACTCHECK: Trump cannot seem to keep a consistant view on subsidies. During a November 2015 campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, Trump was asked for his stance on the wind Production Tax Credit.

He responded: "I’m fine with it. Any form of energy — we’ve got to get away from the Middle East….. Wind is a very expensive form of energy, and it’s got problems of storage, and lots of other things. But, I want to see whatever you can do — ethanol, I’m totally in favour … Wind will need subsidies. It’s going to have to have subsidies." 


Trump: Some environmentalists agree with me very much because of all of the things I just said, including the birds, and some don’t.

FACTCHECK: We haven't found a major national environmental organisation that agrees with him. Some local chapters of major green groups, such as the country’s largest, the Sierra Club, have opposed wind development, but the national club does not.

A smaller group, American Bird Conservancy, is often the main avian organisation opposing poorly sited US wind projects.

It says: "Alternative energy is critically important to address pollution and climate change, but we strongly believe that renewable energy sources should not be embraced without question."


Trump: 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.

FACTCHECK: Yes, it does appear hard to explain.