Is President Trump irrelevant for wind?
President Trump won't change his views on the wind sector, so why bother reporting them? Because US onshore and offshore wind are both at important stages of their growth and, like it or not, Trump's views carry weight. Richard Heap reports
(Pic source: White House via Flickr)
“The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change. This man’s beliefs never will.”
This was one of the memorable takedowns of then US president George W. Bush by Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006.
But it applies now too – 13 years on – as President Trump has again criticised the wind industry at the G7 summit in France.
Now we’re not saying that Trump is steady. Far from it. But we do know that his view on wind farms isn’t going to change, regardless of the evidence, and there is an argument that we shouldn’t give him airtime for each outburst. It’s just giving him the platform to make his outlandish anti-wind claims.
We agree to a point. Just as environmental protestor Greta Thunberg said she didn’t want to “waste time” talking to Trump about climate change because he wasn’t going to change his views, we see wind taking a similar position.
There seems like little sense in wind companies trying to convince Trump personally to embrace the wind industry if they can target state policymakers, energy buyers and others in federal government, who are more sympathetic on the issues of renewable energy and climate change. Don't engage, right? Sideline him.
However, we can’t dismiss Trump as an irrelevance for a few reasons.
First, there’s another presidential election in 2020. The US wind industry has grown strongly over the past four years because developers and investors have had clarity over the wind-down of the wind production tax credit.
However, the PTC is now coming to an end and, if Trump again takes power in 2020, this is set to strengthen his hand in setting future energy policy. That will almost certainly mean more support for fossil fuels.
Second, it’s only by knowing what he’s saying that the industry can challenge it. That isn’t easy of course, as it's usually easier to convince people with a simple lie (‘Wind farms cause cancer’) than a complicated truth. These red herrings can also distract those in the renewables sector from making their own case.
There is the problem that people who want to challenge Trump end up amplifying his outlandish claim, but what's the alternative? Let him say he's an ‘environmentalist’ unchallenged? We have to hope that rebuffing his claims with facts will do enough to convince the people who matter.
And third, like it or not, his views carry weight right now.
Last month, the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it was expanding its review of potential environmental impacts of building offshore wind farms in US waters. This is a decision by the Trump administration that has already delayed work on the 800MW Vineyard Wind project and could yet harm the rest of the industry. It might not make sense to lobby Trump, but we also can’t be blind to the pressure he is exerting.
It is also a chance to highlight the hypocrisy around his support for fossil fuels.
But amid all of this we remain hopeful. There are a large number of players who contribute to the success of wind, including US states, corporates and some of those at federal government level who support renewables.
Climate change is also becoming more important for US voters, with 40% of people in a poll this year saying it would be crucial to how they vote in 2020. The fact Trump is trying to insist he’s an environmentalist, despite skipping the G7’s climate session, tells us that he knows that he’s on shaky ground.
And finally, the US Department of Energy made it clear at the end of August that it still supports wind. Onshore wind is now the cheapest new electricity source in much of the nation, and it said that offshore wind would be a “significant part” of the US energy mix. US wind also supports 114,000 full-time jobs. You can read that here.
We can’t wholly ignore Trump, but US wind is showing it can thrive in spite of him. Until there’s change at the top, it might be the best we can hope for.
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