Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 23.
Donald Trump has some real problems with windmills.
The president-elect discussed the topic at length in his sit-down with the New York Times on Tuesday, prompted by a question regarding reports he had urged Brexit leaders to oppose offshore wind farms that he believes will interfere with the views of one of his golf courses in Scotland in a post-election meeting.
Though the president-elect was critical of the wind industry for transgressions, including the pollution of the atmosphere and the destruction of wildlife, it might just be personal.
Trump has been fighting the Scottish government for years about the development of an offshore windfarm off the coast from his Aberdeenshire golf course. He lost a case in 2015 accusing ministers of illegally agreeing to license a farm near his golf resort, and earlier this year, he branded the project an act of "public vandalism." The project is being undertaken by Swedish energy company Vattenfall.
He reportedly pushed Nigel Farage, Brexiter and leader of the U.K. Independence Party, to lobby against windfarms after the election, and he did not deny it when asked about it by the Times. "I might have brought it up," he said.
If he's actually really concerned about windmills generally, Trump could perhaps benefit from accurate information.
He said at the Times meeting that most windmills are made in Germany and Japan, not the United States. When Times columnist Thomas Friedman pointed out that General Electric (GE) has a wind turbine factory in South Carolina, Trump acknowledged "that's good" but held that most are manufactured abroad by "Siemens and the Chinese."
He also made an environmental case. "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. The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies," he said. "I've been saying the same thing for years about you know, the wind industry."
That's not exactly true, said James Manwell, director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
"Fundamentally, he doesn't understand what's going on," Manwell said.
GE is one of the largest wind turbine manufacturers in the world, boasting over 30,000 turbines across the globe. Its renewable energy division, comprised of onshore and offshore wind turbines as well as hydropower, solar power, geothermal power and biomass power plants, saw $6.3 billion in revenue in 2015. This year, GE installed the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. off the coast of Rhode Island.
It ranks as the third-largest supplier of wind turbines, behind Chinese Goldwind and Danish Vestas, as of last year. GE will rank behind Siemens, which Trump also named, when the German company completes its merger with Spain's Gamesa. Siemens already has operations in the U.S. market, including plants in Iowa and Kansas, a training facility in Orlando and an R&D center in Colorado.
Trump's criticism of windmills for using steel that "goes into the atmosphere" is puzzling, given his background as a builder of structures that use thousands of tons of steel. "The steel doesn't go into the atmosphere, I presume he means the [burning of] coal that's used make the steel," said Manwell.
Moreover, the energy consumed constructing and running steel-made turbines is a fraction of what they produce. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, an international trade association for the wind power industry, wind power farms generate 17 to 39 times as much power as they consumer, compared to 16 times for nuclear plants and 11 times for coal plants. "The energy payback is relatively short and much less than the lifetime of the turbines," Manwell said.
The president-elect is not alone in his concerns about birds, though he perhaps overstates the issue.
According to a 2014 report from the American Wind Wildlife Institute, the number of birds killed at wind energy facilities is a small fraction of the total annual animal-human bird mortality rate and two to four orders of magnitude lower than mortality from other killers, including cats, power lines, buildings, windows and communication towers.
Trump specifically referred to eagle deaths by wind turbine in California, reviving a claim he made on the campaign trail earlier this year, when in North Dakota he said windmills kill "hundreds and hundreds" of eagles. According to data from PolitiFact, about 100 golden eagles die each year from collisions with wind turbine blades.