America's foremost scholar on the power-generating prowess of wind turbines has been challenged by a lesser expert from Bakersfield.
That foremost scholar, according to President Trump, is President Trump. The dissenting expert is Paul Gipe, author of "Wind Energy for the Rest of Us: A Comprehensive Guide to Wind Power and How to Use It," a 1,100-page compendium of all things windy.
The president held forth on the subject Saturday in West Palm Beach, Fla., before a conservative student group, Turning Point USA. Said President Trump: "I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody.”
He then enumerated a list of concerns about wind turbines, such as their deleterious effect on air quality, birds and property values, among other things.
Except his every claim was false or overstated, said Gipe, who has so thoroughly researched wind energy — which has a substantial and growing presence in Kern County — his base of knowledge on the subject may even approach that of the president.
"What he said was so completely off the wall, even if you're like me and you work with this stuff, you can't decide what he's talking about," Gipe said. "Mr. President, you should read this big windmill book I wrote."
In his address, Trump said wind turbines have 10-year lifespans, after which they "look like hell," and repair or replacement of old ones requires government subsidies. In fact, Gipe said, turbines have 20- to 25-year lifespans and no such repair subsidy exists.
Trump said living within view of a wind turbine can cut one's property value by 50 percent. Studies show no such effect, Gipe said.
Trump said the wind turbine manufacturing process generates a "tremendous amount of fumes and everything." In fact, Gipe said, the average wind turbine will have offset the energy expended in its manufacturing in four to six months and, according to one study, they operate afterward "with virtually no emissions."
Trump called wind turbines a "bird graveyard" that kill more birds "than you've ever seen ever in your life." In fact, Gipe said, many times more are killed flying into buildings and power lines or in encounters with domestic cats, which kill up to 4 billion birds each year. This concern for birds, incidentally, would mark a turning point for Trump, who last year eliminated criminal penalties for unintentional migratory bird deaths resulting from industrial or agricultural activity.
"We all know the president has an affinity for conspiracy, and this whole thing about wind energy is rife with pseudo conspiracies," said Gipe, noting that last April Trump claimed without evidence that "they say" the sound from wind turbines can cause cancer. "We are living with a reality TV president."
What makes this bizarre, renewed assault particularly galling here in Kern County, the nation's top-producing county for wind energy, is that it comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom's announced intent to orchestrate the "decline" of fossil fuel extraction in the state, an effort essentially directed at the southern San Joaquin Valley. Sacramento, for better or worse, is coming after Kern County oil, and one of oil's most promising energy alternatives, wind, is under fire from Washington — or at least the wind-energy expert in the White House.
Despite Trump's appreciation for a good wind-energy joke – "‘Darling, is the wind blowing today? I'd like to watch television," he told a guffawing crowd in April – wind power capacity additions hit new highs in both the second and third quarters of 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Wind energy reached a total of 100 gigawatts, enough to power 32 million U.S. homes and sustain 500 U.S. factories.
Kern County is responsible for a big share of that power. As of 2018, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, Kern had more wind turbines (4,581) than any other U.S. county. Kern, according to the same study, also had the highest density of turbines in the world and more individual turbines than the entire northeastern U.S.
With so much invested and so much at stake in the energy sector for Kern County, one would think Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who has the president's ear like few in Congress, would tap Trump on the shoulder and politely ask him to pick on someone else for a while. One would think, but one would be disappointed.
Some critics believe Trump's odd dislike for wind energy is associated with his opposition to an 11-turbine offshore wind farm in Scotland he believed would be visible from the golf course he owns at Menie, near Aberdeen. In a 2012 appearance before the Scottish Parliament, he claimed that country’s heavy investment in offshore wind farms would ruin its tourism industry. “I’m an expert in tourism," he told MPs who questioned his qualifications to make that claim. "I have won many, many awards … if you dot your landscape with these horrible, horrible structures, you will do tremendous damage.” Trump, ultimately denied by Parliament, took his case to Scotland's highest court but lost in March 2019 and his Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd was ordered to pay the government's legal bill. Scotland is still trying to collect.
That theory seems far-fetched to me, though. One little failure in Scotland could not have soured Trump on an entire industry. Only petty, vindictive people hold grudges like that.