Turbine Trouble
Donald Trump and the Aesthetics of Wind

President Trump might turn out to be our nation’s NIMBY-ist in chief, and that could be a death sentence for the country’s nascent offshore wind industry—and, to an extent, onshore wind as well. Well before he set his sights on the Oval Office, Trump tangled with offshore wind developers, calling a planned project off the coast of a golf course of his in Scotland “monstrous.” His aversion to offshore turbines seems to center on their aesthetics—he thinks they ruin views—and he cared enough about the issue to bring it up in a meeting with Nigel Farage last November, shortly after he won the election.

Now the U.S. wind industry is nervously waiting to see how Trump will approach projects off America’s coastline, as Bloomberg reports:

The push to win over the Trump administration comes as offshore wind is on the brink of success in North America after a decade of false starts. Costs are falling dramatically. Deepwater Wind LLC completed the first project in U.S. waters in August. And in September, the Obama administration outlined plans to ease regulatory constraints and take other steps to encourage private development of enough turbines to crank out 86,000 megawatts by 2050. That’s about the equivalent of 86 nuclear reactors. […]

He laid bare his thoughts on the renewable energy source on Twitter in 2012:

But Bloomberg points out that this opposition to offshore wind could be just about protecting his business interest in his Scottish golf club:

Ultimately it’s unclear whether Trump’s 140-character appraisals of wind energy will translate into U.S. policy, or if they were simply reactions to windmills potentially spoiling views from his golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Time will tell how friendly the Trump administration is to offshore wind, but there’s plenty of room for growth in the industry, and with that plenty of potential jobs to be had. If greens frame the clean energy source that way rather than trumpeting its climate benefits, they might see better results. Unfortunately, the modern environmental movement seems less and less interested in couching its arguments in economic terms, preferring to moralize instead.

Trump’s NIMBY-ist opposition to wind power shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, either. It’s probably the single biggest issue facing the energy source, both on land and in the water. Just as fracking operations will spark intense debate in the localities where they’re located, so too will wind farms rile up communities concerned with changes to their landscapes. That’s a tough nut to crack—it’s hard to force someone to change their idea of what is ugly or beautiful—but on this problem, the wind industry might do well to take its cue from shale producers: profit sharing or lucrative lease agreements are capable of overcoming even the strongest NIMBY arguments.

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