Reeling from wild Trump claims, wind lobby tries to shore up GOP support

Source: By John Siciliano and Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The wind industry is fighting back against criticisms leveled by the GOP and President Trump with a new state-of-the-market report that shows the strength of wind in red states and districts.

The American Wind Energy Association’s annual market report for 2018, released Tuesday, shows that a majority of wind farms and components manufacturers are located in conservative strongholds.

Michael Goggin, AWEA’s former head of research now with Grid Strategies LLC consultants, tells John that, overall, wind energy experiences “bipartisan support,” especially in the Midwest.

In fact, some of the most forceful responses to Trump’s recent criticisms of wind turbines came from Iowa Republicans Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley. After Trump claimed last week that the sound made by wind turbines can give homeowners cancer while devaluing their home, Grassley said the statement was “idiotic.”

Why is Trump coming up with wild claims about wind power? The scuttlebutt among industry observers is that Trump might have cooked up the exaggerated claims because he was miffed after losing a court fight in February against an offshore wind project near a golf course he owns in Scotland. He now must pay the Scottish government’s court fees.

The industry’s case for itself: The AWEA report shows that the wind industry employs 114,000 Americans and pays $1 billion to landowners in leases and in state and local governments taxes each year.

The industry wants Trump to acknowledge that states where wind is big business, like Ohio and Iowa, supported him in 2016.

A recent poll conducted by a Republican pollster for the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum, a conservative energy advocacy group, showed conservative voters overwhelmingly support transitioning the state’s energy resources to solar and wind, and giving landowners more rights to lease to wind farms.

A recent 2019 poll conducted by North Carolina-based Conservatives for Clean Energy showed 85 percent of voters in the Tar Heel state support wind and solar, with 76 percent of those being Republicans, Mark Fleming, president and CEO of the group, tells John. Although most of the Southeast is going big with solar, North Carolina has the largest wind farms in the region, he says.

Nevertheless, the Senate Republican Conference continues to poke at wind energy. Republicans have been circulating a talking point that wind energy’s performance suffered during the extreme cold snaps this winter that saw temperatures dip to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They are using the fact to pump up arguments for keeping fossil fuels like coal in the nation’s resource mix.

A video featured on the Senate Republicans’ website, for instance, shows Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, speaking on the Senate floor with a chart in the background that reads “wind turbines stop energy production” at minus 22 degrees, while pointing out that temperatures had dipped this year to minus 57 degrees in the upper Midwest.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, at a recent budget hearing, also used the stat to make the argument for coal.

“It’s the coal-fired plants that kept the lights on for Montana during that cold snap,” Daines said.

But no new coal plants are being built: Wind, solar, and natural gas are currently the three largest forms of new power generation being added to the grid annually. Wind and solar make of 26 percent and 29 percent of all new additions to the grid, while natural gas makes up 41 percent. Investment in other resources outside of the big three only make up 3 percent, according to the AWEA report.

“It’s wrong to focus on the performance of one resource over another,” Goggin says.

He added that all resources face significant hurdles in extreme cold. Coal piles freeze at coal-fired power plant, and frozen water intakes at nuclear generators can hinder operations there, he says.

“The better direction is how to make the power system more resilient, and that has to do with building more transmission” lines, he adds. Transmission lines can route power between states, and move electricity between regions from warmer to colder climates, he explains