Trump said the U.S. doesn’t make windmills. It’s just not true

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2016

“The wind is a very deceiving thing,” Donald Trump told The New York Times last week in his first on-the-record media interview since being elected president.

So, too, are the president-elect’s statements on wind power, say industry and government experts who may face an uphill challenge trying to convince Trump and his advisers that the world’s largest renewable energy resource is in fact a viable form of domestic energy.

Trump, who as a candidate embraced an “all of the above” energy policy, made another set of sweeping, exaggerated and inaccurate statements about wind energy during his lengthy Nov. 22 exchange with Times editors, reporters and columnists.

They included reiterations of earlier points about wind turbines’ negative effects on wildlife — “they kill all the birds,” he said — as well as more substantive comments about the structure and viability of the U.S. wind energy sector.

Trump also made the verifiably false claim that “we don’t make windmills in the United States,” as well as more nuanced arguments that “the windmills need massive subsidies,” adding that “for the most part they don’t work” and “they won’t work at all without subsidy.”

While debates have raged for years over the costs and benefits of providing federal subsidies to various forms of energy — including both renewables and fossil energy — Trump’s comments about the origins of U.S. windmills, which today number nearly 50,000 turbines in 40 states, were particularly misinformed, according to industry experts.

“Over 60 percent of a modern wind farm’s value is made in America by 21,000 factory workers,” American Wind Energy Association Senior Vice President Rob Gramlich said in a statement responding to a request for comment about Trump’s claims.

GE alone has built 17,000 MW since 2010

Wind power is also no small economic engine. Investment in the U.S. wind sector last year was estimated at $14.5 billion, according to government estimates, and cumulative spending since the early 1980s exceeds $150 billion.

“With stable investment policy and infrastructure, we can invest [an additional] $80 billion in the next four years in rural America and bring thousands of manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt,” Gramlich said.

Much of that spending will be paid to firms with established U.S. supply chains and sizable U.S. payrolls.

In 2015, four original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) assembled utility-scale turbines in the United States, according to industry data. And 88 percent of all installed wind energy capacity in the United States relied on a manufacturer with at least one U.S. facility.

The nation’s No. 1 wind energy manufacturer also happens to be an American icon, General Electric.

GE’s wind energy division has manufactured and deployed nearly 17,000 megawatts of turbines in the United States since 2010, according to data compiled by the Energy Department for its annual “Wind Technologies Market Report.”

Many of those components, including blades and turbines, were engineered or manufactured at GE facilities in South Carolina and Florida, according to GE’s website and independent sources. In Pensacola, Fla., GE’s primary wind turbine manufacturing site, the company employs several hundred people, according to unofficial estimates, while GE’s entire U.S. onshore wind division employs roughly 3,000, a company spokesman confirmed.

Earlier this year, GE opened its new Advanced Manufacturing Works facility in Greenville, S.C. The company described the eventual $400 million facility as “an incubator for the development of advanced manufacturing processes and rapid prototyping of new parts for GE’s energy businesses,” including its wind energy division.

Two other global wind energy manufacturers, Vestas Wind Systems and Siemens, while headquartered in Europe, have significant U.S. footprints and employ thousands of workers in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.

Siemens Energy, which manages its U.S. wind power business from Orlando, also operates one of the United States’ premier training facilities for wind power technicians, which the Labor Department last year identified as the nation’s fastest-growing job category. The median pay for such workers is $51,000 per year, according to the government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Chante Condit-Pottol, a spokeswoman for Vestas, which maintains a North American headquarters in Portland, Ore., said in an email that in addition to employing more than 5,000 workers — mostly at three Colorado manufacturing plants — the company sources much of its raw material, including steel, from U.S. mills.

The nation’s largest independent turbine blade manufacturer, Arizona-based TPI Composites Inc., has turned out thousands of high-tech composite blades from a retooled Maytag appliance factory in Newton, Iowa.

Grassley lauds wind’s ‘success story’

According to AWEA and the Energy Department, these major manufacturers are the top feeders of a much larger U.S. wind energy supply chain made up of more than 500 factories in virtually every state.

That’s down from about 550 plants before the industry’s most recent downturn in 2013.

According to DOE’s latest market report, many of those smaller manufacturers have co-located their facilities near the larger factories, similar to the supply chains of other industries like automobiles.

“However,” the report said, “even states that are relatively far from major wind power markets have manufacturing facilities.” These include both deeply conservative regions such as Georgia and the Carolinas and liberal New England states like Massachusetts and Vermont.

And while the U.S. wind sector has experienced some lean years, including 2013 after its federal tax credit was allowed to expire by Congress at the end of 2012, the industry has recovered and experienced sustained growth since then, breaking the 75-gigawatt capacity mark for onshore wind in 2015.

Steve Lockard, TPI’s president and CEO, told investors on an earnings call on Nov. 9 — the day after the election — that he expected federal policy toward wind energy, including the industry’s 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit, to remain unchanged under a Trump administration.

He also cited pre-election polls showing that more than 75 percent of likely Trump voters said they supported wind energy and the continued strong support of high-ranking Republican lawmakers like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Terry Branstad.

In a statement, Grassley, who has vowed to preserve the wind energy sector’s tax credits in a Republican-controlled Congress, said that the industry is hardly a government-dependent niche sector, as Trump as characterized it.

Rather, Grassley said, “The [wind energy] success story is something to continue and duplicate in other fields wherever possible.”