After a long screed about how he is saving the US coal industry, President Donald Trump suggested at a rally Wednesday night in Iowa that wind energy is unreliable and bad for birds. “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory,” Trump said, “as the birds fall to the ground.”
The variability of when the wind blows is indeed a big (but solvable) challenge of wind as a renewable energy source. But it’s a strange time to be knocking wind rather than promoting it, given that the United States is now the world leader in wind energy production. And especially in the state of Iowa, which gets 37 percent of its electricity from wind energy and has 7,000 people working in the industry. Wind is growing so fast in Iowa that it’s now in a race with Kansas to be the first state to generate 50 percent of its power from wind.
Even the Republican leadership in Iowa is all-in for wind. As Terry Branstad, the former governor of Iowa and now the Trump administration’s ambassador to China, said in 2016, “With potential to jump above 40 percent [of electricity generation in Iowa by wind] in the next five years, we are committed to building an even greener Iowa future that will provide our Iowa families with cleaner, renewable energy and job opportunities.”
Iowa was a founding member of the Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition (now the Wind and Solar), and Branstad was once the chair. In February, the bipartisan group of 20, including Iowa’s current Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, sent Trump a letter touting the benefits of renewable energy.
Trump’s other attack on wind as a bird-killer is not a new one. “The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed,” Trump remarked at a Pennsylvania rally in August. “You know, the environmentalists never talk about that.”
In fact, many environmentalists do talk about the mortal dangers some wind turbines present to birds. Between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are estimated to be killed each year by colliding with turbines, power lines, and other structures. For this reason, organizations like the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy have maintained that while renewable energy is critical in the fight against climate change, turbines need to be carefully sited to protect migratory birds.
But wind energy is hardly the gravest threat to birds out there. Domestic cats, for example, are estimated to kill billions of birds in the United States annually.
Trump’s attacks on wind are plainly more out of loyalty to the coal industry than out of sympathy for birds. But as market forces continue to accelerate coal’s decline, Trump should heed the advice of his Republican allies in Iowa and embrace the real job creator: the renewables industry that’s actually growing.