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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    ‘I hate wind’: Trump rails against wind energy in fundraising pitch to oil execs

    Former President Donald Trump repeatedly ranted about wind power during a fundraising dinner with oil and gas industry executives last week, claiming that the renewable energy source is unreliable, unattractive and bad for the environment.

    “I hate wind,” Trump told the executives over a meal of chopped steak at his Mar-a-Lago Club and resort in Florida, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

    Trump’s comments reveal how he is wooing potential donors with his long-standing hostility to wind farms and pledges to halt this form of renewable energy if he returns to office. His stance poses a potential threat to one of the linchpins of America’s clean-energy transition, according to more than a dozen Trump allies, energy experts and offshore wind industry officials.

    Even if President Joe Biden were to win reelection, experts say, opponents of offshore wind will remain emboldened by Trump’s stance and well positioned to challenge a new generation of projects in federal waters.

    And if Trump were to return to the White House?

    “If I were in the offshore wind industry, I would probably be pretty, pretty nervous,” said a former Trump administration energy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

    The Trump campaign did not respond to specific questions for this story, and it has not elaborated on his energy policies, which he has often summarized as “drill, baby, drill.” In an emailed statement, Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said the former president would “make America energy dominant again.”

    Energy analysts say they expect a second Trump administration would slow the pace of offshore wind lease sales and environmental reviews. These steps could undercut the industry at the very moment when it needs to accelerate to meet Biden’s goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, and to help New England reduce its deep dependence on imported gas and oil.

    “Project reviews and auction schedules could slow substantially, potentially to the point of a de facto pause,” analysts with ClearView Energy Partners wrote in a recent note to clients. “In short: the regulatory uncertainty from the upcoming election could keep project developers on the sidelines.”

    A Trump Interior Department would also prioritize offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico over offshore wind auctions, said William Perry Pendley, who served as acting director of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management under Trump.

    “The priority has to be oil and gas,” Pendley said, adding, “I don’t think there’s a reason to press forward on wind.”

    Trump told executives at the fundraising dinner he would open up the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, lift Biden’s pause on new liquefied natural gas exports, speed up drilling permits, reverse regulations aimed at deploying electric vehicles and do what he could to help the oil and gas industry. He listened to each executive for about four or five minutes.

    Pointing out the window to the Atlantic Ocean at one point, one attendee said, the former president claimed that offshore wind turbines break down when they are exposed to saltwater — though these projects are designed to resist saltwater corrosion.

    Near the end of the meeting, Trump told executives that they should contribute to his campaign — the leader of his main super PAC was in the room — because he was trailing Biden financially. His policies would be much better for the oil and gas industry than those of Biden, and he’d do much of what they wanted “on Day 1,” he said.

    In addition to political uncertainty, offshore wind developers face significant economic challenges. Rising interest rates and supply chain bottlenecks have contributed to the demise of some projects, including two in New Jersey late last year.

    Democrats are doing their best to lock in commercial-scale offshore wind projects before Trump has a chance to halt them. The Biden administration has already approved eight, including one that is up and running. Democratic governors in the Northeast have also reinforced their commitments to deploying more offshore wind energy, regardless of the balance of power in Washington.

    If Biden were to win a second term, he would be in a position to accelerate offshore wind along the Gulf and West coasts, and add more capacity to the Atlantic. Once those steel turbines were anchored to the ocean floor, they would be hard to scuttle - one reason the stakes now are so high.

    A long battle

    Trump’s crusade against wind power dates to 2006, when he bought an 1,800-acre estate in Scotland near a planned wind farm that he warned would be “monstrous” and “really ugly.”

    The Trump Organization sought to build a golf course there, and it sued to block the wind project, saying the turbines would ruin the view for golfers. In December 2015, less than a year before the U.S. election, judges on Britain’s top court unanimously rejected that claim.

    But the battle raged on. While in the White House, Trump frequently attacked the clean-energy source, suggesting without evidence that it causes cancer.

    “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value,” Trump said in a 2020 speech. “And they say the noise causes cancer. And of course it’s like a graveyard for birds.”

    There are no known instances of wind farms causing cancer. While turbines can kill birds, research suggests that house cats cause far more bird deaths in the United States each year, and that painting the turbine blades black can help reduce fatalities.

    Yet taking a cue from Trump’s anti-wind rhetoric, Interior delayed the approval of the first major U.S. offshore wind farm in 2019. Then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt extended the environmental review of Vineyard Wind, a proposed wind farm near Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

    The decision pushed back the timeline for the project, which had planned to start operating in 2021. It also cast a pall of uncertainty over the entire offshore wind sector, as other developers worried about the administration potentially interfering in their own projects.

    Bernhardt, who now chairs the Center for American Freedom at the America First Policy Institute, a pro-Trump think tank, did not respond to requests for comment. Bernhardt has been talking with energy executives and others in recent weeks about policies in a second Trump term, according to a person familiar with the outreach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

    ‘A shot in the arm’

    Today, the forces opposing offshore wind have multiplied and become more powerful. Fossil fuel interests have worked with right-wing think tanks and community groups to block projects up and down the East Coast, according to a recent report by Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab.

    Several of these groups have repeated Trump’s false claims that wind turbines are killing whales and driving the marine mammals “crazy.” Many are now feeling emboldened by the former president’s rhetoric.

    “It’s a shot in the arm to our movement,” said Robin Shaffer, president of Protect Our Coast New Jersey, which describes itself as a grass-roots group made up of “residents, homeowners, business owners, fishermen and visitors.”

    Trump “rightly sees offshore wind as a boondoggle,” said H. Sterling Burnett, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that has called climate change a “hoax” and has sued to stop an offshore wind project off Virginia.

    Early on, Protect Our Coast received support from the Delaware-based Caesar Rodney Institute, a think tank that has been backed by fossil fuel interests such as the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Energy Alliance. The Heartland Institute received funding from oil giant ExxonMobil until 2008.

    Forging ahead

    Regardless of the election, officials in the Biden administration and Northeast are forging ahead with ambitious offshore wind goals. And they are making union labor - a key Democratic constituency - central to this push.

    Interior this month approved the nation’s eighth large offshore wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard. Overall, the Biden administration has approved more than 10 gigawatts of clean energy from offshore wind projects - enough to power nearly 4 million homes.

    In New England, which relies on natural gas to fuel nearly 43 percent of its power generation, Vineyard Wind is now delivering power to roughly 30,000 homes, despite the delay under Trump. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, who has set a goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2030, has praised the developers for agreeing to hire hundreds of union workers.

    “In a whole new industry like offshore wind, we’re seeing the beginnings of workers coming together and collectively organizing,” said Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions. “These are all things that would be at risk if there were a second Trump administration. So we think it couldn’t be more dire.”

    Yet Rebecca Tepper, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said Trump’s false claims about wind power won’t stop the state’s progress.

    “The former president’s claims, like a lot of his statements, have been verified as false over and over again,” Tepper said. “We’re busy working with developers and moving forward.”

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