The Energy 202: Trump takes on wind energy, talks solar-powered border wall in Iowa speech – Washington Post


On Wednesday evening, an evidently gleeful President Trump gave a campaign-style speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in which he attacked some of his favorite objects of ire in front of diehard fans, including Democrats, the Russia investigation and the news media. 

Feisty following a Republican winning the fifth special election for a House seat in a heavily contested Georgia seat, Trump reiterated promises to cut taxes, rebuild infrastructure and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. (Read more from by colleagues John Wagner and Jenna Johnson here.)

But in his meandering speech, Trump, perhaps tellingly, also focused ridicule at wind energy in Iowa, a state where the renewable energy industry makes up a significant portion of the energy portfolio. Only days earlier, Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, delivered a strikingly different message to Congress, telling lawmakers the United States will pursue an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production.

In his Iowa speech, Trump also made unrealistic claims about putting solar panels on his long-promised border wall with Mexico and outright misleading claims about the recently exited Paris climate accord.

It fits a pattern of misstatement about energy production that was also on display in Trump’s Rose Garden speech announcing U.S. withdrawal from the Paris deal. 

As The Energy 202 did then, let’s break down the claims:

CLAIM #1: “I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory as the birds fall to the ground,” Trump said in Iowa in a remark in line with his past comments about wind energy. Before becoming president (or even running for office), Trump disparaged wind turbines as “ugly” and claimed wind power “kills all the birds.”

THE PROBLEM: There are at least two. As he did occasionally on the campaign trail, Trump is overstating the impact wind turbines have on bird populations. According to the National Audubon Society, wind turbines cause about 234,000 bird deaths a year, or less than 0.1 percent of all human-related bird deaths. Tall buildings and automobiles cause significantly more fatalities.

Second, Iowa got more than a third of its net energy generation from wind production last year, a higher percentage than any other state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Only Texas produced more wind energy outright.

Wind turbines — and the federal tax credits that support them — are also politically popular in the state. “If he wants to do away with it,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in August of then-GOP nominee Trump and federal wind-energy tax credits, which Grassley helped write, “he’ll have to get a bill through Congress, and he’ll do it over my dead body.”

Trump may have been reminded of the many wind turbines dotting Iowa prairies with a stop at a community college with a 240-foot-tall wind turbine on campus:

Later in the speech, the president dialed back his critique of wind energy and stayed on message with his administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy: “We use electric. We use wind. We use solar. We use coal. We use natural gas. We will use nuclear if the right opportunity presents itself.”

CLAIM #2: “They all say it’s non-binding,” Trump claimed of the Paris climate accord, riling the crowd about his decision to withdraw the United States from the international agreement. “Like hell it’s non-binding.

THE PROBLEM: The Paris accord is non-binding.

Under the agreement, countries voluntarily set their own greenhouse-gas emissions targets. That’s its key virtue, the reason Trump’s predecessor, President Obama, was able to convince nearly every other nation on Earth to sign onto it. Previous international efforts to reduce climate-warming emissions, most notably the Kyoto Protocol, were not able to generate that level of consensus in the international community, and get 195 nations to sign on in 2015, precisely because those treaties were legally binding.

CLAIM #3: “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy, and pays for itself,” Trump said in Iowa. “And this way Mexico will have to pay much less money, and that’s good.”

The president later asked: “Pretty good imagination, right? Good? My idea.”

THE PROBLEM: It was not his idea.

At the very least, Thomas Gleason had the idea before President Trump. Gleason, a business owner in North Las Vegas, Nev., submitted a bid back in April to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency with designs for a border wall covered with solar panels, according to the Las-Vegas Journal Review.

More significantly, experts who have taken the solar-paneled border wall proposal seriously say such a structure would have significant issues. Vertically fixed panels could lead to an efficiency loss of around 50 percent, according to an analysis by the Financial Times.

And that’s just the beginning. As Sophie Yeo reported for The Post earlier this month:

In addition, solar panels degrade over time. The requirements dictated by the security aspects of the border wall — bricks and spray paint, for example — could further reduce efficiency.

Then there is the question of finding a market for any electricity that would be generated by a solar wall in a remote section of the country.

With less than 2 percent of the U.S. population living within 40 miles of the Mexico border, the electricity generated by the wall would mostly be useless — unless costly transmission lines were built to take the electricity to other areas of the country.


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