The election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president has caused some anguish in the wind sector in his own country. That angst now threatens to spread across the Atlantic.
The New York Times this week reported that, in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, Trump urged some of the UK’s most prominent Brexit campaigners, including the UK Independence Party’s former leader Nigel Farage and millionaire backer Aaron Banks, to help people in the UK who don’t like wind farms to step up their opposition to the wind sector.
Now, regular readers of A Word About Wind will know the back story – but, in short, Trump has sought to become a thorn in the side of the wind industry, with limited success.
He has been a prominent campaigner against Swedish utility Vattenfall’s plan to develop a 92MW offshore wind test centre in Aberdeen Bay, off the coast of Scotland. He claims that the scheme would damage the views from his nearby golf resort. Trump took a case to the UK’s Supreme Court but lost in December 2015. At the time, he vowed to take the case to the European Court of Justice – but that was before his surprising and ultimately successful bid to become US president really took hold. Further legal action has not been forthcoming.
And it may not happen. It appears that now Trump is hoping to use public opinion to ramp up the pressure on the government to cut support for the wind sector, and in turn protect his own business interests. This puts wind at the heart of the argument on whether Trump is using his new-found political power and contacts to further his own business interests.
It certainly appears to be the case here. The New York Times quoted Andy Wigmore, head of communications for the Leave.EU campaign in the UK’s Brexit referendum in June, who said that Trump had urged Farage and co. to step up campaigning against new wind farms in England, Scotland and Wales. Wigmore said that they would now do so. Watch this space.
But we do not think the wind industry should be concerned about a ‘Brexit effect’.
First, UK Government statistics show that support for the wind industry is still strong, with backing from around 69% of the UK public. On that basis, we do not expect the same level of objections to the wind sector as there were to the EU. Farage and other Brexiteers had been formenting that discontent for decades. That will not be the case here.
Second, the UK Government still has to add more supply to the UK electricity system, and has said that clean energy, particularly offshore wind, will be part of this. It still sees a role for wind in the UK – though we cannot discount that it could seek to delay the Vattenfall scheme for the sake of political gain. There is a ‘special relationship’ to try to preserve.
And third, the economics are still in favour of wind, which has become more competitive with other forms of power generation, and will do so with every passing year. It is telling that objections to wind are now focusing more on intermittency than cost, which we see as a tacit acceptance that wind keeps making more and more financial sense.
We should not discount that fact that opposition from someone with the notoriety and media platform that Farage enjoys could make life very difficult for the wind sector. While he has failed seven times to become an MP, he has also shown that he can be a formidable enemy that connects with some sections of the UK public in ways that others won’t.
But, in this case, we don’t think there is the groundswell of opposition to wind that Trump thinks there is. Farage will find it tough to argue against science and economics – and to convince a government that generally wants to keep him at arm’s length.
The Irish Government has unveiled changes to its second offshore wind tender that the industry said have created “massive levels of uncertainty”. We look at what this means for the up-to-80GW of offshore wind projects in development in Irish waters.