We Checked President Trump’s Dubious Claims on the Perils of Wind Power

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WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that President Trump really, really dislikes wind power. He’s been vocal on the subject for years, ever since a battle with Scottish officials over a plan to build what he called a “really ugly wind farm” within sight of his golf resort in Aberdeen.

More recently, in rallies and speeches, Mr. Trump has stepped up his attacks on wind turbines, suggesting that their noise can cause cancer (there’s absolutely no evidence of this) and predicting power failures when the wind stops blowing (also not true).

Here’s a closer look at a few of his recent comments.

You might get cancer. (You won’t.)

During a sometimes rambling digression about wind turbines at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual spring dinner in Washington on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said: “They say the noise causes cancer.”

The suggestion that turbine noises cause cancer is completely unfounded. “The American Cancer Society is unaware of any credible evidence linking the noise from windmills to cancer,” a spokeswoman for the group said in an email.

Separately, some researchers have been investigating claims that noise from wind turbines might cause other health problems like nausea, headaches or sleeplessness. So far, experts haven’t found strong evidence of links to those conditions, although that debate is likely to persist.

When compared to the research around coal power, an energy source that Mr. Trump has long championed, the difference is stark.

There is ample evidence linking the particulate pollution from coal plants to heart disease, respiratory problems, and lung cancer. When Mr. Trump moved to relax restrictions on coal plant pollution last year, his own Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the change could lead to as many as 1,400 additional premature deaths each year by 2030.

Property values will plummet. (Unlikely.)

At the same dinner, Mr. Trump made this claim: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value.”

There have been a few smaller studies suggesting that wind-farm development may have depressed property values in some areas. But the balance of evidence suggests that this is uncommon. Much larger studies, including an analysis of more than 50,000 home sales across nine states conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2013, have found no evidence that home values are generally affected by nearby wind projects.

In any case, Mr. Trump’s golf course in Scotland does not appear to have suffered financially after the construction of the wind farm nearby.

The lights will go out if the wind drops. (They won’t.)

At a rally in Ohio last month, Mr. Trump suggested that wind power was too unreliable to be useful. “Let’s put up some windmills,” he said. “When the wind doesn’t blow, just turn off the television darling, please. There’s no wind. Please turn off the television quickly!”

It’s true that wind turbines generate electricity only when the wind is blowing. But that doesn’t mean the power in your home will suddenly go out when the wind dies down.

Across the United States, regional grid operators typically rely on a diverse array of power sources throughout the day so that the lights stay on. During sunny hours, they can draw electricity from solar panels. When it’s windy, they can make use of power from wind farms. If power from those renewable sources starts to drop, operators can use power from natural gas turbines or hydroelectric dams to fill in the gaps.

So far, America’s grid operators have been very good at this balancing act, even as coal has declined and renewables have surged in popularity. Last year, wind power accounted for nearly one-fifth of the electricity generated in the Texas grid, and people were still able to watch TV there. When power failures around the country do occur, it’s almost always because of severe weather knocking out transmission lines, not because wind turbines stopped spinning.

However, it’s also fair to say that if wind and solar power continue to expand — the two sources produced 8.2 percent of the nation’s electricity last year and are growing rapidly — grid operators could face new challenges in juggling those intermittent sources.

Possible solutions for that might include adding batteries or other energy storage to balance supply and demand, or improving weather forecasts so that operators can better predict the output of wind farms. Or building more transmission lines to get access to wind power from distant regions, on the principle that the wind is usually blowing somewhere in the country.

Experts have concluded that it’s technically possible for the United States to manage a lot more wind and solar power than it uses today.

For instance, a 2016 modeling study published in Nature Climate Change found that, using existing technology, the country could get 55 percent of its electricity from wind and solar if it built a network of high-voltage transmission lines. That study analyzed reams of historical weather data and concluded that the lights would stay on even with daily and seasonal fluctuations in the wind.

To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate debates about what the power grid of the future should look like and how big a role renewable energy ought to play in that mix. But the fact that the wind can come and go is hardly a slam-dunk argument against using wind power.

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Brad Plumer is a reporter covering climate change, energy policy and other environmental issues for The Times’s climate team. @bradplumer

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