A fierce legal battle is under way in Scotland, involving U.S. tycoon Donald Trump.
At the heart of the wrangle: wind.
Europe is leading the way in generating energy using wind. Huge turbines whir away on the hills and in the seas throughout the continent.
The roots of Trump’s hatred for these turbines can be found, at least in part, in what was once a stretch of rolling dunes and grassland in northeastern Scotland, overlooking the North Sea.
He is spending hundreds of millions creating a resort there.
Last year, he opened its star attraction, a championship golf links.
Now, a second golf course is in the works.
“It will be truly spectacular, and truly beautiful, and the first course has become such a tremendous success,” Trump said during a recent visit.
Yet there is one big problem: the proposed construction of some wind turbines — in the waters overlooked by Trump’s resort.
“The Donald” is not happy.
“Wind farms are a disaster for the environment,” he said. “They kill the birds. They are very expensive in terms of energy. They’re made in China.”
Trump was planning to put a big luxury hotel here, too.
Now he is threatening to change his mind.
“I will not build this hotel if they are going to build this ridiculous wind farm,” Trump said. “Who would build a hotel where the windows are looking right into an industrial turbine?”
Scotland’s Renewable Energy Play
Trump’s resort is a few miles north of the city of Aberdeen. The area doesn’t have the dazzling beauty of the Scottish Highlands — their dark hills, salmon rivers, and whisky distilleries are just over the horizon.
Here, amid the beaches and harbors of Aberdeen Bay, the landscape has a subtler charm: an iron gray sea, rolling sand dunes with bursts of yellow gorse and stone houses dotting the horizon.
Trump opened the Trump International Championship Golf Links course last year. He says it will be one of the best in the world.
The wind turbines he so detests will be visible from the course, about a mile and a half out to sea.
Scotland’s government gave the go-ahead for the wind project this March; Trump’s counterattacked with a lawsuit seeking to have that decision overturned.
It may sound like an unremarkable zoning dispute. But much bigger issues are in play.
Next year, Scots vote in a referendum over whether to secede from the United Kingdom.
Their government is semi-autonomous — much like a state in the U.S.
The Scottish Nationalists who are currently in office want full independence. Green energy is part of their vision. They aim to use renewables to generate the equivalent of all of Scotland’s electricity consumption by the year 2020.
Wind power is a big part of that plan.
“That’s a hugely ambitious target,” says Lindsay Leask of Scottish Renewables, an industry organization for Scotland’s renewable energy companies. “It is one of the most ambitious in Europe, if not the world.”
There will be 11 big turbines in the waters off Trump’s golf resort.
Trump calls it a wind farm, but Leask points out that it is, in fact, a testing facility for different construction methods and technology aspects of turbines and installation techniques.
The Swedish company Vattenfall heads up the joint venture, officially named the European Offshore Wind Deployment Center.
Leask says Scotland needs it.
“If it’s not built we would lose what could be a world-class testing facility and that would be a great shame,” she says.
A Relentless Anti-Turbine Campaign
Trump is fighting for his cause with typical aggressiveness and flamboyance.
He wrote a tirade in a British newspaper calling Alex Salmond, head of Scotland’s government, “mad.”
He says Scotland is going to end up erecting thousands of wind turbines that’ll have to be junked.
They’re unreliable, highly inefficient and require heavy subsidies, he says.
Trump appeared before the Scottish parliament’s energy committee last year with this warning.
“Scotland, if you pursue this goal, of these monsters all over Scotland, Scotland will go broke,” Trump told parliamentarians. “As sure as you are sitting there, Scotland will go broke.”
Patrick Harvie of the Green Party sits in Scotland’s parliament. He thinks Scottish energy party is “none of Mr. Trump’s business.”
“[Trump] doesn’t live here. He doesn’t vote here. He doesn’t have
a say,” Harvie says.
He hopes Scotland sticks to its energy plan.
“If the Scottish government was to be distracted from that by, frankly, an arrogant bully like Mr. Trump, I think that would be a terrible
shame, a terrible opportunity wasted,” Harvie says. “We should be pressing ahead with turning that renewable energy into reality.”
Plenty of others share Trump’s dislike of turbines, says Linda Holt, spokeswoman for Scotland Against Spin, an alliance of groups campaigning against Scotland’s wind energy policy.
“I think there are tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands of people,” Holt says. “I think in rural communities, they are so against them now there are hundreds of local groups who think the policy is ridiculous, is uneconomic, has gone far enough.”
A Long Battle Ahead
Trump claims wind turbines kill sea mammals and thousands of birds. That’s another reason he doesn’t want turbines anywhere near his resort.
Lang Banks, of the Scottish chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, says the project was carefully scrutinized by nature preservation groups and government planning officials before permission was granted.
“They have even changed the set-up and configuration of that site to make sure it causes the minimal amount of environmental impact,” Banks says.
There’s another twist: Vattenfall, the biggest investor in the wind-testing center offshore from Trump’s resort, recently had a slump in profits. It is not pulling out of the project, but it is significantly reducing its stake.
During a recent inspection of his resort, Trump took heart from that development. He thinks it’s a sign he’ll get his way in the end.
“Vattenfall’s already taken a pass. Whoever buys it is going to lose a tremendous amount of money,” Trump said. “So nobody’s going to buy it, and I don’t see it getting built, so I think we are very close to having that thing abandoned.”
Anyone who’s seen The Apprentice on TV knows Trump’s a tough adversary. He says he’s willing to fight the lawsuit against the Scottish government for as long as it takes.
This worries Banks of the World Wildlife Fund.
“It is a real shame that taxpayers’ money is going to have to be used to defend a case against Mr. Trump,” Banks says. “It’s a real shame that one man may undermine an entire nation’s ability to do the right thing in terms of cutting emissions and creating jobs from cleaner energy sources.”
Banks fears this legal fight will consume a lot of time. And in the battle against climate change, time is in short supply.