Duncan Hamilton: Trump must not be allowed to blow wind power policy off course

Donald Trump: seeking to dictate policy on renewable energy. Picture: Greg Macvean
Donald Trump: seeking to dictate policy on renewable energy. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IN THESE dark economic times, it was right that the Scottish Government worked with Donald Trump to see whether the proposed multi-million pound investment in Aberdeenshire was viable.

Despite a bruising and difficult process, the project was finally approved.

By contrast, it is wholly unacceptable that Donald Trump now seeks to dictate policy on renewable energy by opposing offshore wind capacity across Scotland. He is endlessly keen to remind us of his Scottish heritage. I don’t know whether “haud yer wheesht” is an expression he has encountered, but it probably sums up how most Scots feel.

The problem is essentially that Trump objects to the building of 11 wind turbines two-and-a-half miles offshore in the North Sea, which will be visible for those teeing off at his new golf course at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire. On the back of that proposal, it would be fair to say that his perambulator is entirely devoid of toys. He has threatened to cancel the whole development, has embarked on a media assault on the First Minister and has announced that he will co-ordinate and fund opposition to offshore wind-farm development all across Scotland. His recent public letter to the First Minister asserts that, “You will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history”. Silly stuff.

So let’s reintroduce a degree of reality both on the merits of offshore wind, and in establishing the appropriate relationship between developers and government in Scotland.

First, Scotland wants to lead the world in aspects of renewable energy. We have 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential and 36 per cent of the total practical offshore wind resource. The plan is to create 28,000 directly related jobs in Scotland and attract £30 billion of inward investment, all while tackling global warming and saving the planet.

Secondly, the actual offshore wind farms will be far from the coast and barely visible. The Beatrice Deep Water Demonstrator project in the North East is over 13 miles offshore, with others in the Moray Firth between eight and 15 miles out to sea.

Thirdly, the 11 turbines which have caused Trump so much grief are not a wind farm at all, but rather a £150 million joint venture between Scottish and international partners to create a “deployment centre”. The idea is to allow offshore wind-farm developers and associated supply chain companies to test new designs and ready the technology for market. Providing such a facility is an essential and necessary part of establishing Scotland as a centre of global excellence. It makes total business sense.

Trump is wholly within his rights to object to the development (albeit there have been 388 public responses in favour and 78 against) but he has no basis for wholesale opposition to offshore wind around Scotland. The cynic might suggest that his plan in reaching out is really to try to galvanise wider opposition to the 11 turbines visible from his golf course, but on any view he is overstepping the mark. Donald Trump should be politely, but firmly, reminded that it is one thing to be a valued investor and a welcome visitor. It is quite another to try to direct domestic public policy on one of the great issues of the age by remote control from the US.

Fundamentally, I sense a clash of cultures between the US and Scotland. In US politics, money is utterly central. Private donations are asked for and made without any of the awkwardness of politics in the UK. In return, donors assume – and are granted – a degree of access and influence. I sense that is the problem here: a rich American who feels that he has made the investment and now can’t control the process in the way he hoped. But the planning authorities and process are robust and transparent. The First Minister will play no part in this process. Donald Trump claims Jack McConnell’s administration gave him assurances. If they did, that was wrong. Regardless of whether they did or did not, those assurances are worthless given the change of government and the necessity of due planning process. Maybe that stings for a man used to getting his own way, but hey, that’s life. Powerful people – whether Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch – seeking to engage or invest in Scotland are very welcome. But the national interest must always come first.

This golf course will be built, despite the Trump posturing. Why? Because the business case for it stands up, considerable investment has been made and the course and development can and will be stunning. If this was a good idea at the outset, it is a good idea now. If I am wrong, and Donald Trump pulls out from the development, so be it. Not only is the renewable sector infinitely more important to Scotland but the Trump commitment to Scotland will be revealed as disturbingly shallow.

One last thought for Trump. He wants a world-class golf course to host major championships. The last British Open was played at Royal St George’s in Kent. What is located off the coast? One of the largest wind farms in Europe. Championship golf and renewable energy are apparently not mutually exclusive.