Published on January 18th, 2017 | by Tina Casey0
Trump Tilts At Offshore Wind Energy, Scotland Gets Last Laugh (Maybe)
January 18th, 2017 by Tina Casey
File this one under R for “revenge is a dish best served with haggis.” Tucked within the potential crimes and misdemeanors that President-elect Donald Trump could be exposed to shortly after Inauguration Day is the little matter of his running feud with Scotland over the country’s plans for offshore wind energy — a feud that the PEOTUS may have taken just one step too far.
It’s a bit complicated, so bear with us as we try to figure out how this modern day Clash of the Titans came to be.
Part I: The Golf Course
By now, everyone who follows politics knows that the words Trump, Scotland, wind turbines, golf courses, and even Brexit are linked (so to speak) in a close but somewhat disharmonious relationship.
About 10 years or so ago, Trump told the world that he would build the “world’s greatest golf resort” in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He finally won approval for the plans in 2008, but only after this happened, according to a BBC timeline of the affair:
The £1bn plans were rejected by local councillors before being resurrected by the Scottish Government, and the process became embroiled in claims of sleaze, bullying and impropriety.
Opposition to the new development hinged on environmental impacts, and at first it looked like conservation would win the day. But, somehow the tide turned.
ECOS, a publication of the University of Aberdeen, has compiled some details about that turning of the tide. ECOS starts the clock in 2007, when Trump met with Scotland’s First Minister at the time, Alex Salmond, for dinner in New York. Salmond later took a meeting with Trump representatives in Aberdeen just one day before a key decision enabled the project to move forward.
News of the meetings was not well received, to say the least:
Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament heavily criticised the events and a Parliament Inquiry was instigated. The Inquiry Committee concluded that the decision to call in the application after being rejected by the planning authority was “unprecedented.” Salmond’s involvement was deemed “cavalier” and showed “exceptionally poor judgement.”
Despite the seemingly shady dealings, it was deemed that nothing illegal transpired. The golf course eventually opened in 2012, along a small boutique hotel and clubhouse located in a repurposed manor house on the grounds.
That modest venue comes up a bit short from what Trump had originally promised. Here’s the (un)happy recap from The New York Times:
A promised $1.25 billion investment has shrunk to what his opponents say is at most $50 million. Six thousand jobs have dwindled to 95. Two golf courses to one. An eight-story, 450-room luxury hotel never materialized, nor did 950 time-share apartments…
Adding to the hurt, the so-named Trump International Golf Links has been losing wads of cash along with another golf course in Scotland that Trump purchased in 2014.
Meanwhile, last month The Telegraph reported that leaked documents have emerged, showing that Trump “spent years hounding” Salmond over plans for the new offshore wind farm. Here’s a snippet from the article (do follow the link for more detail):
The US President-elect sent a series of letters to then first minister Alex Salmond, warning about the impact of the “monstrous” turbines and claiming the “insanity” of the scheme would bankrupt Scotland.
He also told Mr Salmond, with whom he was friendly before their fall out over wind farms, that he would be known as “Mad Alex – the man who destroyed Scotland” if he went ahead with the plan.
Revenge Of The Wind Energy
So, why didn’t Trump build the hotel and the housing?
In 2011, a consortium called Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm Limited applied for a permit to build an experimental 11-turbine wind farm in Aberdeen Bay, about two miles or so from the Trump golf complex.
The new wind farm was proposed as the linchpin of a new wind technology test facility called the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.
Scotland has already been dipping into onshore wind power and floating wind turbines. The new Centre would cement the country’s position as an innovation leader throughout the EU and beyond, so yes, it’s a big deal.
But, not for Trump. Claiming that the offshore wind farm would spoil the views from his complex, he took the developers to court. However, the wind farm developers won a key legal battle in 2013, and finally cemented the deal in 2015.
By early last fall Vattenfall’s three main contractors on the job — J.Murphy & Sons, MHI Vestas and Boskalis — were already holding meetings for local businesses to get in on the supply chain, so it looks like at least some of the jobs that Trump pledged will materialize after all (he’ll most likely take credit for them anyway if past behavior is an indication, but whatever).
Preliminary work on the wind farm is expected to begin this October and the whole thing will be up and running in 2018 — or will it?
The Brexit Angle
So much for the Trump, Scotland, wind turbines, and golf courses part of things. The last link in the chain is Brexit.
Remember way back in June during the 2016 presidential Primary season, when Trump became the butt of jokes for not knowing what Brexit was?
Well, either he knew all along or somehow he became a passionate fan once he was informed what was up with the Brexit (Brexit is short for British exit, referring to last year’s referendum that set the wheels in motion for the United Kingdom — England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales — to leave the European Union).
Soon after winning the 2016 election, Trump met with the well known pro-Brexit British politician Nigel Farage. Reports of the meeting suggest that Trump has not given up his fight against the Aberdeen wind farm, and he may have appealed to Farage to help stir up public opinion against it.
Coincidentally or not, in recent weeks Trump has gone from not knowing what Brexit is, to making the breakup of the EU — and apparently, NATO — the focal point of his foreign policy.
That’s a curious segue for someone who focused on Mexico, terrorists, and the coal industry all throughout the campaign trail, but from all appearances it seems that after asking Farage for an assist, the polite thing would be for Trump to reciprocate the favor and support Farage on Brexit and, relatedly, the EU breakup.
It’s helpful to recall here that it will take years to unspool all of the UK’s obligations to the EU. Brexit is far from a done deal, and its supporters are not resting on their laurels.
To complicate the political situation further, Scotland is beginning to make fresh noises about holding a referendum on leaving the UK in favor of joining the EU on account of Brexit (Scottish voters were overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit), and EU leaders have pushed back hard against Trump’s rhetoric.
The Empire Strikes Back, With More Golf
So, where does that leave us?
Though the view from his golf complex may be forever altered, after the wind farm sealed approval in 2015 Trump vowed to forge ahead with at least part of the original plan and add a second golf course.
Those plans have been moving forward despite Trump’s recent assurances that he would settle conflict-of-interest issues by not pursuing “new or ‘pending’ deals,” while President. According to a report several days ago in The Guardian:
The expansion plans could see the resort grow substantially, with a new 450-room five-star hotel, timeshare complex and private housing estate. This would greatly increase the value to the Trump Organization of an investment on which Trump originally boasted he would spend up to £1bn.
The publication cites former White House ethics advisor Richard Painter to lay out the problem:
“He’s using language which is ambiguous. It clearly illustrates that around the world, he will just simply expand around the various holdings and as they continue to expand, the conflicts of interest expand,” Painter said.
The Guardian also reports that as of several days ago, Trump has retained full ownership of his shares in the Aberdeen course and another course in Scotland he purchased several years ago.
The high profile Scottish golf venture was among the first red flags raised by political observers last year, as the campaign season heated up.
If any of Trump’s business dealings become the focal point of a formal ethics investigation, the Aberdeen complex is likely to be among the first to come under the microscope.
So, why is he insisting on pushing this one forward?
I dunno. Your guess is as good as mine. If you’re guessing that the President-elect of the United States of America can’t stand the thought that plans for expanding his resort are lying idle while Scotland forges ahead with a spanking new wind farm and renewable energy research center right next door, well that’s a pretty good guess.
More Haggis, Please
Adding insult to injury, Scotland’s media has begun to point and laugh. Last week, Buzzfeed was among the many publications that picked up on a humor piece in the Scotland’s Sunday Herald comparing Trump’s upcoming inauguration ceremony along with the ensuing four years as one long, elaborate, expensive reality show modeled after The Twilight Zone.