The policy chasm on renewable energy between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was exposed starkly when the US President labelled wind turbines “a pipe dream” that cause more emissions than gas, while his challenger hailed the sector as America’s fastest-growing source of jobs.

The two presidential rivals clashed over renewables in their last debate before next month’s election, bringing some vintage comments from Trump on a wind industry that has been a favourite target for years.

“I know more about wind than you do,” he told Biden. “It’s extremely expensive, it kills all the birds, it’s very intermittent.

“It’s got a lot of problems. They have to make the windmills in Germany and China,” said Trump, apparently ignoring the huge American wind equipment manufacturing plants operated by the likes of Vestas, Siemens Gamesa and the US’s own GE.

The President continued: “If you believe in emissions, the fumes coming up to make these massive windmills is more than anything we’re talking about with natural gas.”

“It’s all a pipe dream,” added Trump, who was slightly kinder to solar, saying it “he likes it” but it “isn’t quite there”.

The Republican candidate was responding to comments from Biden, who had praised the wind industry as the nation’s fastest-growing source of jobs that pays “good wages, 45-50 bucks per hour”.

“He thinks wind power causes cancer,” said the Democrat contender, referring to previous Trump comments on the issue.

Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris accord within 24 hours of arriving in the White House, with a plan to spend at least $2trn on climate-related actions and decarbonise US power by 2035.

“We can grow and we can be clean if the go the route I’m proposing,” said Biden, who added that he would stop subsidising the US oil industry, which Trump has said should be helped.

Trump’s remarks as usual caused a storm of social media reaction, with perhaps the most succinct comment coming from Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a US marine biologist who said on Twitter: “Everything Trump just said about wind energy is false. Total bullshit.

“Wind is now often cheaper than fossil fuels, can support many jobs, and provides reliable power – especially offshore, where wind blows strongly & more consistently.”

The president’s regular blasts against wind power have been a source of increasing discomfort to even staunch Republican supporters, many of who represent states where the industry employs workers as part of its 120,000-strong US jobs base.

The fledgling US offshore wind industry is also emerging as a potential huge employer in its own right, with the ability to regenerate ports and provide jobs to US offshore oil & gas workers struggling with the decline of that industry.