1 in 50 new Jobs in US is in Solar Energy, despite Trump

Bill Ritter, Jr. | (The Conversation) |

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade. The Conversation

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Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.


The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

David Pakman: “Solar Creating Jobs 2X Faster Than Dirty Coal, Trump Wants Coal”

6 Responses

  1. Economics dooms carbon based energy no matter how much trump tries to keep it from happening.

    For every joule of carbon energy we harvest, the cost can only go up because over the last 150 years humans have extracted all of the carbon energy that was easy and cheap to extract ALL of the carbon energy that is left, will cost increasingly larger amounts of wealth.

    On the other hand as I have pointed out several times the cost of harvesting solar and wind energy is decreasing while the technology improves at an exponential pace. Note that wind is actually just another form of solar energy,

    In many parts of the globe right now, non-carbon energy costs have decreased to well below the direct carbon energy costs (not including the additional indirect costs of carbon energy such as global climate change, etc.).

    Basically, the energy users are looking at the hard economic numbers and running away from carbon energy and anything trump does to try to slow that transition down will fail in the long term and damage the republican party.

    I realize the coal miners (like the cod fishers of the northeast) do not like losing their lifestyles, but instead of trying to fight the inevitable end of coal, they should be voting for the politicians that will give them the social services they need to start a new life in other parts of the USA where jobs exist.

    Yes they are going to have to leave their “beloved” mountains and start their lives over because there is no economic reason for any modern business to locate in coal country because the area has NOTHING a modern business needs.

    • Note that no one showed such sympathy when millions of African-Americans were losing their jobs as sharecroppers due to the mechanization of Southern agriculture. In fact, no one could even be bothered to think about the mass migration Northward that logically would accompany such neglect. Apparently, some ways of life deserve a bailout more because they’re led by Americans more American than the rest of us; coal miners, oilfield workers, and farmers, or should I say White people whose labor supports the narrative of the hard-working, testosterone-drenched, patriotic Caucasian.

      • Last night I was watching videos from the Discovery/Science channels program “how its made” and realized just how few humans were in many of the videos. Most of the things that are made theses days, whether it is in the USA or some other part of the globe, are made by heavily automated processes with very few humans and as robotic engineers increase their expertise and technology costs go down, fewer and fewer humans sill be needed.

        link to youtube.com

        link to youtube.com

        Unfortunately as super390 notes, there is a large amount of racism in how the labor displacement is handled.

        BUT . . .

        As a little bit of a defense of the lack of action to deal with the automation, most of the automation takes place over an extended period of time. That is the old “slow boiled frog” situation. To the workers, the automation appears to arrive “overnight” but in reality it is slowly increased until the day the remaining workers look around and discover that there are very few humans left and they will be shoved out the door sooner than later.

        This problem is going to get much worse until Americans realize that socialism is a much better social contract than social Darwinism free markets. The rest of the world has figured this out, so maybe the USA myths will eventually die.

  2. It’s a great political market position: “Bring back coal!” It’s like voting fifty-plus times to repeal the ACA in the face of a veto. It stirs up support from your “base”, and is otherwise entirely meaningless. You can’t bring back coal without an economic case for mining and using it. That case has faded away.

    I suppose the US executive branch could order the military to buy large quantities of coal at high prices. That might get some mining going again. But they probably don’t have much equipment that uses it: ships and airplanes run on petroleum, not coal.

    It’s interesting that Margaret Thatcher, in England near the end of the 20th century, was widely despised for closing down the coal business and switching to cleaner energy.

  3. spyguy is correct. To put a finer point on it, the concept he refers to is Energy Return On Energy Invested or EROEI. When the ratio of the amount of joules or kilojoules to extract and produce a fuel approaches 1 or less, it makes no sense to use that fuel. When oil was first found in Pennsylvania in the 1800s, four men with foot pumps and fifty foot of pipe could extract oil from the ground. Those deposits are gone. Now, a monstrous rig has to be towed 50 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico and thousands of feet of pipe must be turned using huge engines through a half mile of seawater to extract the stuff! The energy derived, as compared to the energy expended, to get the filthy stuff is approaching breakeven. Donald Trump has no more grasp of the concept of EROEI than the man in the moon.

    • “Donald Trump has no more grasp of the concept of EROEI than the man in the moon.”

      This is not surprising since Trump is the perfect representative of the financialized rentier economy that replaces agriculture and industry in aging empires. They have no ability to relate energy to production because all they do is move speculative instruments around to produce price bubbles.

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