Donald Trump is both an avid supporter of fossil fuels and an enemy of renewables. Trump is not only seeking to end climate regulations and environmental protections he is actively undermining clean energy. He appears to be targeting solar-focused cities and states that oppose his presidency.
Trump is not just a climate-denying, lover of fossil fuels, he has earned his place as a job killer. As reported in Time, Trump has decided to impose duties as high as 30 percent on all solar equipment made outside of the US. Although it will benefit domestic solar makers, it will slow the US solar industry as a whole. This will not only make imported solar panels much more expensive, but it will also increase the cost of maintaining existing US solar infrastructure.
The net result will be job losses at a time when renewables were supplying more jobs than oil and coal combined. As explained by Frank Maisano, senior principal at Bracewell, a law and government relations firm serving the energy industry, “Jobs are growing dramatically in both wind and solar.”
Employment in the solar industry grew 24.5 percent in 2016 compared to 2015. There are now 374,000 people working in renewable energy which is double the number of jobs in traditional fossil fuels.
In addition to solar panels and equipment imported for new installations, as much as 80 percent of the $28 billion solar industry relies on parts made abroad. This means that solar projects will be abandoned, and some companies will be forced to close. Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost. Even worse the promise of far more jobs has been dashed for the foreseeable future.
Helping a dying industry
Trump’s assault on renewables is about buoying fossil fuels. In his first year in office, Trump proved his credentials as an ally of the fossil fuel industry by being an anti-environment climate denier, now he is going after renewable energy by imposing a tariff on solar panels. This will adversely impact states, cities and companies looking to ramp-up or maintain their existing power production from renewable energy.
Trump and the GOP have made their support for fossil fuels well known, but the latest move against solar adds another dimension to their war against climate action in the US. Trump is changing the ground rules in an effort to reverse a trend that is seeing renewable sources of energy replace fossil fuels.
If left to market forces solar was well on its way to eclipsing fossil fuels. The idea that clean energy can replace fossil fuels in the US is neither new nor a fringe observation. All the way back in 2012 NOAA predicted that renewables can replace fossil fuels in the US.
As is obvious to all who follow energy, fossil fuels are the leading cause of global warming and clean energy is absolutely central to any effort to combat climate change. However, economics are making renewables attractive. “By our forecasts, in most cases, favorable renewables economics rather than government policy will be the primary driver of changes to utilities’ carbon emissions levels,” a Morgan Stanley analyst wrote.
Trump’s support of dirty energy makes no economic sense prompting Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware to conclude that “the Trump administration is living in the last century.” Utilities see the value of renewables so why can’t Trump? Put simply the solar tariff is not about seeing the value of clean power it is about helping a dying industry.
“They are trying to put their fingers on the scale in favor of coal and other polluting fossil fuels, and trying to do things to slow down the penetration of clean, renewable energy technologies,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
These duties come at a time when US renewables are experiencing prodigious growth. Cities, states, corporations, and investors are all contributing to the growth of renewable energy in the United States. Innovations from companies like Tesla are revolutionizing renewable energy. We are also seeing a cluster of factors that are helping to grow clean sources of power like solar energy. This includes innovation, falling prices, and advances in energy storage.
Renewable power production in the US is way ahead of forecasts. As reported by Solar Industry Mag, the projected growth for US renewables is 40 years ahead of previous predictions. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) latest Energy Infrastructure Update massively increases projected growth in renewables compared to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA), 2012 Annual Energy Outlook.
Total domestic renewable electricity generation in the US nearly doubled in the past seven years. The EIA’s Electric Power Monthly states that renewables accounted for 19.35 percent of net US electrical generation during the first quarter of 2017 compared to 17.23 percent in the first quarter of 2016. In that same year solar (solar thermal, utility-scale PV and distributed PV) grew by 34.1 percent.
Clean is cheap
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has not stopped the growth of renewables or slowed the rate at which the cost is going down. According to research analysts at Morgan Stanley, renewable sources of energy like solar and wind are destined to be the least expensive form of energy on Earth.
Solar prices were already falling dramatically in 2016 and they declined a total of 50 percent between 2016 and 2017. A similar situation is taking shape with wind power. Wind power is becoming more efficient and may go as low as one-third that of coal or natural gas.
As reported by Climate Central an EIA report indicates wind and solar passed a milestone doubling in the last five years. In April 2017 wind and solar-generated 10 percent of all the electricity in the US. Christopher Clack, CEO of the power grid modeling firm Vibrant Clean Energy thinks that the US will get 15 percent of its energy from wind and solar by 2020.
States get payback
Both red and blue states are benefiting from the renewable energy revolution with Texas dominating wind production and California dominating solar production. It should come as no surprise that Trump opted to target solar rather than wind. Texas is Trump country. California and New York are investing massively in solar and they are also the two most powerful anti-Trump states in the union.
The political leaderships of both California and New York have openly opposed Trump. The anti-Trump statements and actions we have seen by Gov, Brown and Gov Cuomo almost certainly put them on Trump’s hit list. Trump’s move against solar may be a targeted effort to hurt states that oppose him.
In May California has passed legislation mandating that 100 percent of the state’s power needs be met by renewable sources of energy by 2045. In June New York announced that it was investing $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects to achieve its goal of getting one-half of its power from clean sources by 2030. This is the largest state procurement of renewable energy in US history translating to 2.5 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable electricity per year. ‘
The initiative in New York supports the Clean Climate Careers program that trains people for jobs in the green economy. Both New York and California are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance.
Cities fight back
As reported by Climate Action there are a total of 36 cities that are committed to 100 percent renewable energy as part of the “Smart Cities” program. According to the Sierra Club, there are 40 cities in its “Ready for 100%” renewables campaign. Trump has very little support in urban centers so he may be deliberately targeting these locations as well.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said: “It’s up to us as leaders to creatively implement clean energy solutions for our cities across the nation. It’s not merely an option now; it’s imperative. “Cities and mayors can lead the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean and renewable energy,” he added. Mayor Benjamin is also a co-chair of the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy initiative.
In total more than 200 mayors have joined thousands of businesses, investors and academic institutions to sign a pact that commits them to continue the fight against climate change in the US.
Clean energy advocates will not be cowed by Trump and market forces can be expected to keep accelerating the transition to renewables. It is not without irony that despite Trump’s best efforts, the growth of renewables is expected to enable the US to achieve and even surpass its Paris commitment.
Trump is indeed making an impact but not the way he would hope. It is because of Trump that cities and states are ratcheting up their ambitions. It is because of Trump that subnational leaders are becoming stalwart champions of energy for a better world. These duties will hurt, but they will not stop renewables, not by a longshot.