State of Clean Energy Is Strong

We don’t have to choose anymore—clean energy wins. Investing in clean energy creates millions of jobs today across the country for people of all different skill sets and education levels, protects the health of children and counters the real effects of climate change.  

But the federal government is headed in the opposite direction, as illustrated by Trump’s State of the Union address and general obsession with cutting regulations on fossil fuels at the expense of your health and clean energy. And federal policy makers are missing an opportunity to accelerate the dramatic clean energy deployment and the jobs it creates in the U.S.—why isn’t everyone praising the fact that solar installer and wind turbine maintenance technician are the fastest-growing jobs? Trump talked about “jobs roaring back”, but it’s the fastest growing jobs that he may put at risk.

In contrast, states are leading the way by setting clean energy and carbon pollution standards and companies are purchasing large quantities of renewables to supply their operations. Bipartisan state legislation is increasingly common, with legislators and governors reaching across the aisle to support clean energy deployment.

There is some good news at the federal level in the form of signs of bipartisan support for clean energy, such as support for clean energy tax incentives and opposition to Trump’s recent tariffs on solar panels, which should not come as a surprise given overwhelming and bipartisan public support for a transition to clean energy.

Trump said last night that he has “ended the war on American energy.” If he truly believes we’ve been at war with domestic energy production, he’s missing out on the promising story of America’s booming clean energy economy. The question before the federal government and the country as a whole is whether America is going to turn its back on clean energy’s huge economic growth opportunity.

Or will our leaders lean in to this American innovation and leadership opportunity and:

  • Set clean energy and carbon pollution standards that reinforce clean energy progress already underway and economic success;
  • Expand investment in clean energy research and innovation at our national labs, universities and small businesses to take us even further; and
  • Build a safe, reliable, resilient energy infrastructure for the future.

Clean Energy Jobs Are Here and Now—But at Stake

Clean energy wins—these jobs are here and now, as well as a huge growth opportunity for rural America with 99% of wind sited in rural areas:

  • Out of the 1.9 million Americans employed in the fuels and electric power sectors, 42 percent—800 thousand people—work in low-carbon-emission generation technologies. The solar industry employs 374 thousand people, and wind employs another 102 thousand.
  • The clean energy economy is growing—in 2016, wind employment grew by 32 percent and solar jobs increased by 25 percent.
  • Another 2.2 million people work in the energy efficiency industry, which continues to provide the cheapest ways to meet energy demand and cut emissions.
  • A transformation of the electric power sector is underway and not well known—as examples:
    • Iowa has 3.8 thousand people employed in the wind industry and 18.8 thousand in energy efficiency vs. 2.4 thousand jobs in electricity generation from coal and gas.
    • North Carolina has 9.5 thousand people employed in the solar industry and 80.9 thousand in energy efficiency vs. 4.3 thousand jobs in electricity generation from coal and gas.
    • Texas has 36.1 thousand people employed in the wind and solar industry and 146.7 thousand in energy efficiency vs. 8.3 thousand jobs in electricity generation from coal and gas.

The Trump administration is putting these jobs at risk through large and small actions, including:

Clean Energy Wins on Cost

Just as clean energy jobs are here today and growing, the cost of renewables like wind and solar is also down dramatically.  Average U.S. wind and solar costs are $45 and $50 per MWh respectively, while new coal, nuclear and gas are $102, $148 and $60 per MWh respectively.

Recent renewable energy projects and prices keep coming in even lower, delivering big savings for customers. In Colorado, Xcel Energy recently requested proposals for new energy projects, and they received some of the lowest bids for renewable energy projects ever—the median prices for new wind  and solar projects were $18/MWh and $29.50/MWh, respectively. And these record-low prices are no anomaly—Jim Robo, the CEO of NextEra Energy, recently predicted that the price of wind will consistently be a $20-$25/MWh product by the early 2020s.

Not to mention energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest, fastest way to save people money and reduce emissions. Energy efficiency has become the nation’s single largest energy resource, contributing more to energy needs over the last 40 years than any other fuel or generation type. Moreover, energy efficient appliances save U.S. households an average of $500 per year. In a time where almost one-third of American households face challenges paying their electric bills, heightened investment in energy efficiency is sorely needed.

In contrast, the Administration through DOE has proposed FERC prop-up coal and nuclear power plants at staggering costs to customers, which FERC thankfully rejected this last month. 

States and Business Have to Lead until the Tide Turns Federally

Even if the Trump administration is making the foolish mistake of throwing away clean energy opportunities, states and business can continue to lead on climate and clean energy by implementing policies that expand:

  • Standards to accelerate the deployment of technologies like renewable energy and efficient and electric vehicles;
  • Market-based policies that put a price on carbon and level the playing field for clean energy;
  • State and utility programs and standards that help customers increase the efficiency of their buildings and appliances and reduce their energy bills;
  • Planning and market development that creates incentives for businesses and utilities to provide the energy services and electric gird of the future;
  • Corporate procurement of clean energy as a low-cost business decision that also makes our air cleaner, addresses climate change and grows jobs in the communities they operate in; and
  • Many other creative clean energy ideas.

In contrast, Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt are attempting to roll back many common sense environmental safeguards—a prime example being the Clean Power Plan. But the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a modest first step to regulate carbon pollution from power plants, was developed based on a requirement under the Clean Air Act and by the Supreme Court to limit this pollution. While attempts are being made to remove or weaken this standard, its goals have almost been met because of the clean energy wins of the last five plus years. The CPP called for a 32% reduction in carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2030 and power sector emissions in 2017 appear to be 28% below 2005 already. This progress just means after all of EPA’s delay, the agency will have to come back and deliver meaningful standards required by the courts, making them stronger and consistent with the opportunity to reduce carbon pollution through cost-effective clean energy deployment. 

Clean energy is winning and the question before us is how much will the federal government take us off track or come back around to bipartisan solutions that protect the health of children, counter the real effects of climate change, and create millions of additional jobs and economic opportunity. 

About the Authors

Elizabeth Noll

Deputy Director, Congressional & External Affairs, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Derek Murrow

Senior Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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