Last week, President Trump announced that he will sign an executive order rolling back “job-killing” regulations on “really-clean coal.” Meanwhile, solar jobs are booming.
Regardless of your opinion of the President, he is making a serious attempt to make good on each and every one of his campaign promises. However, many of the “Make America Great Again” promises are based on nostalgia, and nostalgia is a concept that has little relevance in the world of technology.
Despite their freedom to do so, very few Americans choose to ride a horse to work, or take a trans-Atlantic voyage by ship to attend to business in Europe. It is not a matter of being held back by government regulations– it is simply the result of human technological progress. If environmental regulations are rolled back, will coal jobs come back to Appalachia, and will new coal-fired power plants be popping up across the nation. The answer is obvious; No.
In February, we reported that one out of every 50 new jobs added in the United States in 2016 was created by the solar industry, representing 2% percent of all new jobs. It would appear that the solar horse is out of the barn, and the Trump administration may choose not to ride it. We have to remember, though, that we are only 70+ days into President Trump’s 4-year term, and a lot can happen. He is not the first fledgling president to cling to the myth of “clean coal” early in his presidency.
In 2016, Grist ran an article entitled “How Obama went from coal’s top cheerleader to its No. 1 enemy” that pointed to the fact that “Obama was an enthusiastic proponent of developing so-called “clean coal” plants — facilities equipped with technology that could capture at least some of their carbon dioxide emissions and then sequester the trapped gas underground where it wouldn’t contribute to climate change. Indeed, the economic stimulus package Obama pushed through Congress in February 2009 included $3.4 billion in funding for pilot carbon-capture projects.”
Obama’s attempt to keep everyone in the energy industry at the table with subsidies for “clean coal” ultimately fell apart for the simple reason that “clean coal” doesn’t work. The economics of carbon capture are insanely out-of-proportion with the energy produced. While “clean coal” plants went wildly over-budget and over-schedule, solar quietly and politely ate the coal industry’s lunch.
Meanwhile, in China, the world’s current industrial powerhouse where environmental regulations are rarely an impediment to growth in the energy sector (or any other sector), plans for 103 new coal-fired power plants were scrapped earlier this year. Meanwhile, China’s solar capacity doubled in 2016 alone. Looking at the Chinese situation could very easily provide a glimpse into the future of the US… out of control pollution and runaway spending on dead-end, obsolete generation technology. Or, we can learn from the Chinese debacle and leap-frog to a future with new, cleaner, more efficient technology.
There are countless reports like the one from Lazard.com that show that development of renewables like solar and wind power simply makes economic sense, regardless of the environmental impact and where you stand on issues like climate change. The fact of the matter is, globally solar is the rising dominant energy technology, and denying it is simply not going to make it go away. And as for jobs- I’d like to see a show of hands of Americans who would prefer to mine coal rather than install and maintain solar.
Will President Trump fall into the same trap that President Obama fell into with an attempt to placate coal-state voters with promises? Probably. Like Obama, he will very likely throw billions of taxpayer dollars down a dark hole in the attempt to resurrect a dying industry. Will Trump see the light when it comes to solar as the leader in America’s energy future? We can only hope.