Monday, April 3, 2017

Trump's energy policy rests on economic quicksand: The decline of King Coal, tweets, and tweaks

Karen Hao at Mother Jones reports on Why Donald Trump Will Fail to Make Good on One of His Biggest Campaign Promises. The short answer is “Goodbye, King Coal.”

President Trump loves to boast that he’s going to bring back coal—he said as much again on Monday when he signed his Clean Power Plan executive order. But the economics just don’t work in his favor. King Coal has tumbled from its traditional throne as renewable energy prices have plunged and cheap, cleaner natural gas has flooded the markets. From 2000 to 2016, meanwhile, wind-power generation has increased 37-fold (to more than 2,100 trillion Btus). Solar, which accounts for a smaller part of the pie (335 trillion Btus) grew even faster: by a factor of 67! And that doesn’t even account for the growth in rooftop solar.

In 2016, the American solar industry provided more jobs than its coal industry did, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. And despite Trump’s coal talk, the Solar Foundation projects another 10 percent increase in solar employment this year.

So will Trump keep his promise to put the miners back to work? Can he? Even Robert E. Murray, the chief executive of one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies doubts it. “I really don’t know how far the coal industry can be brought back,” he conceded recently. Indeed, here are just a week’s worth of news highlights demonstrating why coal might have a tough time overcoming the nation’s momentum toward cleaner energy.

  • Cities and states are boosting their commitment to renewables.
  • The share of electricity from renewables continues to grow by double digits.
  • The labor market favors solar, for example, over traditional energy sources.
  • Big corporations are committing to purchase energy from renewable sources - bigly!
  • China has gone all in on renewables and steps up as a leader even as Trump retreats to coal. BTW, world-wide coal plant closures continue.

As Trump makes moves to sabotage the Paris accord, China is stepping in to take the lead as both the largest emitter of carbon and the largest investor in solar and wind power. “As a responsible developing country, China’s plan, determination and policy to tackle climate change is resolute,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after Trump signed his order to roll back Obama-era climate rules. China isn’t the only country making strides: The UK set a new record for solar-electricity generation this past week, beating out coal-fired generation by six-fold. Australia, which relies on coal for two-thirds of its energy, is preparing for a major solar push as better technology drives down costs—seven large-scale projects were completed last year and more than a dozen are now under construction. Costa Rica is on track to be carbon-neutral by 2021. Last year, it met more than 98 percent of its energy demands with renewables. It seems the elusive Quetzal knows something that Donald Trump does not.

And all that is why Trump’s promises to bring back coal jobs are as substantial as his hairdo. He is tweaking at the edges of yuge market forces and no tweets can reverse the trends mentioned here.

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