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Trump Is Foolish to Ignore the Flourishing Renewable Energy Sector

Real job-growth is happening in renewable energy while Trump makes hollow promises about the fossil-fuel sector.

The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada, a 110-megawatt solar thermal power plant. (Photo: Peter Thoeny / Flickr)

President Donald Trump claims to be focused on providing “jobs for all Americans,” but — in another example of his reliance on “alternative facts” — he has emphasized the fossil-fuel sector as the likeliest site to create those jobs. He is clearly not paying attention to the recently released figures from the US Department of Energy (DOE) that show soaring jobs growth in the US renewable energy sector.

Indeed, as Tomás Carbonell of Environmental Defense Fund wrote in December 2016, the clean energy sector “currently supports hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs around the country, and employs far more people than the coal or oil and gas industries.”

Solar, already far outpacing fossil fuels and nuclear energy, jumped from 300,192 US jobs in 2015 to 373,807 in 2016. The industry anticipates further such growth in 2017. The wind energy sector, while smaller in actual job numbers at 101,738, nevertheless experienced even faster growth than solar, increasing by 32 percent over 2015 numbers.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s 2016 Annual Review of Renewable Energy and Jobs, employment in the US solar industry “grew 12 times as fast as overall job creation in the US economy, and surpassed those in oil and gas extraction (187,200) or coal mining (67,929).”

The United States has been steadily increasing its investment in renewable energy, according to figures in the 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, which compares the nuclear and renewable energy sectors in terms of growth, installed capacity, electricity generation and general trends. However, the US — while second in the world with $44.1 billion invested in renewable energy development in 2015 — still lags far behind China, which invested $102.9 billion that same year.

The US electricity sector is likely to see further shifts in employment as the country’s aging and perpetually more dangerous nuclear fleet continues to close in a declining industry that currently employs around 68,000. However, fears that a nuclear shutdown would boost fossil fuel use have proven unfounded. Nebraska and California have announced they will replace their shuttered or imminently closing nuclear plants with solar power, wind power and energy efficiency.

In New York, after announcing the planned shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant by 2021, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released plans to build the nation’s largest offshore wind energy project off the Long Island coast.

Frustratingly, Cuomo also announced a $7.6 billion state subsidy to prop up three upstate nuclear power plants. One, the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, is the same design as those that melted down in Japan. Even its owner, Entergy, which is selling the reactor to Exelon, wanted to close it. The state handout will make every nuclear job at the three plants — FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point and Ginna — worth around $300,000 a year. Re-directing this money into the renewables sector would have created more, longer-term and safer jobs for the economically depressed region.

Globally, wind and solar are on a dramatic upward trajectory, while nuclear energy has been fundamentally flat lining since the start of the 21st century. A reduction, and eventual elimination of fossil fuel use is, of course, essential if the planet is to survive.

Sustainable new US jobs will not be created by building pipelines, sending working people back down collapsing coal mines or sending workers out to incendiary offshore oil rigs. If the Trump administration were serious about job growth, it would focus on renewable energy investment rather than make hollow promises to revive mining in declining communities where coal was once king.

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