Trump’s attack on booming clean energy sector hurts American workers

Trump’s attack on booming clean energy sector hurts American workers
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Last winter the Trump administration proposed massive cuts to research and development budgets at the Department of Energy. Thankfully, in response to business leaders across the political spectrum that feared losing our competitive edge, Congress rejected these shortsighted cuts. Chalk it up to an inexperienced crew who hadn’t yet learned the importance of the global clean energy market, right? Apparently not.

Remarkably, here we are again. The Trump administration is again proposing devastating cuts to energy research and development across the board. For example, the White House is proposing to severely cut my old agency, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program at the Department of Energy, to $696 million from its current level of $2.04 billion. This is a terrible idea on its face, but now, a year later, it’s become part of a baffling pattern of disrupting development of American technologies, just at a time when we could be dominating.

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Driven largely by public sector investment and public-private development partnerships, clean energy costs have come down dramatically. While costs have maintained their rapid decline for solar, the cost of battery storage has fallen an amazing 73 percent since 2008.

 

Last year, wind and solar projects made up 62 percent of new power construction. This also translates into huge employment opportunities as solar and wind jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.

According to BLS data, “solar photovoltaic installer” and “wind turbine technician” are the two fastest growing jobs in the United State. America’s largest companies are demanding clean energy, driven by their customers and cities around the country are responding to keep their citizens in the game for these jobs. Currently over 50 cities have committed to going 100 percent renewable energy. Two of these cities are in Texas, where wind resources are plentiful and cheap, creating dynamic local economies while making it a more desirable place to live.

A rapidly growing clean energy sector in the U.S. means good jobs across the country. But despite all the rhetoric about supporting American jobs, the qdministration keeps grinding its gears while inexplicably trying to downshift. The Trump administration’s assault on this fast growing sector includes gutting the R&D budget, undermining fuel economy standards, attacking clean energy tax credits, floating Renewable Fuel Standard “reforms,” and even proposing to kill loan programs for new manufacturing facilities. This has the direct effect of creating uncertainty, driving up financing costs, constraining markets, and generally making the U.S. a less attractive place to do business. 

We know these programs work. For example, EERE’s Sunshot program was launched to bring down the price of solar power. We focused on addressing “soft costs” associated with solar in the U.S. compared to our overseas competitors. Even as the costs of hardware were dropping dramatically due to technology innovation, these “soft costs” — permitting, customer acquisition, and installation — remained stubbornly double those of places like Germany, meaning customers here faced much higher costs for solar, even with the same technology. EERE designed the program in partnership with industry, aggressively focused our work, and helped reduce the cost of installed solar dramatically in the United States. SunShot helped make “solar photovoltaic installer” the fastest growing career in America.

It’s not like our competitors are sitting still. China is working to dominate the clean energy industry and will capitalize the progress that the U.S. has started. China is planning on spending $360 billion through 2020 on renewable energy. They envision creating 13 million new renewable energy jobs and becoming the next clean energy superpower.

As a piece of the Paris climate agreement, Mission Innovation was created by 22 countries and the European Union to commit to doubling spending on renewable energy research. Every country that is a part of this group including China, Canada, France, Norway, and India is moving towards this goal except the United States. We are already seeing top talent leave this country. France’s new climate initiative has attracted 13 scientists that are currently working in the U.S. that will soon leave to go work in Paris.

The blind spot the White House appears to have for the economic opportunity in clean energy increasingly makes their pronouncements about “energy dominance” ring hollow. If we continue to send the message that we’re not interested in being the center of the new energy revolution, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs will listen, and vote with their feet and their checkbooks. American workers will suffer the most. Is that really what the Trump administration wants?

Mike Carr is executive director of New Energy America. He previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and as senior counsel on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.