Clean energy boom will continue, with or without Mr. Trump

The advanced energy industry—everything from wind turbines and solar panels, to home energy storage and energy efficiency—is booming. And despite President Trump’s reckless energy and environmental policies, he can’t stop it.

A $200-billion market, and growing

America’s advanced energy industry grew 29 percent over the last five years. In 2016, it was worth $200 billion—making it bigger than the beer industry and about the same size as the pharmaceutical industry.

The industry currently employs 2.7 million people in all 50 states. There are nearly half a million people who work in the wind and solar industries alone—more than twice the number that works in fossil fuel generation.

With or without Mr. Trump

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump overlooked the entire advanced energy industry in favor of fossil fuels, with a particular eye on coal. And although there’s no guarantee that Congress will pass the draconian cuts to the Department of Energy he has proposed as president, he’s made it clear that if cleaner, more efficient energy is going to succeed during his term, it’s going to happen without federal support.

Make no mistake: the next four years would be much more productive if the Trump administration were on board. For generations, industries on the cutting edge of technology—GPS, semiconductors, and the Internet, for example—have benefitted from supportive federal policies. As is often the case in nascent industries, the kind of “high-risk, high-reward” research sponsored by programs like D-ARPA and ARPA-E is hard to fund privately. (It’s worth noting that the entire ARPA-E program is on Trump’s chopping block.)

Fortunately, the advanced energy industry has enough wind at its back to continue growing.

States are leading the way

While energy progress has stalled in Washington, things are moving full steam ahead at state houses across the country.

The Illinois Future Jobs Act, which became law in December 2016, is a massive clean energy, economic-development policy that will create thousands of local jobs, save customer billions of dollars, and launch Illinois into a leading role in the nation’s clean energy economy. Environmental Defense Fund estimates that the law will spur $12 to $5 billion in new private investment and reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by more than 33 million metric tons a year by 2030.

Many states have begun changing their complicated energy policies to allow—and in some cases require—utilities to modernize their infrastructure, incorporate more renewable energy, and provide new products and services to their customers. New York’s REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), Illinois’ NextGrid, and Ohio’s PowerForward are all rethinking how electric utilities can spur cleaner, more efficient energy systems.

California is a strong example of how state-based energy policy can drive economic growth. The state set a historic goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. That goal—in addition to an environment of innovation and energy-savvy consumers—has sparked huge growth in advanced energy.

There are more than a quarter-million electric vehicles on California roads today, by far the most of any state and almost half of the nation’s total. California leads the nation in solar power generation and solar jobs. The state’s cleantech companies received 68 percent ($9.8 billion) of all the money raised by U.S. advanced energy companies in 2015. And investor-owned utilities are currently piloting time-of-use electricity rates, working toward a full rollout of this innovative pricing system in 2019.

And even deep-red Texas has emerged as a leader in the clean energy economy. Texas is already home to around one-fourth of the nation’s wind capacity, and the U.S. Department of Energy projects that Texas could produce enough wind energy to power over 15 million homes by 2030. That phenomenal growth supports nearly a quarter of the nation’s wind power jobs. Meanwhile, Texas solar jobs grew by an impressive 34 percent in 2016, and Nearly 150,000 Texans work in energy efficiency-related jobs.

The governors, regulators, legislators, and entrepreneurs in these states would benefit from a federal government that supports the booming advanced energy industry. And jobs, investment, and growth would increase significantly with continued encouragement at the national level. But none of these states—or the people that make their economies run—are likely to change course on cleaner, smarter energy because of what’s happening in Washington. The energy revolution is underway, and nothing’s going to stop it. 

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John Hall brings years of environmental advocacy leadership experience to lead Environmental Defense Fund's clean energy efforts in Texas. Hall previously served as the executive director for The Texas Environmental Research Consortium in Houston; chairman at The Texas Water Commission and The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (predecessor agencies to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality); project manager at The Port of Houston Authority; and deputy commissioner, The Texas General Land Office. He holds a Master of Public Affairs, L.B.J. School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin (Summa Cum Laude) and a Bachelor of Arts, Sam Houston State University (Magna Cum Laude).

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Editor's note: The views expressed by contributors to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blogging initiative, "Can Texas's approach to sustainability inform a path forward for the U.S.?," are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the foundation. The foundation works as an engine of change in both policy and practice, supporting high-impact projects at the nexus of environmental protection, social equity, and economic vibrancy. Follow the foundation on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for regular updates from the foundation.

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