Energy is the lifeblood of our society. Uninterrupted streams of electrons power the production of the goods we consume, heat and light our homes, fuel our vehicles, power our gadgets and increasingly drive local jobs.
We do not have to sacrifice those benefits or jobs to the dirty fossil fuel industry. The abundant power from the sun employed millions in 2016, and the number is projected to growth exponentially in the coming years.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s new report, precipitous cost decline and supportive policies have accelerated deployment of renewable energy technologies and, along with it, a burst of growth in green jobs. In 2016, the renewable energy sector employed close to 10 million people. Solar photovoltaic — the type used for rooftop solar panels — led the way by providing jobs to 3.1 million people. In the U.S., one in every 50 new jobs created in 2016 came from the solar industry.This is particularly good news not only for the solar industry, but to all people, the planet and its biodiversity. The science community has long pointed out that in absence of a fundamental shift in the way we generate and consume energy, we are on course for catastrophic global climate change. Harnessing power from the sun — especially when the systems are installed on spaces such as rooftops and parking lots close to communities — allows us to kick our destructive carbon habit, obviate further encroachment on wildlife habitats and realize sustainable economic prosperity in responsible and equitable ways.
While continued solar energy growth is an economic and climate imperative, it is by no means immune to today’s political tribulations. President Trump giddily brandishes a false promise that he would make great deals and “bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans.”
But all we can see is his relentless assault on the very engine of today’s clean and local living-wage jobs — the solar energy industry.
Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” conveniently leaves out renewable energy all together. His executive order on “promoting energy independence and economic growth” also failed to recognize that there is no more abundant source of energy than the sun. He is either unaware or has forgotten that our planet receives more solar energy per hour than it takes to power the entire world for a whole year.
The fossil fuel industry and special interests have bought their ways into the highest energy and environment posts in the country. Obama-era clean energy policies and programs are being dismantled indiscriminately. Trump has reprehensibly pulled the nation out of the historical Paris climate accord and thrown President Obama’s clean energy legacy and the American people’s wellbeing under the climate bus. He has also signed an executive order to rescind Obama’s Climate Action Plan and measures to reduce methane emissions.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has singled out renewable energy for the little government support it has received in recent years as a potential threat to grid security. He has ordered his agency to conduct a grid study even though independent research has already concluded that renewable energy sources like distributed solar energy enhances electric grid’s resiliency and reliability. Scott Pruitt says he likes renewables but, not surprisingly, embraces a proposed 2018 budget cut that risks 3,800 EPA jobs.
The threats to the booming solar industry aren’t just coming from the White House. Industry-bought politicians across the country are busy destabilizing renewable energy markets. In Indiana, State Senator Brandt Hershman received $42,100, the most he received from any single industry, from the electric utilities, and then sponsored a bill (S.B. 309) to eliminate net metering policy, a measure that duly compensates solar energy customers for the excess generation that they send back to the grid.
In Arizona, public utilities commissioners already under FBI investigation are considering increasing the basic rate for solar customers and reducing the rate that these customers receive for the energy they sell back to the grid.
Fortunately, other state and local governments are stepping up in absence of federal clean energy leadership. Legislators in Massachusetts and California have introduced bills seeking 100 percent renewable energy by the years 2035 and 2045, respectively. The Nevada Assembly has also passed a measure intended to protect the public’s right to solar energy and fair compensation for excessive solar energy generation that is sent back to the grid.
The fossil fuel industry and its operatives seizing government posts will continue to try to dim the sunlight that benefits everyone to benefit a handful of fossil fuel executives.
However, the renewable energy market is expanding and has already achieved heights that the U.S. Energy Information Agency thought would only be possible 40 years from now. Solar energy empowers millions of clean and sustainable jobs and millions more are projected to come online in the years to come.
Chad Tudenggongbu (@Greensnows1566) is the senior renewable energy campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. He leads the Population and Sustainability program’s campaign to promote a clean, equitable and wildlife-friendly energy future.
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