Trump Needs Clean Energy – by Jerry Jasinowski
President-elect Donald Trump has defied conventional wisdom with his assertion that global warming is a “hoax” and he has inspired hope among the impoverished coal fields of Appalachia that he will bring the coal industry back by calling off the Environmental Protection Agency’s “war on coal.”
I don’t believe the Obama Administration’s EPA ever formally declared a “war on coal,” but it has acted to accelerate coal’s decline, and for perfectly sensible reasons. There is no question that coal takes a greater toll on the environment than other energy sources. In terms of life-cycle greenhouse emissions per power source, coal is by far the worst offender, generating 1,001 in grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour. Natural gas comes in at less than half that.
The real “war on coal,” to the extent such a thing exists, is being waged by natural gas which not only burns cleaner than coal but also costs considerably less. Ten years ago coal accounted for 49 percent of all electricity generation in this country and natural gas only 20 percent. Today, both coal and natural gas account for 33 percent, and coal’s share is slipping inexorably away.
The challenge of natural gas is not only pummeling coal, it is slowly pulling the rug out from under nuclear power. It can be reasonably argued that nuclear power is one of the cleanest power sources, but it is not cheap. Building and operating nuclear power plants is costly and takes a long time. Our government has yet to agree on a consensus disposal method for nuclear wastes which remain toxic just about forever. About one out of four nuclear power plants in the U.S. today is underwater in terms of operating expenses, which includes payments on the huge debts that attend nuclear power plant construction. Many U.S. nuclear plants have been shut down or are in the process of being mothballed.
Meanwhile, renewable energy sources are gradually taking a larger share of the energy pie. Wind, solar, and other renewables are contributing only about 7 percent of the energy mix today – hydropower another 6 percent – but the share is growing rapidly. Renewables have acquired a momentum with a power of their own. Windmills are going up on mountains and off the coast. New houses, office buildings and manufacturing plants have solar panels on their roofs. They will continue growing regardless of the policies laid down by Washington or edicts from the White House. It is part of the economic landscape, and perhaps more importantly, part of our culture. The new generation wants clean energy and is making it happen through the marketplace.
President Kennedy liked to tell the story of a politician who saw his constituents on the move. “Look, there go my people,” he said. “I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” At some point, our new President will need to recognize this dynamic and take advantage of it – if he wishes to succeed.
Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. You can quote from this with attribution. Let me know if you would like to speak with Jerry. November 2016
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