The clean energy industry was hit hard by two decisions coming out of the Trump administration these past few weeks. First, a 30% tariff was imposed on imported solar panels. Then earlier this week, the Trump administration proposed plans to cut the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office budgets by 65%, all while increasing funding to the Fossil Energy office.
In the State of The Union Address, Trump bragged of America’s economy and rising employment rates. But behind doors, he’s making reckless calls that will reverse this progress. Clean energy is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and a major driver of both economic growth and job creation; and Trump, is trying to throw that all away.
Environmental Defense Fund released its second annual jobs report in January, In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce, in the wake of Trump’s solar tariff decision. The report shows that solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry 1.6 to 1, with coal employing only 160,000. And, energy efficiency jobs now outnumber oil, gas and coal jobs in red states with large Trump followings, such as Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas. These are exactly the type of local, well-paying jobs that area available to individuals from all types of educational and career backgrounds that the administration has promised, but instead they’re slashing them.
What’s at stake?
Trump’s latest decisions puts thousands of jobs at risk. The tariff will damage the booming domestic solar industry that currently employs 260,000 hard-working Americans across the country, nearly 1 in 10 of which are veterans. Even before Trump came out with his decision, market uncertainty contributed to Q3 solar installations dropping more than 50% behind 2016 levels, with cumulative 2017 installations 22 percent behind those in 2016.
Here’s why: low-cost solar modules manufactured abroad make solar affordable for a greater number of people. That played a significant role in why we saw the industry grow 24.5%, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016. A 30% tariff will raise the price of solar modules, driving down demand. When there’s reduced demand, there are fewer projects, which means fewer jobs. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated as many as 23,000 jobs would be lost under Trump’s solar tariff.
Now Trump has announced plans to cut the DOE renewable energy and energy efficiency budget for 2019 by 65%. This would slash the budget of more than $2 billion by $1.3 billion, creating a devastating blow to critical clean energy research. For example, the cuts would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E), an agency focused on advancing high-impact energy technologies that have the potential to play a transformative role in the clean energy economy.
And as if to add insult to injury, the administration has proposed increasing the budget for the Office of Fossil Energy by nearly 20%. Although it’s unlikely Congress will pass these budget cuts as proposed, any degree of diminished funding will adversely impact the clean energy industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.
Moving backward, not forward
The opportunity for market growth, and therefore job growth, in clean energy is huge: globally, energy efficient building technologies is expected to grow by 58% by 2026, and in the U.S. solar and wind technicians are expected to be the two fastest-growing jobs. Yet, the administration continues to support the dying coal and fossil fuel industries instead of investing in these technologies. So while Trump is turning his back on this market opportunity, the U.S. is ceding its leadership to other countries, like China, which are willing to invest in clean energy at far greater magnitudes.
Take matters into your own hands – become a catalyst
Fortunately, a strong long-term outlook for the industry still remains. Governments and businesses are stepping up to become key catalysts for supporting the growth in the clean energy economy. There’s been a wave of public goals and commitments from states, cities and businesses for initiatives around climate resilience, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy. For example, 455 U.S. cities, 15 states and 325 institutions of higher learning, and 1,780 businesses have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement goals under the We Are Still In pledge.
That’s why I urge companies to take action by making commitments to source renewable energy, investing in energy efficiency, setting Science Based Targets and signing on to initiatives like We Are Still In. And for everyone else, encourage your policy makers to support clean energy legislation. Trump has broken his promise to support American jobs and will continue to find ways to sabotage the progress we’ve made—and the jobs we’ve created—in clean energy investments. It’s up to us to hold him accountable.
—Ellen Shenette is a member of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps team.
(Editor’s note: POWER magazine publishes commentary from across the energy industry. The views expressed in these commentaries are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of POWER magazine.)