If President-elect Trump truly intends to “make America great again,” a promising route is to encourage major investment in clean-energy jobs that can both rebuild manufacturing centers and help the environment, writes Sam Parry.
By Sam Parry
In the 2016 election, white working class voters swung heavily from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and voted for a big-mouthed, hot-tempered, New York City billionaire who ran the most overtly xenophobic campaign since the days of George Wallace. Many are blaming a generation of Democratic political leaders for supporting corporate friendly, free-trade policies, which in turn are blamed for gutting America’s manufacturing base.
Of course, the story isn’t that simple. America’s manufacturing output is at an all-time high, up about 30 percent since the Great Recession and has almost doubled over the last 30 years. China has eclipsed the U.S. as the world’s largest manufacturer and America’s share of global manufacturing output has declined. But manufacturing still represents more than a third of all economic activity in the U.S., more than double any other economic sector.
Indeed, even while the American economy shed 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, nearly all of those job losses occurred during George W. Bush’s presidency and the Great Recession. Since March 2010 when manufacturing jobs bottomed out at 11.453 million, America has gained back more than 800,000 manufacturing jobs. And the unemployment rate in the manufacturing sector is lower than the economy as a whole.
So why did white working-class voters, particularly in the industrial Upper Midwest, swing so heavily against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats? And what, if anything, can Democrats do to win them back?
Putting aside the major cultural issues at play, from gun control to environmental regulations to empowering women and minorities in our society, when it comes to a jobs plan, there is one gigantic opportunity available right now to any politician with the courage to comprehensively and passionately embrace it: Unleashing a clean energy economy for the Twenty-first Century.
Even without a robust national clean energy deployment plan, renewable energy is booming in the United States. The number of jobs in the solar industry alone has more than doubled since 2010, from about 100,000 to 209,000 — and is expected to double again by 2020. There are more Americans now employed in solar than in the oil and gas industry or in coal.
While much of this growth in solar energy has taken place in sunny California, which has by far the most comprehensive and aggressive climate and clean energy standards in the country, clean energy jobs are surging nearly everywhere. The Solar Foundation reports that states as varied as Massachusetts, Tennessee and Utah saw some of the largest percentage increases in solar employment in the last year.
Wind energy has seen similar growth with installed capacity booming seven-fold over the last decade. In 2015, wind represented 41 percent of all new energy capacity in the U.S., more than any other energy source. And there are now nearly 50,000 utility-scale wind turbines in 40 states plus Puerto Rico. Over the last 10 years, $128 billion has been invested in new wind energy projects.
California is again near the top when it comes to wind energy – but Texas is way out in front with three-times more installed wind energy capacity than California. And the much smaller state of Iowa comes in second with California falling to third followed closely by Oklahoma.
Last year alone, Texas installed more NEW wind energy capacity than the total EXISTING installed capacity of all but five states. Oklahoma was second in new wind installations with Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota rounding out the top five.
There are fewer Americans employed in wind energy jobs – 88,000 according to the American Wind Energy Association. But there are more than 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities spread across the country with scores clustered in the very heart of the Upper Midwest where the white working-class rebellion wiped out Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
All this is happening mostly organically with only modest support from the federal government in the form of a renewable energy tax credit combined with the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce carbon and other dangerous pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Just imagine what an ambitious, all-in World War II style mobilization would look like if we were to aggressively invest in a massive national clean energy installation and modernization program.
In fact, such a thought experiment was already performed in a 2011 article from CleanTechnica, a leading clean energy technology news and analysis website. They imagined what it would cost to put solar panels on the roofs of every home in America. Turns out, the $2.2 trillion price tag is only about half what we will have spent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What would we get for this investment? They estimate we would have manufactured and installed 1.7 billion solar panels, saved the average U.S. homeowner $357/year on their electricity bills, and reduced our use of fossil fuel power plants by 11 percent.
But these estimates were assuming a cost of $3.85/watt installed, the average cost for residential solar panels in 2011. The article also estimated a scenario in which installed solar panels would cost $2/watt installed, which is now very feasible based on today’s more efficient panels and given economies-of-scale savings.
At $2/watt installed, the cost of the project would fall to $1.67 trillion, about a third of what we will have spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And these more efficient panels would generate nearly two-thirds of electricity usage in the U.S., producing a total cost savings of $1,986/year in the average American’s home electricity bill.
A similar 2011 study by venture capitalist David Anthony and material scientist Tao Zheng examined this question in more detail, envisioning 100 percent market penetration of rooftop solar by 2030. According to their estimates, this would generate more than 5 million jobs and generate one-third of all electricity used in the U.S.
These are only the direct jobs generated in installing and maintaining rooftop panels. There would be many more jobs created in manufacturing and transporting the panels, making roof repairs/modifications, and all the secondary jobs that would come from this economic activity.
And residential rooftop solar is just one part of one sector of the clean energy economy. There are millions of other jobs waiting to be created in expanding wind energy, deploying utility scale solar, modernizing the electric grid, retrofitting buildings to improve efficiency, and tapping geothermal and other clean energy sources.
The wind energy potential in Wisconsin, for instance, looks even better than in Iowa – especially along the northern tier of the Badger State, where Donald Trump earned 60 to 65 percent of the vote in most counties. Yet Iowa has nearly 10-times more installed wind energy capacity. Northern Michigan looks a lot like Wisconsin both in terms of potential wind energy and its Trump support. And yet Michigan has only a quarter of Iowa’s installed wind energy capacity.
States like West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio don’t have as much wind potential, but there are hotspots in these states, too. And they each have seen some increased installed wind energy capacity in recent years. But not nearly enough. Instead of mountain-top removal to produce coal, imagine mountain-top wind installed throughout Appalachia. These are jobs waiting to be filled. This is economic opportunity waiting to be seized.
And as the cost of renewable electricity drops, the use of electric cars will become more attractive, spurring innovation and economic activity in the auto sector. The expansion battery storage units will help drive down those costs and boost battery manufacturing.
These are jobs ranging from cutting-edge laboratory research to hard-hat installation, from factory-line workers and truckers to scientists and economists. The money we will all save in our monthly electricity bills can be spent on family vacations or new clothes or new furniture. Maybe even a night class to learn a new skill. All creating more economic growth.
To her credit, Hillary Clinton ran on a plan to install a half a billion solar panels across America, about a third of what CleanTechnica estimated would be required to put solar panels on every roof in America. Buried on page 45 of the Democratic Party platform, the DNC called for “forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis,” and promised to lead “a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.” And, even though not a single debate moderator asked about climate or clean energy in any of the debates, both she and her running mate, Tim Kaine, made an effort to inject the issue into their debates.
Many Democrats and even a few Republicans have offered a range of market-based climate solutions over the last two decades. Environmental leaders have touted the economic benefits of a national program to promote clean energy and curb pollution.
But no national political leader has been bold enough to offer a detailed, World War II-style, national clean energy mobilization effort as the centerpiece of a broad-based manufacturing and economic revitalization political agenda. No one has offered a plan to invest trillions of dollars to supercharge and accelerate the transition to clean energy across the country.
The time has come for a big, bold vision to unleash this pent-up potential. With bold leadership and the political willingness to go big, we can get America’s factories humming to harness the wind and solar potential throughout America, from the Upper Peninsula to Appalachia to the Great Plains to the Deep South. There are millions of jobs waiting to be created for young and old, white and black and brown, men and women, Republicans and Democrats.
Oh, and there’s the earth’s climate waiting to be saved.
Sam Parry has worked in the environmental movement for nearly two decades and is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.
Zach, I find your article to be generally nonsensical and I am surprised and disappointed to see it in Consortium News. Solar panels and windmills are inherently a low-density energy source, so even if you weren’t fudging the figures on the economics (California provides stupendous subsidies for “soft” energy. No one would give it a second look otherwise), I would still oppose these primitive technologies. The whole philosophy that is bundled with the advocacy of these technologies is that we ought to lock our living standards into a level slightly below where they presently stand (which is tolerable for the 1%, not the rest of the world), and abandon any efforts to significantly upgrade our economy through, for example, a national infrastructure plan. You are not going to rescue the southwestern states, which are on their way to dying of thirst, with solar panels. We need to be thinking in terms of increasing our energy usage by an order of magnitude, which can only be done with nuclear energy. If you look at the nations which are currently making real progress — and China is at the top of the list — they are going nuclear. They would be idiots not to.
Finally, the only honest way to look at safety issues is per unit of energy produced ( http://www.nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html ). And just one windmill collapsing and killing 17 people in Brazil managed to surpass the casualty count for the entire nuclear industry for the entirely of its history.
it is my understanding that solar panels only have a useful life of ten to twelve years. Is that correct?
I’ve never seen a number that low. 80% effectiveness at the end of 20 years seems to be the most common number.
Thanks for this excellent analysis, Sam! What you’re calling for is absolutely necessary, but it’s unlikely to happen without a critical mass of public support.
We’ve been organizing to build the political will for a WWII-scale climate mobilization for the past two years, and we were lucky enough to get the WWII mobilization language mentioned in this article into the Democratic Party’s platform this year.
Obviously there’s now much more work to be done after this election — we need all hands on deck. If anyone would like to join our efforts, check out our website and get in touch! http://theclimatemobilization.org
So yeah, the Green New Deal. That’s what I voted for, in voting Green Party, right there on everybody else’s ballot too. And now we pitch it to Trump…heluva way to run a railroad, but I hope he buys in. (tell me Coyote Trickster isn’t running the show)
Kinda dissapointing that the author says:
“But no national political leader has been bold enough to offer a detailed, World War II-style, national clean energy mobilization effort as the centerpiece of a broad-based manufacturing and economic revitalization political agenda. No one has offered a plan to invest trillions of dollars to supercharge and accelerate the transition to clean energy across the country.”
When Jill Stein has been pushing exactly this for the last two election cycles, at least. Shame on you, Sam Perry!
Yeah really. On the ballots of 44 states and D.C., a write-in in 3 more states. Can’t hardly get more national than that. Should have had 400 electors behind her at least.
Invest trillions in clean energy? The USA is flat broke now! That investment will have to come from the private sector or Santa Clause!
Slash the Pentagon; slash the spy complex with its 17(?) intel agencies; dismantle the police state. Make the corporations, hedge funds, etc. pay their fair share of taxes. Then we’ll have all the money we need to better the lives of Americans here at home.
Go to Webster G Tarpley’s web site. Go to the top of the page. See a rectangle there with these red words in it: “emergency program stop the Depression”. Read in detail HOW this can be financed. Short answer is there’s no such thing as flat broke, unless we’re flat out of ideas. We use the same Santa Claus that the TBTF banksters used, only we’ll DO SOMETHING USEFUL AND REMUNERATIVE with our pile of credit (NOT a Keynesian project of digging holes and filling them back up), instead of stashing it off-shore and going back to the useless roulette wheel. Also a 1% sales tax on all Wall Street transactions will raise a cool trillion a year. YOU pay more sales tax on a pair of shoes than these bastards pay, on their transactions. That is shameful.
Much of our problem with renewable sources is the much higher price in the US: the same photovoltaic equipment installed costs several times as much in the US as in Germany where labor costs are higher: this appears to be due to the outlandish markup expectations and monopolistic practices of US suppliers and installers. That requires moving from the “professional services” installer model for the upper middle class, to the Home Depot model.
Utilities have greater costs of distribution than generation, which must be deducted from any power sold back to them, requiring special meters. They also have capital costs for peak-load capacity, which are not reduced by local sources that disappear when the wind stops or on cloudy days, and that will drive up unit costs from utilities as demand is limited to those periods. So part of the savings is illusory.
totally off subject….North dakotas governor has declared an emergency evacuation of the Dapl protectors camp///
http://www.keloland.com/news/article/news/north-governor-orders-emergency-evacuation-of-protest-camp…im in south dakota…just popped on news…
An old Republican governor sides with Big Corporations against the Indian owners of the land to cram a dangerous and unneeded (except to increase Big Corporation profits) pipeline down their throats. This pipeline will carry fossil fuel so as to help with the destruction of the earth by means of Global Warming.
Nothing surprising here, move along.
Well done, Zach! Dirty energy is building unneeded infrastructure to delay the stranding of its assets by the inevitable transition to clean energy for as long as possible.
My strong preference is to build a few hundred new nukes. We’ll be done with coal, no need to import energy (we have lots of uranium and it doesn’t cost much anyway, or we could buy it from Canada), air is clean, plants run 24/7 … the electricity is actually there when you need it. Everything you have ever heard from the anti-nukes is simply wrong. We seem to have a rebellion against Science these days (the climate-change deniers are the other side of the coin).
Anyway, the answer is there. We have it now, and if we want there are plenty of ideas to make it much better (that is, cheaper) like molten-salt thorium reactors, liquid-metal fast reactors (the Russian BN800 is now running at full power … we at least have GE’s Prism design, even if it hasn’t been built). These technologies mean that any sort of energy ‘shortage’ is a thing of the past. There is enough energy in the spent fuel and depleted uranium we have lying around to power the country for centuries, using fast reactors. Will take time to build but there is nothing really new to learn there. A little more development will be needed if we want to build some molten-salt reactors, although we had prototypes running in the 1960’s.
Unfortunately that’s not the way it goes in the Real World. A headline this morning said that Japan is hoping to keep the total cost of Fukushima under $160,000,000,000. That’s about as likely as the US F35 money pit turning into a world-class airplane.
Nuclear fuel mining is hazardous to the miners Processing the ore into fuel is another dangerous step. The plants themselves are insanely expensive. Their protection is pitiful – virtually every “fake” assault attempt penetrates to the interior. The owners of these plants are skinflints – they ignore as much as possible the expensive maintenance. The overall dangers from the suckers is such that mandatory government insurance is the only way they get insurance at all. The waste fuel dangers can be likened to the forked tongue of a deadly snake. Nuclear bomb materials can be processed out of the waste. And the unprocessed waste makes splendid “dirty bombs” Imagine a nuclear weapon going off amid the waste storage systems around the plants. Why is the crap stored there? There is no place to haul it to, and the trip – even if such places existed would be incredibly dangerous.
A single clever person in authority at one of these plants could engineer the largest murder-suicide in history.
On top of everything else, the cost per kilowatt is the worst of all energy sources. Oh, I know the shills rely upon cheat cheat analyses which ignore or downplay this or that.
If cheap and safe wind and solar didn’t exist, I’d reluctantly endorse nuclear power myself. After all, all the aforementioned problems might not happen, while fossil fuel burning is slowly destroying the earth. But the cheap and safe alternatives DO exist, and the nuclear plants existing now must be very carefully dismantled and somehow safely stored for a few hundred thousand years.
Let me start by saying that, assuming the same type of nuclear that the US decided to use, that choice being made because the type of nuclear we use produces weapons-grade plutonium, I completely aree with you, Zach.
However, that is not what SteveK9 seems to have been talking about.
He mentions, for instance, molten salt thorium reactors. These are completely different from what you are criticizing. The main input for them is thoroum, which is one of the most abundant elements in the earth’s crust, and it is a byproduct of rare-earth mining (in other words, when the rare earth metals needed for solar panels, wind turbines, and most modern electronic devices are mined, what is now waste from those mines is the main feedstock for such reactors). The thorium could also be mixed with the waste of the nuclear reactors and weapons we have now. The “waste” from these reactors is a helium isotope needed for medical devices and nuclear detection equiptment (and we are running out of helium), along with a non-fissile plutonium isotope that is needed if we are ever to venture into space, as it is dense enough to provide shielding from micrometeors on space ships.
The most well known of these plants is liquid flouride thorium reactors, or LiFTRs. Due to their design, it is literally impossible for them to melt down. They produce no weapons grade materials, and, as I pointed out before, they not only can use already existing nuclear waste for fuel, but the “waste” they do produce is actually very valuable for mon – military purposes.
The technology behind them is well tested, and actually predates the type of reactors in general use today, but the decision was made to go with the more dangerous technology because production of weapons grade plutonium was more important to the US at the time.
Again, Zach, I in no way disagree with what you say when it comes to “conventional” nuclear, but that is not what Steve was talking about.
“The technology behind them is well tested, and actually predates the type of reactors in general use today, but the decision was made to go with the more dangerous technology because production of weapons grade plutonium was more important to the US at the time.”
This is a new and fascinating bit of news for me. If true, why isn’t this talked about more in policy discussions on energy? Seems like it has the sort of selling points that make the obvious choice against nuclear reactors somewhat less obvious. But are we sure that investment in thorium reactors is safe and efficient? Also, is a great deal of water (a scarcer resource) needed?
I’ve read a lot about thorium through the years, and there seems to be quite a lot of fantasies associated with that element. Consider those liquid fluoride reactors. Read this wiki on them and tell me where I missed noticing that a single such critter has ever existed except as an experiment.
As for that “impossible” business, I’ll fall back on the humorous aphorism that it’s impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
In the US police state I don’t dare make a very detailed search about thorium, but I suspect I wouldn’t be a bit happy if some future Timothy McVeigh decided to spread the contents of a thorium reactor all over the neighborhood. Ditto for somebody’s attempt to replicate 9/11 in New York.
I’ve known for a long time that just isn’t the case.
At the present time wind and photvoltaics are the closest thing to a “free lunch” available. If some slope-headed guy with explosives attacked a 5 megawatt wind tower, the worst that would happen would be a smoking pile of rubble.
India is the pioneer in Thorium reactors, as they sit on the biggest pile of thorium in the World (kind of like us with coal), so this technology won’t be lost, and the BRICS (the Eurasian quarter of the World) nations fully intend on using nuclear energy. With billion-plus populations they can’t afford to eff around with 2nd-or-3rd-rate systems. China also has a very ambitious space program: going to the moon to mine H-3 isotope (no pesky neutron to worry about, so it can be magnetically contained) to bring back to Earth for use as fuel in an as-yet-to-be-invented thermo-nuclear Fusion powerplant (end-game in energy production). Now THIS is forward-thinking at its’ best. The weak link is the human factor: must build UP to the highest standard, NOT DOWN to the lowest bidder, which means ending the monetarist games of The-City-of-London and Wall Street. Given our sorry-ass MSM, it’s no surprise that folks haven’t heard any of this.
How timely for me to read this article. My wife and I were at Home Depot earlier today, and we made an appointment with a company who was there named Solar City. This company is sending a representative out to our house to give us a quote. I always said, when Sears or Home Depot starts getting into the energy game, then and only then will putting up solar panels, and other renewable devices, become a popular thing to do.
Also, around ten years ago our family owned business purchased tooling from a company, who was going off shore to get their products manufactured in China. We weren’t as interested in the popular retail items this company made, as we were interested in the industrial products the bigger company loss interest in. We can make money on the lower volume items much better than the bigger corporate company could. Our company now manufacturers and assembles product once offered by the bigger manufacturer who left America. The irony is some of our industrial product is being exported to China to use in their plants in a big way. We sell only to resales accounts, which allows us to operate with a very small sales force, since the big outfits we sell to do most of the selling with their own sales agents. Every component that goes into our product is made by various companies scattered throughout the U.S.. So, no matter how small our company’s employee base is, we are employing hundreds across America to provide the quality industrial products we provide. Actually by continuing to manufacturer our products here, we maybe employing thousands when I think about it. So we keep Americans working, and add to the list of American products offered for export.
For reasons of confidentiality I don’t think this is the place to mention what kind of product we manufacturer. I hope you understand, because I’m not here to sell anything for you to buy. Although, I am hoping that what I wrote here gives you some entrepreneurial inspiration to pursue something like what we did, and for you to do well with it. Just thought I would mention this.
Oh, and there’s the earth’s climate waiting to be saved.
And another “Oh.” There’s a loose cannon moving into the Oval Office next January.
We need many more articles like this one – and in many more places.
It’s my understanding that electricity transmission in the US has been neglected for decades. The system is old, undersized, and highly vulnerable to mischief of all kinds. If the nation becomes highly interlinked a power shortages in X can be instantly filled by a surplus in Y.
Storage of excess electricity is a no brainer too. Fortunately recent progress in batteries will help with this. Manufacture of synthetic gasoline and other carbon fuels will – in my opinion – be both useful and necessary. Likewise, development of a substantial generation overcapacity will allow us to begin reversing the trend of ever-increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. This will be a tedious and expensive process, but necessary in the long term if we want to get the Earth back into a situation even remotely resembling how it was in the past.
Conclusion – Sam Parry is right. There will be many, many new jobs created. I’d give the unemployed coal miners a slight advantage when it comes to hiring at the new jobs. Sort of like ex-military people get in some government jobs.
If we can get the Earth back into kilter, then we can turn our attention to nuclear war and killer asteroids from space. If the only planet we can live on continues to go to hell, nothing else matters at all.
Zachary, everything you wrote is spot on. I would just like to mention that until we do get reliable alternative energy vehicles we would do well to put on the road these experimental cars where they get as high as 350 miles per gallon. With some google searching you can read about these cars such as Opel engine modifications which have had stunning results. I also know of a company which can retrofit a fuel miser to trucks and buses which may save as much as 50% of the vehicles fuel. The problem is this is still only an aftermarket product. If this product were to be offered on OEM trucks and buses, this would be fantastic. Fleets don’t want to invest in the labor to add an item like this to their vehicles, but if this were available from out of the showroom it would boost all truck and bus sales tremendously. So until better products come on line we could be do more with what we have, that is if our corporate overlords will permit it.
The US Supercar project is now so obscure I had to make a search to recover it. From what I remember of the time, this was the very first thing Bush the Dumber did after he was sworn into office. Destroying 80 mpg cars had that kind of priority!
Unless my memory errs, that program had another longer-range goal of building an every-day usable car which would get 105 miles per gallon.
Automobiles are a mature technology, and on moderately level roads twice or three times the current gasoline mileage was possible. It’s mostly a dead end now, for if the world survives as a place where billions can live we’ll have to use airplanes and rail travel for long distances with wheeled vehicles restricted to strictly short ranges.
“Neglected…for decades”. Neglected implies negligence, and the proof would be diminished reliability. This can and does result in fines and penalties for the deficient system. Regular maintenance and inspection schedules are mandatory, documented, and audited. Parts of the system are old, but upgrades are made as technologies improve, and parts fail. Consider, the Grid is arguably the largest, most essential, interconnected, and variously complex machine ever devised by man. The industry, as a whole, has always invested deeply in staying ahead of the growth curve, in safety, reliable load serving and shifting EPA regulatory compliance, and it all hinges upon due diligence in all aspects of operations, equipment and it’s maintenance. The Interconnection allows transfer of power, but it’s critical to remember, it’s ultimately bound by the laws of physics. Despite load growth, and increased regulations, the industry evolved and adapted, without interruption, the Grid remaining stable and affordable, (for now).