Trump’s budget sabotages America’s best chance to add millions of high-wage jobs

Trump guts clean energy funding as Beijing plans to invest $360 billion by 2020, creating 13 million jobs.

Renewable energy jobs in select countries (excluding large hydropower). CREDIT: IRENA
Renewable energy jobs in select countries (excluding large hydropower). CREDIT: IRENA

President Trump’s budget slashes investment in clean energy — the biggest new source of sustainable high-wage employment in the world.

In contrast, China’s latest five-year energy budget invests $360 billion in renewable generation alone by 2020. Beijing calculates the resulting “employment will be more than 13 million people.”

Trump’s self-proclaimed “America First” budget released Thursday zeroes out key Department of Energy (DOE) clean-tech programs:

  • the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which invests in innovative clean technology
  • a program to improve manufacturing for clean cars, and
  • the loan guarantee program, which jump-started large-scale U.S. solar deployment, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, and companies like Tesla.

This should surprise no one. Trump campaigned on zeroing out clean energy funding.

The budget offers this rationale: “The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

Nonsense. The United States is notorious for inventing whole industries other countries end up dominating — because our private sector under-finances advanced development and commercialization.

That’s a key reason America steadily lost manufacturing jobs while other countries make so many devices we invented. I’m looking at you iPhone, flatscreen TVs, and most consumer electronics….

Similarly, we invented the modern solar cell, but Chinese companies now make some 70 percent of them. We pioneered wind power and had the first megawatt wind turbine — but China now has five of the top ten turbine makers. The only U.S. company in the top 10 is GE.

The Trump administration would slash the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — the dominant U.S. backer of cleantech for decades — in favor of “limited, early-stage applied energy” R&D. That office (which I helped oversee in the mid-1990s) is a key reason for the game-changing cost reductions described in the 2016 DOE report “Revolution…Now: The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies.”

CREDIT: Department of Energy
CREDIT: Department of Energy

These rapid price drops are a key reason clean energy has become a juggernaut — and one way we know tens of millions of new jobs in clean energy are up for grabs, something no other emerging sector can match.

Another reason: The rest of the world has redoubled its pledge to ramp up clean energy and ratchet down carbon pollution, as required by the Paris climate deal. That requires a “tenfold jump” in cleantech investment — perhaps $90 trillion in the coming decades.

No wonder China decided to lead in both building and deploying solar and wind power. And no wonder they have made an equally large bet on batteries and EVs, blowing past us in total sales back in 2015.

The renewable ramp-up has become irreversible, as two GE execs explained in a recent article, “Unstoppable: Why The Next Decade Belongs To Renewable Energy.” They note that “In 2016, wind and solar beat investment in fossil fuels by 2-to-1.” And they list these under-reported achievements:

In 2016, Portugal powered the country with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days, clean power supplied Germany’s power demand for a full day, and Denmark could produce enough wind power to meet its domestic electricity demand and have enough to export power to Norway, Germany and Sweden. The U.K. generated more electricity by wind than coal — the first-time wind has outperformed coal for an entire year.

The revolution can’t be stopped — globally. The price drops are linked to the sales increases, so they will continue no matter what the United States does, simply because of the big bets by other countries. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected in 2016 that the world will invest an astonishing $3.4 trillion in solar alone by 2040 — more than the investment for all new fossil fuels and nuclear combined.

CREDIT: BNEF
CREDIT: BNEF

Unlike our trading competitors, we don’t put a price on CO2 or have a serious gasoline tax. That’s what makes government investment — as well as state and federal standards — so important.

Yet just when we need that investment the most, Trump is planning to gut it. At the same time, he is trying to gut federal rules like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. He’s also begun the process of rolling back fuel economy standards needed to sustain U.S. momentum in clean cars against the Chinese and European onslaught.

Meanwhile, Trump’s allies in the fossil fuel industry are fighting the state-level EV incentives — as well as the renewable electricity standards that helped sustain growth in domestic cleantech industries.

China already has over 40 percent of all jobs in renewables globally, while the United States has under 10 percent (see top chart). Trump’s actions will insure that China remains first in this vital job-creating sector.