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Trump’s attempt to diss solar energy revealed he knows nothing about it

Trump hypocritically says his four bankruptcies mean nothing, but one solar power bankruptcy means everything.

CREDIT: AP/Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP/Evan Vucci

What did we learn from Monday night’s presidential debate? Hillary Clinton supports climate action and clean energy, while Donald Trump does not.

Trump added to his tome of disqualifying statements with some uniquely uninformed and hypocritical comments on solar energy. For her part, Clinton didn’t even wait for a question from moderator Lester Holt to bring up climate change and tout her plan to expand clean energy jobs:

Contrary to Trump’s assertion here, he has repeatedly called climate change a hoax (as we and many others pointed out).

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But his disdain for and ignorance about solar energy also merits attention. “She talks about solar panels,” Trump said Monday night. “We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one.” He then goes on to claim “I’m a great believer in all forms of energy, but we’re putting a lot of people out of work.”

While Trump claims he will be “the greatest jobs president” this clip makes clear the GOP nominee doesn’t know where energy jobs come from. In fact, he apparently has no idea that jobs in solar energy alone are growing much, much faster than jobs in the dirty (and increasingly uncompetitive) fossil fuel sector are being lost.

Since 2012, coal, oil and gas extraction jobs have dropped some 30,000 in total, while solar energy jobs alone have soared by 90,000 (via Bloomberg)
Since 2012, coal, oil and gas extraction jobs have dropped some 30,000 in total, while solar energy jobs alone have soared by 90,000 (via Bloomberg)

As the chart shows, we’re actually creating jobs in the energy sector. In solar alone the U.S. has created some 90,000 jobs since 2012, according to Bloomberg. And that doesn’t even count jobs created in other clean energy sectors like wind and energy efficiency.

Yes, oil and gas jobs were down slightly since 2012, and coal mining is down 25,000 jobs. But the coal losses are part of a multi-decade trend that dates back to the Reagan administration, as Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out:

The next president cannot reverse that trend (as I discussed at length here). The next president can propose policies to help coal communities while seizing the opportunity presented by the major job creating sectors of this century. Only one candidate has a policy to do both of those things.

Trump hypocrisy alert

Trump’s comment about the solar company we lost money on — Solyndra — is one of the most uninformed and hypocritical things he said all night.

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First, as Fortune magazine pointed out, “that Solyndra is still being brought up as an example of a failed energy policy is surprising.” After all “Solyndra died five years ago but the U.S. solar industry has boomed.”

ANNUAL U.S. SOLAR PV INSTALLATIONS in Megawatts (2000–2015)
ANNUAL U.S. SOLAR PV INSTALLATIONS in Megawatts (2000–2015)

And U.S. solar sales this year are projected to be nearly double 2015 sales. So U.S. solar energy policy has been a wild success, especially since the cost of solar has come down 80 percent just since 2008.

The DOE loan program that lost money on Solyndra’s bankruptcy “has created thousands of jobs,” Fortune explains. “U.S. tax payers have actually made a profit on the program because the vast majority of the other loans went to successful projects and companies.”

So the big picture is that we have a successful government program that has helped spawn an incredibly successful U.S. industry. But Trump dismisses all that success because of one bankruptcy years ago.

Hmm. Trump himself has had multiple bankruptcies in the past. But whenever that’s brought up, as it was Monday night, he excuses his actions (“on occasion, four times, we used certain laws that are there”) and immediately jumps to the bigger picture: “I built an unbelievable company.”

This suggests that either the U.S. effort to help the solar industry was an unbelievable success or Trump himself is a big failure. In fairness, it’s possible both of those things are true.