Clean energy is a winner for Americans and their economy

Posted Friday, 21 February 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Some would have us believe that economic growth and tackling climate change are mutually exclusive national goals. They’re wrong — they’re deliberately trying to deceive the American public, and they know it. The massive, well-funded and increasingly untenable efforts by the fossil fuel industry and its friends to deny the science of climate change is common knowledge. What isn’t as widely appreciated is the equally aggressive effort to deny the economics of a clean energy transition. We can see this disinformation campaign at work from social media ads to Sunday morning talk shows. Even with the facts against them, too many Republicans keep repeating patently untrue claims about energy prices and competitiveness. To a significant extent, the media buys into this, for example, by reporting on polls asking how willing people are to pay more for their energy. If Democratic candidates want to win, they must expose this false dichotomy. They must make it clear to the American public that addressing the climate crisis and transitioning to a clean energy economy will not only result in cheaper, cleaner and more reliable energy, but it will also benefit the economy, create millions of new jobs, protect public health and make the U.S. more competitive in the global market. And a just and equitable transition will leave no one behind. It is time for candidates to show Americans that this prosperous future for all is attainable — and the proof is everywhere. For starters, clean electricity from wind and utility-scale solar is already much cheaper than energy produced by new coal plants in the U.S., even without subsidies. In many places in the U.S., it is already cheaper to build new renewable energy generation plants than new natural gas plants. And these costs will only continue to drop. Further, replacing existing coal and gas plants with wind and solar will actually lower electricity bills in an increasingly large part of the country. A recent study found that new wind or solar facilities could replace 74% of the existing U.S. coal plants at an immediate savings to customers. A 2019 study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that within 10 years, continuing cost declines will make wind and solar with batteries competitive with the operating costs of existing combined cycle natural gas plants in the U.S. Thus, between 2025 and 2035, building new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems will become less expensive than simply continuing to operate the vast majority of coal and natural gas plants. Electric car prices are also plummeting. The price of clean electric cars in the U.S. is expected to be fully cost competitive with gas-powered cars by around 2025. Once that happens, electric cars will be in a position to replace the sale of gas-powered cars very rapidly, probably much faster than most forecasts. Consumers will see the benefits: Electric cars are much cheaper to operate and maintain than traditional gas cars. Plus, for people who enjoy driving, they have faster acceleration and are just more fun to drive. It’s true that like most life-changing modernizations, energy transition will have significant initial system costs, such as building smart electricity grids and electric car-charging infrastructure. But rather than dragging the U.S. economy down, such investments will energize it and drive economic growth with a payoff in avoided health costs, energy subsidies and climate damages many times higher than the cost. Well-spent infrastructure funds boost productivity and reduce costs. Analysts project that these investments will not only earn productive returns and finance critically needed infrastructure, but also drive economic activity for decades while creating millions of jobs. The bottom line is this: We already have the tools and technology to make a just transition to clean energy that creates jobs, jumpstarts the U.S. economy and helps solve the climate crisis. We can expect that continued innovation and new technologies will only accelerate this shift and bring costs down further. This is the case Democratic candidates need to make to voters. While President Donald Trump and others bet on dying fossil fuels, irrepressible market forces are in the process of making clean energy a trillion-dollar sector. The contrast, and the danger — not just to a planet careening towards catastrophe, but to U.S. competitiveness and economic leadership — couldn’t be clearer. Simple, clear and grounded in everyday life. It’s a vision all Americans can get behind — and a message on which a Democratic candidate can win. Ken Berlin is CEO of the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

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