US renewable energy booms despite Trump policy moves

Renewable energy continues to grow in the US, despite US President Donald Trump’s moves to dismantle clean power, deregulate industry and promote fossil fuels like coal, experts say.

Five months after Trump declared that the US would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, the Republican leader continues to unravel the environmental legacy of his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama.

A signature piece of Trump’s strategy has been to roll back regulations, including the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut US emissions from power plants for the first time.

“They are trying to put their fingers on the scale in favor of coal and other polluting fossil fuels and trying to do things to slow down the penetration of clean, renewable energy technologies, so that is the landscape,” Union of Concerned Scientists director of strategy Alden Meyer said.

However, many state and city governments have pressed on with their fight against climate change, and the job force of those working in renewable energies continues to expand nationwide.

“The trend is very clear,” Meyer said. “To fight Trump, the investment and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency have continued growing.”

Employment in the solar industry grew 24.5 percent last year compared with the previous year, reaching a workforce of nearly 374,000 people, a US Department of Energy report showed.

Traditional fossil fuels employed just 187,000 people, it said.

Employment in US wind energy rose 32 percent to nearly 102,000 people.

“The renewable energy industry is already working here,” said Frank Maisano, senior principal at Bracewell LLP, a law and government relations firm serving the energy industry. “Jobs are growing dramatically in both wind and solar.”

Solar and wind energy combined now produce 10 percent of the total electricity in the US, the Department of Energy report said.

In March, eight percent of the nation’s electricity came from wind and two percent from solar.

In states such as California, renewables made up an even larger proportion of electricity production.

Climate science expert Michael Mann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said it is possible that the US will reach its commitment to cut emissions under the Paris accord regardless of what Trump says or does.

“There is enough progress now at the local and state level, commitment from major companies, movement toward renewable energy etc. that most pundits now think we’ll reach our Paris targets with or without Trump’s explicit complicity,” Mann said in an e-mail.

Elliot Diringer, an expert at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a non-governmental organization in Washington, agreed.

“We recently looked at the different analyses and it looks to us like even with the situation at the moment our emissions in 2025 are likely to be 14 to 18 percent below 2005,” Diringer said.

Obama’s goal had been to get to a 26 to 28 percent cut, he said. “We can achieve that reduction without the federal policies.”

A movement called “We Are Still” In was launched in June, shortly after the announcement that the US would pull out of the 190-nation Paris deal.

Organized by billionaire New Yorker and former mayor Michael Bloomberg, it includes about 1,800 businesses and investors, 252 cities and nine states including California — the largest in the US — and New York.

“I think the ‘We Are Still In’ initiative is so important because it shows there is another side of America, it’s not Trump and you don’t even have to wait three or four years to engage with the real America that remains committed to Paris, that is a very important signal,” Meyer said.

Numerous movement participants are expected to attend the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn tomorrow and might be even more visible than members of the US delegation, experts say.

“People in the US business community know that climate change is a serious issue and that international engagements are important,” Maisano said. “And I know that there are people in the Trump administration that think that as well.”