New Data Delivers Reality Check to Clean Energy Skeptics

Clean Energy Skeptics
Photo: Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images

Clean Energy Snowballs to Success

Although Donald Trump promised to roll back clean energy policies once he enters the White House, there’s new evidence that says the economics of clean energy are beyond his grasp.

Put simply, it shows that the price of coal started to rise at the same time that clean energy alternatives like natural gas and solar started to drop. U.S. power plants are set to emit 1.76 billion metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, but that’s 27% less than in 2005.

The new data has little to do with President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, although that bill was a positive step in the search for clean energy. It is far more a testament to the power of markets, which redistributed capital towards clean energy causes.

Utilities saw that clean energy was becoming more affordable, so they started switching to environmentally friendly options much quicker than expected. The transition was so rapid that the U.S. has already reached the 2024 target for carbon emissions.

Better still, the targets for reducing coal by 2030 were also checked off the list. (Source: “Environmentalists get a dose of good news,” Politico, November 18, 2016.)

What this data shows us is that government policy can set the wheels in motion, but free markets catapult adoption rates in unexpected ways.

At this point, even withdrawing from the Paris climate accord wouldn’t do much good. Solar energy is getting cheaper by the kilowatt, while coal prices are on an upward track. They are headed in opposite directions and no one person can undo that trend.

So Trump’s promises to end the “war on coal” may turn out to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric, albeit rhetoric that he actually believes. He famously tweeted that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese in order to weaken American manufacturing.

Those comments are backed up by the energy policies advertised on his new web site, many of which lean heavily towards fossil fuels. However, the new data suggests that no amount of policy can stop clean energy prices from plunging.

And if clean energy alternatives keep getting cheaper, utilities will continue to find them more and more attractive.