Friday, April 07, 2017

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Thirteen: Renewable Energy

"A lot of coal miners are going back to work." - Donald Trump, March 28, 2017

"Kentucky Coal Museum Goes Solar"  -, April 7, 2016

How can the President claim that more Americans are going to be mining coal, if even the Kentucky Coal Museum is switching to renewable energy? The answer is simple: Donald Trump is, as usual, not telling the truth.

The Trump administration believes that switching from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy is a hoax, just as they believe that the climate change caused by fossil fuels is itself a hoax. A number of the myths regarding renewable energy were summarized last month by Trump Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke last week in an interview with Fox News. From Kiley Kroh of Think Progress:

"In a statement lauding the president’s order to reverse the halt on new coal leases on federal land, Zinke said, "We can’t power the country on pixie dust and hope."

"Zinke praised President Donald Trump’s sweeping order to roll back Obama-era policies designed to mitigate and prepare for climate change and defended his agency’s move to lift the temporary halt on new coal leases on federal lands — a reversal that will come at a significant cost to taxpayers — by claiming "there’s no such thing as clean energy.""

"I understand you are today rescinding a ban on coal leasing on federal lands… are you hurting the environment to help jobs?" the host asked.

"We’re not hurting the environment," Zinke replied. "If you look at — is there such thing as clean coal? Well there’s no such thing as clean energy — even wind comes at a cost if you want to talk about migratory birds and cutting through."

There's a lot to untangle here, so let's get to it.

Part Thirteen: Renewable Energy

Using coal as energy does not hurt the environment.
Fact: It would be difficult to overstate the negative impact to the environment and to human health of the mining and burning of coal. A partial list of the consequences includes:
* Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of America’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making coal a huge contributor to global warming.
* Air pollution from coal-fired power plants includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM), and heavy metals, leading to smog, acid rain, toxins in the environment, and numerous respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular effects.
* Waste products from coal mines contaminate rivers and streams.

Myth: Clean coal technology eliminates the environmental and health concerns associated with mining and burning coal.
Fact: "Clean coal" simply does not exist. From Phil Plait of

"Coal has a lot of other things in it besides carbon, including mercury, sulfur, and more. These pollutants get into the air and cause a lot of problems, including thousands of premature deaths every year. Scrubbing these toxins out of the coal is costly and very difficult, though new power plants do a better job at this than old ones.
But the elephant in the room is that carbon... Because this is heating the Earth up and changing the climate, it’s important to figure out a way to capture the carbon and somehow store it to prevent it from getting into the air. This is called "carbon capture and sequestration," or CCS.

The problem? The technology to do this doesn’t exist. Not in any real sense of the word, that is. There have been some pilot projects done, but they’ve managed only to scratch the surface in the vast amount of CO2 released."

Myth: Trump will bring back jobs to the coal industry through his executive orders resuming the sale of coal from federal land, lifting carbon dioxide limits on power plants, lifting restrictions on coal companies dumping mining waste in streams, and ending Obama-era mandates that agencies consider global warming in a broad range of decisions.
Fact: From Brad Plumer of

"The reasons for coal’s long-term job losses are complex, but analysts typically point to three big factors: 1) mining has become increasingly automated, meaning fewer jobs per ton of coal produced; 2) a glut of cheap natural gas from fracking has cut into coal’s market share, leading to a sharp drop in US coal production since 2008; 3) various Obama-era environmental rules have made it more costly to operate coal plants, which has pushed many utilities to switch to natural gas or renewables.

Trump has promised to attack No. 3 and repeal some Obama-era environmental rules. But he has nothing to say about Nos. 1 and 2. (On the contrary, he’s promised to expand US fracking, which would further hurt coal.) So anyone hoping Trump is "going to bring those miners back," as he’s pledged, and restore the coal industry to its glory days is in for disappointment."

 Myth: Renewable energy sources lack the capacity and affordability needed to replace fossil fuels.
Fact: Secretary of the Interior Zinke dismisses renewables as, "pixie dust and hope." Trump has said of windmills, "I don’t think they work at all without subsidy," which is an interesting remark considering that the fossil fuel industry was subsidized by more than half a trillion dollars between 1950 and 2010 in 2010 dollars.

Renewable energy already has the capacity to replace fossil fuels in the production of electricity. Germany already receives virtually of its power from wind and solar. In California, power from renewable sources has reached 56% of demand.

To give you an idea of where the renewable energy industry currently stands in America, from the Think Progress article linked above:

"Clean energy... continues to be a rapidly growing sector, with wind and solar jobs growing 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy. Nearly every state has more jobs in clean energy than fossil fuels, according to a recent analysis by the Sierra Club, with clean energy jobs outnumbering fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1 and outnumbering coal and gas jobs specifically by a magnitude of 5 to 1."

To put it another way, Trump is obsessed with revitalizing an industry that employees fewer people than Arby's. The Washington Post notes that the coal industry employees only 76,000 employees, and that includes not only miners but administrative staff.

As for the cost of renewables versus fossil fuels, let's return to the fact that even the Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar power to save money. From Tom Randall of

"While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels."

"Government subsidies have helped wind and solar get a foothold in global power markets, but economies of scale are the true driver of falling prices: The cost of solar power has fallen to 1/150th of its level in the 1970s, while the total amount of installed solar has soared 115,000-fold."

"Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over. Even wind power, which was already established, doubled four times over the same period. For the first time, the two forms of renewable energy are beginning to compete head-to-head on price and annual investment."

Myth: America can create coal jobs by increasing exports of low-sulphur coal to China.
Fact: First of all, even if this were true, it would benefit the mining industry in Wyoming, not in West Virginia, where Trump is promising to create mining jobs. But it isn't true any way. Rob Godby of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy notes, "China and its neighbors have a lot of coal available in the region, and getting Wyoming coal over there, given the low margins of potential profit, is way too cost-prohibitive. Plus, Washington and Oregon have made it clear they don't want to be pass-throughs for coal."

Myth: Wind turbines devastate bird populations.
Fact: Let's get back to the other half of that Zinke quote. It's really wind power we should be afraid of, because coal is clean, while wind turbines are killing all the birds, right? Trump has also suggested, "The windmills kill birds," as one of the reasons whey we don't want wind power. From "Wind turbines kill fewer birds than do cats, buildings or the fossil fuel industry. Current mean estimates of wind turbine deaths vary widely and one reputable source says that US turbines kill 20,000 to 573,000 birds yearly, compared with the oil industry’s 500,000 to one million, and cats’ 1.3–4.0 billion."
Myth:Variability dooms renewable energy; when we have too many calm, cloudy days wind and solar power will not be adequate.
Fact: Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal notes that renewable power systems are overcoming these concerns:

"System operators have gotten better at using forecasting and integrating wind power. Investment in new transmission lines has also picked up pace, enabling wind farms in isolated locations to offer power more readily to a wider area.

That is the key to overcoming the natural variability of renewables such as wind and solar power. Individual wind farms may be very volatile. But scores of wind farms over thousands of square miles show less volatility—the wind is always blowing somewhere. As grid operators have added more wind in more locations to their systems, as well as the lines to carry that wind, integrating wind power into the electricity system has become easier."

Myth: Donald Trump doesn't care for windmills, because, "We don’t make the windmills in the United States."
Fact: "Few wind turbines are shipped globally because they are so bulky. More than than 21,000 US factory workers make a majority of US wind farm content domestically."  -
Myth: Windmills are, "made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere."  - Donald Trump
Fact"Steel is not emitted into the atmosphere during component manufacture or by wind projects. There are the usual emissions associated with any heavy manufacturing process, but making wind turbine components is not especially dirty. Trump's apparent concern for emissions from wind turbine manufacture is impossible to reconcile with his enthusiasm for the coal industry and his disdain for climate change science." -

I'll close with some thoughts from Paul Krugman, from a New York Times article entitled Coal Country is a State of Mind:

"Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?"

"Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.

So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep."