Paul Brandus: Red states love renewable energy, so why does Trump bash it?

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Texas produces more wind energy than any other states. Here’s a wind farm in Taft, Texas.

Last year, the Kentucky Coal Museum in Benham, Ky., did a curious thing: it installed solar panels on its roof and now the museum, a shrine to the glories of coal, gets its power from the sun. The museum’s owner said the panels would cut the museum’s electric bill by at least a third.

Coal may have been king once upon a time. But all across coal country — in states like Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming — there’s a growing realization that the future lies elsewhere. As recently as 2000, for example, half of America’s electricity was generated by coal. Now, about a third is.

The market has clearly shifted. “Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, tells Bloomberg News. “Beaten on cost by wind and [photovoltaics] for bulk electricity generation, and by batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables.”

And yet President Donald Trump, who has made six visits to West Virginia since the 2016 campaign, thinks coal has a big future and can make a comeback.

But even coal CEOs see the writing on the wall. The CEO of Murray Energy, the biggest privately held coal mining firm in the United States, told Trump during a White House meeting last year that coal jobs simply aren’t coming back. “Those are my exact words, he can’t bring them back,” Robert Murray said.

So far, about 2,400 have come back since Trump took over, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, bringing the total number of coal-mining jobs in the U.S. to 53,000. The total coal mining industry employs about 160,000.

But here’s some context: The U.S. wind and solar industries together employ about 475,000 Americans — three times as many. On top of this, the Labor Department forecasts that of the 20 industries that will show the most jobs growth by 2026, the top two are in renewable energy. Jobs for solar-panel installers will double, growing 105%, while employment for wind-turbine technicians will nearly double, growing 96%.

Even in coal country, wind and solar companies are sprouting up. “Mine the Sun,” says the website of one West Virginia solar company.

Yet Trump, doubling down on coal, ignores — or worse — bashes these fast-growing, lucrative industries. As a candidate, making three falsehoods in one sentence, he said, “Solar is very, very expensive. Wind is very, very expensive, and it only works when it’s windy.”

The fact that a coal museum switched to solar power to slash its electric bill is just one of many reasons why Trump’s comments are, to use one of his favorite phrases, “Fake News.”

It’s hardly a secret that he say things that are flat-out false. But what’s really baffling here is: Why bash wind and solar? They provide tons of well-paying jobs. Their industries are growing rapidly. Their work forces are comprised of tons of blue-collar workers — a big part of Trump’s base. In terms of jobs, for instance, four of the five biggest wind-power states—Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas—gave him 57 electoral votes two years ago.

And yet the president bashes wind energy every chance he gets. “The wind kills all your birds,” he scoffs. Why? And by the way, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more birds die each year from cats and from flying into buildings (like the kind of skyscrapers Trump has built) than from wind turbines.

An administration spokesperson declined to comment on any of this, referring me to the energy and environment section on the White House’s website. I found several mentions of coal, but nothing on wind power and the only mentions of solar I could find concerned tariffs that the administration slapped on imports of Chinese solar products earlier this year.

Doesn’t any of this bug the industry? While calling Trump’s tariffs “unhelpful and unnecessary,” a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, Dan Whitten, emphasized long-term market trends—notably the sharp declines in solar prices over the last five years—that have driven both installation of solar capacity and jobs in recent years.

Even so, the SEIA estimates that Trump’s tariffs could eliminate 23,000 jobs this year alone.

Meantime, representatives for the wind industry are baffled by Trump’s criticism and think it’s bad politics.

“Republican-represented congressional districts host 85% of total installed wind capacity,” notes Amy Farrell of the American Wind Energy Association. “Workers and families in states like Texas, Iowa, and North Dakota where wind power is the strongest recognize the jobs and economic benefits that wind brings to their hometowns.” She adds: “We’d expect the president’s rhetoric to change as he hits the campaign trail and hears more from the workers who elected him.”

Paul Brandus is the White House bureau chief for West Wing Reports. You can follow him on Twitter WestWingReport.

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