A longer version of this post was published in Forbes.
President-elect Donald Trump sought to score points last week when he and running mate Mike Pence announced they had cobbled together enough taxpayer cash to save 800 Carrier jobs from moving to Mexico.
But his move surprised some who recalled that just two years ago, Gov. Pence allowed Indiana to become the first state to abandon its energy efficiency standards – a move that Carrier and other companies warned would threaten nearly 1,500 jobs and $500 million a year in local economic investment.
Evidently, losing 1,500 jobs wasn’t something the Indiana governor worried much about. Yet, two years and a presidential election later, spending $7 million to save 800 jobs on the backs of taxpayers is held up as proof that Trump is making good on his promise to reinvigorate the American economy.
Politics is theatre, but what worries me about the Carrier announcement is that it underscores how our incoming president and vice president fail to grasp the true economic potential of clean, modern energy.
A $200-billion market – and growing
America’s clean energy industry – everything from wind turbines and solar panels, to home energy storage and energy efficiency – is booming. In 2015, the market was worth $200 billion after growing 29 percent over the past five years.
That’s bigger than the United States airline industry and the pharmaceutical business. Importantly, this growth is creating millions of homegrown quality jobs. If Trump wants to be the jobs president he promised he would be, someone needs to brief him on the facts.
Need a job? Think solar and wind.
There are more American jobs in solar energy today than in coal mining and oil and gas extraction. And the number of solar jobs in the U.S. has grown more than 20 percent in each of the last three years.
Wind energy is also a huge employer of Americans – especially in low-income and rural communities. U.S. wind power supported a record 88,000 jobs at the start of 2016, and 70 percent of wind farms are located in low-income counties, supplying them with an economic boost.
And despite Trump’s false claims that “we don’t make windmills in the United States,” more than 60 percent of a modern wind farm’s value is made in America by an industry that now employs 21,000 factory workers. Even veterans are benefiting from this boom, as wind jobs use many of the transferrable skills veterans have.
These jobs can’t be outsourced
And let’s not forget about energy efficiency, an industry that spans construction, manufacturing, and design. Today, 1.9 million Americans are employed, in whole or in part, by the energy efficiency products and services industry – and almost 1.2 million of these jobs are in construction.
These are well-paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. In other words, they’re exactly the kind of jobs that Americans voted for this November. And they’re jobs perfectly suited for manufacturing workers that are pinched by today’s economy.
If you add jobs that improve the efficiency of traditional industries – for example, the engineers that are reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry or improving the fuel efficiency of automobiles – the impact of “clean energy” on our economy is even larger.
An opportunity Trump can’t afford to miss
Clean energy is bipartisan, and there is now more wind and solar energy in Republican districts than in Democratic districts. It may explain why 75 percent of Trump voters support taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy.
My home state, Texas, produces more wind power than most countries. Reliable, modern, clean, and local job creation transcends political divides.
It’s a great opportunity for a president who wants to strengthen the economy and must heal some deep political wounds.
If Trump grabs hold of the clean energy potential right in front of him it won’t be good just for his legacy – but also for our economy, climate and future.