Renewables gain market share & create jobs as oil & coal struggle

Intro

Renewable energy appears unstoppable, with two US states introducing 100 percent renewable energy legislation, the solar industry reporting strong job growth and record solar power installations, and batteries attracting big investors.  This as the oil companies like ExxonMobil cut big fossil fuel reserves – especially oil sands – from their books, and coal plants continue shutting down. This is the world new EPA head Scott Pruitt has stepped into this week, amid a storm around emails showing his ongoing collusion with the fossil fuel industry to undermine environmental regulations. He is rumoured to be working on a new set of orders to kill the Clean Power Plan and dismantle water protection laws, but cutting the US out of the Paris Agreement may have been stopped by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

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Key Points

  • Around the world, countries and regions are jumping into renewable energy as attempts to stop it flounder. In the US, the state leading in wind power is oil-and-gas-rich Texas, the leader of the California state senate has presented a bill to go 100 percent renewable, in Massachusetts a similar new bill is set to make the state fossil fuel free, meanwhile in North Dakota a bill for a two-year wind energy moratorium has been defeated. The US solar market smashed records in 2016, adding more than 14 gigawatts of solar capacity, a 95 percent increase on 2015, and industry groups report that renewable energy supported more than three million jobs last year. In Australia the chief scientific body CSIRO has said there are no technical barriers to the country achieving 100 percent renewable energy, as a new report states that solar is now cheaper than fossil fuels in most cities. In Germany the renewable energy boom is making life miserable for fossil fuel producers.
  • The fossil fuel industry isn’t doing so well: in an historic move, Exxon has wiped 3.3 billion barrels of oil reserves from its books, including a $16 billion investment in oil sands – the largest cut since Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999. Conoco Phillips also removed 1.15 billion barrels of oil sands crude from its books as part of a 21 percent cut pushing the company’s reserves to a 15-year low. Meanwhile, US coal giant, the Southern Company, says its $7.1 billion Kemper CCS project to run a “clean coal” power plant is near completion, but an economic analysis found that lower natural gas prices and higher-than-expected operating costs “negatively impact the economic viability” of the facility. Despite President Trump’s vows to support the coal industry, coal plants keep on closing – in the next four years utilities have plans to close 40 coal units, federal figures show. Six closures have been announced since Trump’s victory in November.
  • As he helps draw up new Executive Orders for the President to undo Obama climate progress, new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s email history shows ties to fossil fuel industry and think tanks paid by the Koch brothers. Just days after Pruitt was sworn in as head of the EPA, emails released to the Center for Media and Democracy by a judge this week show a cosy relationship between Pruitt as Attorney General of Oklahoma and the fossil fuel industry as, together, they worked to roll back the kind of environmental regulations he is now in charge of. The correspondence was with American Electric Power, Devon Energy, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and State Policy Network member Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Pruitt’s first week at the EPA sees rumours flying that he is drawing up Executive Orders for Trump to sign – as soon as next week – that would roll back rules regulating water protection for utilities, and undo Obama’s Clean Power Plant regulations. These could include a US exit from the Paris Agreement, but there are now reports that key Trump advisor Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump have successfully lobbied to remove any words critical of climate change in the EO’s. A US Chamber of Commerce official, apparently speaking out of turn, has warned there will be “hell to pay” if Trump targets climate science.

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KEY QUOTES

“Wind is where oil and gas was in Texas in about 1914, 1920. No laws have really yet been created, there’s no regulation, there’s no governmental agencies, it’s just the wild frontier. All of a sudden, Sweetwater’s the wind capital of the world.” – Rod Wetsel, Sweetwater, TX Attorney

“First, the [oil] industry is seeing more and more competition from alternative sources of energy. Second, many countries formerly dependent on the effective monopoly of oil companies have developed new strategies to protect national interests and to lower their exposure to oil market volatility. Third, the impact of the Paris Agreement on climate change is unfolding as new energy policies work their way through state halls, investment banks, institutional investment firms, and international financial institutions.” – Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA

“The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events” – Nick Surgey, Center for Media and Democracy

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