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Trump Doesn’t Let Solar Facts Get in His Way

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has unveiled his energy plan for America (spoiler alert… it’s a lousy plan.)

“The problem with solar is it’s very expensive. When you have a 30-year payback, that’s not exactly the greatest thing in the world.”  Um…what?


Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke extensively on the topic of energy at a press conference last week.  Unsurprisingly, Mr Trump’s energy plan seems to be made up primarily of sweeping generalizations and big promises, unencumbered by facts. This comes as little surprise to those of us who have followed Mr. Trump’s ongoing smear campaign against renewable energy. When Trump entered the race last year, I reported on his battle against an offshore wind farm near his resort in Scotland, as well as his claims that solar (which he declared an “unproven technology” despite its decades-long track-record of reliability)  has a “32 year payback”.

It seems that since his last statement, he has shortened his estimate on solar payback to 30 years… which makes him now wrong by only 20 years. Even without the subsidies that Mr. Trump rails against, a simple payback on a residential solar array in Trump’s hometown– New York City– is closer to 10 years. In Hawaii, 5 years. Let me say it again…WITHOUT government subsidies or tax incentives of any kind. Not even depreciation.

At least we in the solar field aren’t getting quite the vitriol that Trump showers on wind power.  “If you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles. If you shoot an eagle or you kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. One of the most beautiful, one of the most treasured birds and they’re killing them by the hundreds and nothing happens. So wind is a problem.”

Yes, we all know the history of the early 1980s Altamont pass wind project and it’s unexpected negative effect on raptors. However, new tower and turbine designs have radically reduced those numbers.  According to the California Audubon Society; “Reducing the kill entirely may not be possible, as long as the wind turbines continue to operate at Altamont. But we believe that significant progress can be made. The CEC estimates that wind operators could reduce bird deaths by as much as 50 percent within three years–the goal stated in our settlement agreement–and by up to 85 percent within six years–all without reducing energy output significantly at APWRA. These reductions could be achieved by removing turbines that are the most deadly to birds and shutting down the turbines during four winter months when winds are the least productive for wind energy, combined with some additional measures.”

What source of electrical generation does Mr. Trump like? Coal. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “The Donald” declared; “Remember this. We’re practically not allowed to use coal any more. What do we do with our coal? We ship it to China and they spew it in the air.”  “Practically not allowed?”   Politifact points out that; “In 2014, coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity generation, followed by natural gas at 27 percent, nuclear at 19 percent, hydropower at 6 percent, and other renewable sources at 7 percent.

In its most recent future projection, the Energy Information Administration predicted that coal would maintain its top spot for electricity generation. Under the most basic economic parameters, coal would decline in future years due in large part to the retirement of aging coal-fired plants but would still account for 34 percent of energy generation in 2040. The enactment of policies that put coal at a disadvantage could drop that percentage further by 2040.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s apparent love of coal, making too many promises leads, inevitable, to major problems. According to the market mavens at Seeking Alpha; “The most confusing of Mr. Trump’s announcements, though, and certainly the one that should be of greatest concern to coal investors, is his proposal to remove all restrictions on the domestic production of petroleum and natural gas. While this would contribute to his energy independence goal, it would be a disaster for the coal mining industry. The Dow Jones U.S. Coal Index lost 81% of its value between 2011 and 2015 as a tripling of U.S. shale gas production caused domestic natural gas production to rise strongly after a multi-decade decline (see figure).”


The bottom line on Donald Trump’s energy plan is this; he is a profoundly ill-informed on energy issues, and apparently his advisors don’t care. The empty promise of “energy independence” that has been so popular with presidential candidates since the Carter presidency has hit a new low. In the past, candidates have promised energy independence and given us lip service after the election, delivering tepid, if any,  progress on energy issues. Trump has taken it one step further. He has created his energy talking points out of sheer fantasy, as if he knows that no one is really listening, and no one really cares about the truth. He may be right.


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