Climate Corner: No more time to delay action
Jan 20, 2024
The International Energy Agency recently reported that an estimated 507 gigawatts of renewable electricity were added globally in 2023, three-quarters of which was solar. Most of this solar was built in China, which, according to reporting in The Guardian newspaper, installed more solar last year than the entire world commissioned the year before in 2022, despite having cut solar subsidies in 2020 and 2021.
“Record rates of growth across Europe, the US and Brazil have put renewables on track to overtake coal as the largest source of global electricity generation by early 2025,” Guardian reporter Jillian Ambrose shared from the IEA report. Ambrose continued, “By 2028, it forecasts renewable energy sources will account for more than 42% of global electricity generation.”
This is great and welcome news. Unfortunately, it is coupled with the news that 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded and that oil production reached a record high last year. Now, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a massive oil and gas lobby, has launched an eight-figure ad blitz that began January 9th to promote fossil fuels and, to quote API CEO Mike Sommers, “dismantle policy threats” to the industry. This propaganda campaign will only serve to slow crucial progress on addressing the global climate crisis.
Fortunately, though, we’ve even seen progress on the solar front in West Virginia. Despite the fact that West Virginia still gets about 91% of its electrical generation from coal-fired power plants, a piece from WDTV recently shared that “Officials say nearly 50,000 solar panels are now generating renewable energy at the approximately 80-acre Fort Martin site, which can produce up to 18.9 megawatts (MW) of solar energy per hour. One MW of solar energy powers a national average of 173 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.”
The WDTV piece continues, “Mon Power hired more than 100 local union workers, primarily from the Morgantown and Parkersburg areas, to complete the work at the Fort Martin solar site. Additionally, the solar panels, racking systems and supporting electrical equipment were made in the United States.” This is exactly how renewable energies should continue to grow–using local union workers and domestically-produced equipment. Provisions in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act both mandate and incentivize domestic production using union labor or prevailing wages.
Another area of crucial growth for clean energy is the successful deployment of electric vehicles (EVs). In addition to $7,500 tax credits available at point of purchase (reduced if component parts are not entirely produced in the US), the starting prices of new models of EVs have gone down dramatically. For example, A Volvo EV SUV being released this year as a 2025 model will have a starting price of $36,265, 275 miles of range and can go from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds. My 2022 model Kia Niro Touring Edition hybrid vehicle started at $40,000 before trade-in value.
EVs are cheaper to maintain over the life of the vehicle than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle and cheaper to charge than what it costs to fill up any ICE vehicle per gallon of gasoline. Coupled with zero tailpipe emissions that lower not only greenhouse gas emissions but other forms of air pollution like PM 2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter), EVs are a win-win-win as upfront costs fall. The displacement of ICE vehicles is well underway as both home and public charging infrastructure continues to expand.
To quote Rabbi Jason Siegel, Climate Finance Advisor at Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, writing for the journalistic outlet Common Dreams:
“It’s clear we are at the end of the fossil fuel era. Solar and wind energy are the cheapest forms of energy to build. The market itself is acting on this imperative. Fossil fuels as a sector have performed worse financially over the past decade that the rest of the market. Over the last 30 years, they have shrunk from a quarter of the market to around 5%. According to a recent report, six public pensions could be $21 billion richer if they had ditched investments in coal, oil, and gas a decade ago.”
This is why we’re seeing the ad blitz by the nation’s biggest fossil fuels lobby. We keep hearing how China and India have to act first, but clearly China is acting even in spite of its coal growth and we in the United States have an acute responsibility to be a global leader on climate action, given the fact that we are, historically speaking, the world’s highest per capita emitters.
When it comes to attempts to delay or deny crucial climate action, we’ve got to collectively shout the title of one of The Who’s biggest hits: We “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.