Clean Energy Jobs Could Be Political Game Changer

November 29, 2022

Above, a pre-election report from Deutsche Welle (Germany) on renewable energy’s penetration in Red West Virginia.

Bloomberg Energy:

At least $25.7 billion in new US clean-energy factories are in the works, thanks in part to the generous subsidies in President Joe Biden’s landmark climate law. Most of these projects — and the jobs that come with them — are in traditionally conservative states.

In Dalton, Georgia, green energy hasn’t been a priority. Its Congressional representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has said that “Earth warming and carbon is actually healthy for us.

But as I learned during a visit there last month, a new solar-panel factory is changing minds in the city of 34,000. Indeed, the presence of new jobs is transforming solar power into a tangible community benefit.

Analysts say there’s a lesson in that: The new jobs at these green factories may function as a political game-changer. “That may be an implicit long-term strategy for the Democrats: With domestic manufacturing likely in traditional Republican districts, the partisan split may soften on renewables,” Timothy Fox, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told me.

Some Republicans in Georgia also see these factories as politically beneficial. Governor Brian Kemp, in his successful campaign for re-election, touted a surge in green jobs across the Peach State. There’s a battery plant so massive that it stretches half-a-mile along a freeway northeast of Atlanta — and more facilities are on the way. Hyundai Motor Co., for instance, just started building a $5.5 billion electric-vehicle plant near Savannah.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to Georgia. Republicans in historically conservative states in the South and Midwest that once resisted the clean-energy movement are now competing for these factories. Some are offering property-tax abatements, site-clearing and other infrastructure improvements. (It also helps that several are right-to-work states, which makes it harder for workers to unionize.)

While some Republicans in Washington have long backed wind power, the party’s embrace of clean energy is still limited. Not a single Republican member of Congress supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which features $374 billion in climate-related spending, including the perks for domestic cleantech plants. And Herschel Walker, Georgia’s Republican candidate for Senate in a December run-off election against incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, has opposed the law.

It’s not clear from my visit to Georgia whether emerging openness to cleantech will be a key factor in the Senate run-off. But this much was evident in Dalton: While local homeowners are less likely to install panels atop their roofs than residents in Los Angeles, where I live, solar is becoming entrenched in the community.

Dalton, a city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the self-proclaimed “carpet capital of the world.” But it long lacked job diversification, leaving it vulnerable to the highs and lows of the housing market.

It finally got that with solar. Dalton now is home to the biggest solar-panel factory in the Western Hemisphere. And manufacturer Qcells, a unit of Korean conglomerate Hanwha Group, is now prepping a second plant nearby.

For Biden, the hope is that the IRA and two other infrastructure-related laws he helped shepherd will form the basis of an industrial policy that can revitalize cities across the country while also fighting climate change. Other than potential reforms to project permitting, which would expedite power lines needed to transmit wind and solar power to cities, it’s unlikely the next Congress will be as accommodating to clean energy as the one that ends in a few weeks.

In poking around on this topic, came across this interesting 4 year old video from OAN news, reporting on the progress being made even during the Trump administration on clean energy. Includes an appearance from newly elected Senator John Fetterman, then Mayor of Braddock, Pa.


3 Responses to “Clean Energy Jobs Could Be Political Game Changer”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Did you catch the “renewables slash intermittent build-out continues like it is” phrasing? They have to keep pounding on the “intermittent” part because it’s the only new challenge that PV and wind present while being waterless, more flexible, far less environmentally damaging, nontoxic, and lower cost over coal thermal power plants.

    Grid balancing and storage are nowhere to be seen and heard in this conversation.

    • The “intermittent” part is NOT the only new challenge of PV and wind! There’s the extra space they take up, the extra materials they use, the extra transmission lines they need and the extra processes of disposing of worn out materials or extra expenses of mandated recycling. Plus, the extra jobs they create are not necessarily a good thing. For these jobs to pay more, they will have to make electricity more expensive. Nuclear and petroleum jobs pay well because they are more productive.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        “There’s the extra space they take up…”
        That’s true for PV solar, but people are very creative in addressing land use of solar farms and community solar. Electricity-producing applications like agrivoltaics and covered canals and covered parking lots, they provide useful shade for critters (including us). The offshore wind turbines are in the sea.

        Meanwhile, the spatial footprint of a coal plant grows over its lifetime if you include the coal mining.

        “…the extra materials they use…
        You gotta be shitting me. Not only does it take a lot of steel and concrete and/or difficult-to-recycle FRP to make a thermal power plant with a cooling tower, upwards of 7 gigatons of coal are extracted every year to run them. That’s how Mr. Bostic and the West Virginia Coal Association make their money.

        “…the extra transmission lines they need…”
        Solar and wind do not need rail cars and barges to deliver coal on a regular basis, and a lot of new installations are dropping in to the same transmission hub used by the coal plants they displace. Ideally we should move away from the backbone-and branches model and have a more distributed grid for resilience purposes anyway.

        “…the extra processes of disposing of worn out materials or extra expenses of mandated recycling…”
        As opposed to all of the CO2 and coal ash produced through years of operation, or missing mountaintops, or trashed creeks? My sister worked on a project to convert coal slurry to dry ash so a coal plant wouldn’t have to have an impound dam that can break during heavy rain events. It was an expensive retrofit. Yeah, Bostic missed that, too.

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