Planet Days
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Planet Days

Wind is soaring, coal is sinking, and the US is clueless

In a year that’s been bad for just about everyone, one sector is soaring: wind.

This month, while oil prices plummeted to all-time lows, offshore wind raked in $35 billion, up 319% from last year. And new research published this week shows that offshore wind turbines in the United Kingdom are on the verge of not only paying for themselves but also paying customers to use them.

“Offshore wind power will soon be so cheap to produce that it will undercut fossil-fuelled power stations and may be the cheapest form of energy for the UK,” said lead author, Malte Jansen, in a statement.

This follows one of the only good trends of 2020. Despite the economic crash caused by the pandemic, renewable energy has proven reliable and resilient in an otherwise shaky energy sector.

Case in point: For the first time ever, renewable electricity generation in the European Union, driven by wind and solar installations, beat out fossil fuel generation in the first half of 2020.

So, why do you care? Of course, wind power is good. I don’t have to convince readers of Planet Days otherwise. But now it’s also economically sound — no strings attached — and this may finally persuade some skeptical U.S. politicians.

For years, opponents of clean energy (overwhelmingly Republican) have argued that wind investments are too expensive, and there are too many jobs at stake. Voters, without concrete evidence, have taken these arguments as truths. After all, it seems cheaper to keep running an existing coal- or gas-powered plant than building a wind farm.

But both these arguments are no longer true.

A report published this March, amply titled “How to waste over half a trillion dollars,” showed that it’s cheaper — $600 billion cheaper — to generate energy from new renewables than from new coal plants in all major markets. The researchers also predict by 2030 it’ll be cheaper to build new renewables than to even run existing coal plants.

Meanwhile, in the United States, coal production just hit its lowest level since 1978. Those numbers came a day before U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Texas to hoot and holler about another fossil fuel industry: oil and gas.

But Texas, a state so entrenched in fossil fuels that one of its professional football teams was literally named the Oilers, also leads the country in wind generation, producing 28% of the U.S.’s wind-powered electricity in 2019. And by turning our heads from a dying industry to a soaring one, we make not only a smart economic decision — but a sustainable one.

The coal industry in the U.S. only employs 53,000 workers, even after three and a half years of aggressive pro-coal energy policy. In wind power, there’s over 111,000 jobs and growing. There’s plenty of opportunity for coal workers to transition to the renewable energy sector.

We need more renewable energy policy, and those in power need to be convinced. One way to do so is by backing all this wind talk with economic force. Because money talks.

Unfortunately, even a sound economic investment in wind, as we’ve seen in all these recent findings, is not enough to convince many leaders, including Trump, to switch over to renewables. Fortunately, votes also talk.

This November, the strongest statement we can make is booting the nay-sayers out of office. And we can only hope a fresh wave of leaders will push us toward a more sustainable future.

An environmental newsroom with a flair for drama and a fanfare for Earth, informing and empowering people who prefer the planet liveable.

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Brandon Pytel

Brandon Pytel

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.

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