Some 360,000 Americans now work in the solar industry, more than in nukes and coal combined. In fact, more Americans are now working in California’s solar industry than are digging coal nationwide. And the U.S. wind business now employs more than 100,000 people.
But President Donald Trump wants to change that. He has already slammed the solar industry’s growth by slapping a 30 percent tariff on imported Chinese panels, slowing installations nationwide.
He’s also contemplating using an obscure Korean War-era “emergency” ordinance that would let the government bail out money-losing coal and nuclear plants at the expense of renewables.
The idea was presented to Trump while he dined with a lobbyist from the infamous Akron-based FirstEnergy, whose bad business decisions have hung it with four crumbling, money-losing nuclear power reactors and some eighty obsolete coal burners.
More than half the nation’s ninety-nine licensed commercial reactors are now losing money. FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse, near Toledo, Ohio; Perry, east of Cleveland, Ohio, and Beaver Valley 1 & 2, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are bleeding radioactive red ink. One might expect “free market” corporate executives to cut their losses and let competition determine how our energy will be generated.
But FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones (annual salary: $8.7 million) has begged Ohio’s legislature and regulators to slap consumers with billions in higher electric rates. So far he’s failed, which is why he sent his lobbyist to dine with Trump.
Already, governments are doing what they can to prop up the nuclear power and fossil-fuel industries and damage the cause of renewable power.
Three nuclear reactors in Illinois have been granted a $200 million annual handout for the next decade. Pennsylvania and Connecticut may soon get soaked with massive rate hikes to keep reactors running there.
The New Jersey legislature has just approved spending $430 million over the next decade to run three more uneconomical reactors there, two at Salem and one at Hope Creek. Activists including actor Alec Baldwin have urged that state’s new Democratic governor to veto that proposal.
Throughout the United States, owners of even those few reactors that are still making money are poised to scam their way into compliant legislatures to see how much they can grab.
But the biggest nuke scam of all has been rammed through state regulatory agencies by New York’s “liberal” Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo backs the 2021 shutdown of two decrepit reactors at Indian Point, saying they are too close to Manhattan to be considered safe.
But Cuomo wants ratepayers statewide to cough up a staggering $7.6 billion for four upstate reactors whose owners had them slated for decommissioning. To the astonishment of economists, ecologists, business and ratepayer groups, Cuomo’s hand-picked regulators approved the rip-off last year.
Nuclear opponents have gone to court to stop it. They argue that while less than four thousand jobs are tied to the reactors, many thousands more would be created by replacement wind and solar projects.
FirstEnergy’s scam is even more brazen. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the average reactor generally employs between four hundred and seven hundred workers. Some workers stay on long after shutdown to deal with issues of decommissioning and waste management.
But along with bailing out its four dying nukes, FirstEnergy wants a staggering $8 billion per year in above-market ratepayer fees for some 80 coal burners.
Right-wing think tanks like Heritage have joined financial and business groups in warning such rate hikes could decimate the area’s economy.
Meanwhile, a bitterly disputed “set-back” law has stopped some $4.2 billion in proposed wind projects along Ohio’s “north coast,” which is flat, windy, well-wired and full of farmers desperate for the projects to begin. But repeal has stalled, with tens of thousands of jobs and billions in income hanging in limbo.
They’ll all disappear if Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry approve FirstEnergy’s “emergency” bailout.
Last September, the Trump administration approved another $3.7 billion in federal loans, on top of $8.3 billion approved in the past, to sustain a scandal-ridden nuclear project in Vogtle, Georgia.
More recently, on May 10, Congress passed a new attempt to open the proposed Yucca Mountain waste dump. The plan to store some 70,000 tons of high-level commercial radwaste in an earthquake-riddled dormant volcano is overwhelmingly opposed by Nevadans and had long since been written off. But a bi-partisan House vote of 340 to 72 mandated that within 30 months the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must decide whether to license the facility. It now heads to the Senate, where Republicans may be hesitant to act because their cohort, Dean Heller of Nevada faces a tough re-election battle in a state where the dump is extremely unpopular.
As all of this plays out, tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. The nation’s entrenched fossil-nuclear corporate elites are more focused on propping up the industries of the past than embracing the technologies of the future.
Harvey Wasserman hosts the California Solartopia Show on KPFK-Pacifica Los Angeles 90.7FM and the Green Power & Wellness Show on prn.fm. His America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Life & Death Spiral of US History, from Deganawidah to The Donald is at www.solartopia.org, along with Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth. To learn more contact him at solartopia.org.