Over the past month, nearly everybody in our community has been trying to figure out what the presidential election means for our country. Given how the results shocked nearly everybody, there’s a lot to figure out. I wanted to share some thoughts about where those of us working to build a sustainable, clean energy economy should focus our efforts.
For the last eight years, we’ve had a federal administration that strongly supported science, and the potential for clean energy to drive our economy in the 21st century, while cleaning our air and water and improving our health. That support came in many forms, including research programs to develop new energy technologies, commitment to considering climate change impacts in pipeline development, and support for basic scientific research. The Republican Congress even got in on the act by extending the federal investment tax credit for solar for five years.
But with the changeover in Washington, our focus needs to return to local efforts. And the wind is at our backs. I’m excited to say that market forces are taking over. Nationwide, wind power is the cheapest form of new electricity. In certain areas (including upstate New York), solar is now cheapest. That’s because year by year, we’ve seen incredible price declines and a scale-up of manufacturing. Panels get more powerful—prices get cheaper.
With net metering rules in place in more than 40 states nationwide, it is increasingly cheaper for people to produce their own power than to continue buying from monopoly utilities. As a result, the real question for renewable energy is now how fast it will displace fossil fuels, not if it will. Nothing President-Elect Trump does will be able to stop this technological progress.
Seeing the trends, the large fossil fuel companies are now in a race to build the infrastructure that will lock us in to using their fuels for as long as possible. That’s what’s happening when gas companies try to build multiple pipelines through our national forests, like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. The pipeline companies have even tried to unlawfully enter and take other people’s land to build their pipelines as fast as they can—for which they were rebuked by the West Virginia Supreme Court. And it’s what’s happening when FirstEnergy—the utility here in Jefferson County—tries to sell its expensive coal plants to the people of West Virginia to bail them out.
The moral of the story? Over the next four years, we need to continue pushing forward with local projects and efforts in the race to build a sustainable economy. That includes making the switch to clean energy at your own home or business, working to protect our neighbors’ farms and livelihoods from prospectors, and making sure that we’re building a clean energy economy here in West Virginia, too.
— Dan is a native West Virginian and founder of Shepherdstown’s Solar Holler. He was recently named one of Southern Living magazine’s 50 Southerners of the Year. Visit Solar Holler on Facebook here.