Over the past year “alternative facts” and “fake news” have become regrettable buzzwords used to dismiss any viewpoint that does not support one’s own preconceived notions.
But when it comes to renewable energy, there truly are numerous myths that perpetuate throughout the media and culture that are not supported by any fair reading of the available data.
Renewable-energy advocates often argue that we don’t need jobs in the fossil-fuels industry because solar and wind have become “engines for green and sustainable jobs.” As evidence, many groups have cited a report published by the U.S. Department of Energy that purportedly shows more people are working in the solar industry than in fossil-fuel power generation.
According to the report, 374,000 people are employed by the solar-generation industry, approximately 102,000 are employed by wind, and just 187,000 people are employed generating electricity from oil, coal, and natural gas. On its face, it seems as if wind and solar truly are the job creators and fossil fuels are dinosaurs awaiting extinction. That’s not the case.
It’s true the DOE report says approximately 374,000 people work in the solar-energy industry, but this number isn’t just full-time jobs. It includes part-time. Only about 260,000 spend at least half their time working in the solar industry.
Economists, to compare competing industries, typically estimate how many full-time equivalent jobs exist or are being created. Unfortunately, the study did not use this metric, and the report is missing citations for footnotes 32 and 33, which are supposed to support their claims about jobs in the solar industry.
Another interesting “alternative fact” about the jobs created by wind and solar power is that a large portion of these jobs are construction jobs, the same kinds of positions that were routinely denigrated by renewable-energy advocates during debates about the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. In 2016, 36.7 percent of jobs in the solar industry and 37.2 percent of jobs in the wind industry were construction jobs.
All we can truly conclude from the report is solar creates part-time, temporary jobs that come at a massive expense to taxpayers and consumers.
Many renewable-energy advocates claim solar and wind are cost-competitive with fossil fuels, but the facts show otherwise. A study from the Brookings Institution found electricity generated from wind costs at least twice as much as coal or natural gas, and solar costs at least three times as much as conventional sources. The only reason the wind and solar industries are still in operation, or were even built up in the first place, is because they receive more subsidies than every other form of energy combined.
According to data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2013, wind received $5.9 billion in taxpayer handouts, mainly in the form of the Wind Production Tax Credit. Solar receives $5.3 billion annually, mostly from a 30 percent federal tax credit. Additional federal and state incentives for solar systems make buying these panels virtually free. These subsidies have continued to grow every year.
Even with all these subsidies, solar and wind provide just 0.4 and 1.8 percent of the United States’ total energy use, respectively. On the other hand, coal provides 18 percent of total energy use, natural gas provides 28 percent, and oil generates 35 percent of total energy consumption.
Wind and solar should be required to compete on a truly level playing field with other forms of energy, which would mean repealing the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar power and the other handouts keeping renewable energy afloat.
Isaac Orr is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.