President-elect Donald Trump has won over many supporters with his commitment to bring back the dying coal industry. While we all want to see jobs retained and coal miners protected, the real promise he should be making is to advance clean energy. While coal brought us many of our modern conveniences, it is now clean energy that holds true potential for long-term job creation and prosperity for our state.
While Missouri is a very coal-dependent state, we do not actually mine coal locally. Instead, Missourians send approximately $1.4 billion out of state each year to bring in coal from Wyoming. We should be spending our hard-earned dollars more effectively and supporting good local jobs and local economies.
Coal will not bring us energy independence, but clean energy such as solar and wind can. I know this because I started my own solar company, Missouri Sun Solar, at the age of 27 in my hometown of Houston. I now have 130 employees and am supporting job growth in my small town and saving local residents money on their utility bills. These jobs cannot be sent overseas or even out of state.
In 2015 there were nearly 2,000 people employed in the solar industry in Missouri alone. Meanwhile, the wind industry supports close to 1,000 manufacturing jobs in Missouri across 10 facilities. These are well-paying, secure jobs that support Missouri families.
By installing solar, the average homeowner saves over $60,000 on their electric bills over the life of their system. That is the true path to energy independence – affordable, in-state, nonpolluting energy that is not subject to rate fluctuations like that of coal and natural gas. The earliest solar panels are still producing, 50 years later, so this method of energy production shows a longevity that coal cannot match.
More than ever, businesses and industries such as Google, Facebook, Coca-Cola, IKEA, Unilever and Microsoft are making commitments to go to 100-percent clean energy.
Facebook recently chose Iowa for their new data center based on the state’s large installed wind energy capacity. By failing to transition to cleaner energy, Missouri will not be a competitive state for new businesses.
These businesses are helping drive demand for clean energy. It is our role as consumers to help drive market demand as well. While many states are transitioning rapidly to clean energy and creating easy pathways for residential and commercial customers to do so as well, Missouri has not. Consumers are often restricted by limitations on solar array capacity, local zoning and monopoly utilities.
This transition to cleaner energy helps us improve our air and water quality by reducing harmful pollution. The recent limits on mercury emissions from coal plants have already shown improvements in the health of various fish populations – something that should be very exciting news for all of us who like to eat fish from our rivers and lakes – particularly women that are pregnant, nursing, or of childbearing age and children under 13 who are currently advised to limit meals of Missouri fish to once a month due to mercury contamination.
President-elect Trump wants to see many of these limits and protections reversed, and I am sure many will applaud him for that. For most of us, even if you oppose government intervention and regulation, you still want cleaner air and water. This is why our role as customers is more important now than ever that we support clean energy.
The market already favors clean energy. In many cases, even in Missouri, energy efficiency, solar and wind is far cheaper than continuing to operate old, inefficient coal plants. However, the utility sector is often slow to change and determined to retain their customer base rather than allow them to become energy independent with solar.
Now is when we, as consumers, need to create demand for clean energy. We must call on our businesses, houses of worship, universities, cities and municipalities to make commitments to go to 100 percent clean energy. The Missouri Clean Energy Coalition, an organization in which my business takes part, is working to bring Missouri to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Over 20 cities across the country have already made this commitment, as well as many countries across the globe. Missouri should be a leader in transitioning to clean energy, both to protect the health and pocket book of our residents and to revitalize our cities and rural towns once again.
Caleb Arthur, president of Sun Solar, is a father and a native of Houston.