Renewable Energy Will Power Post-COVID America

BY LAURA BURKHARDT
In an opinion piece on April 30, which was also published in several newspapers around the country, Terry Jarrett makes the usual pro-fossil-fuel arguments. In the process, also as usual, he completely omits the issue of climate change, which is overwhelmingly driven by the burning of fossil fuels. In service of this point of view, he cherry picks his data to paint wind and solar energy as unreliable and excessively expensive.
Jarrett concludes that to maintain cost-effective and reliable electricity we must maintain coal-fired generation plants and presumably all fossil-fuel plants. While the United States as a whole cannot immediately turn off electricity generated from fossil fuels, the long-term trend is moving inexorably in that direction. The cost of building wind and solar power installations has come down dramatically and will continue to decline; in many parts of the country, wind farms are already cheaper to build than new fossil fuel plants, and they cost almost nothing to operate. Tesla and other energy companies are building large-scale battery storage to address reliability. Grids are being upgraded to handle the complexity of moving energy in new directions. Local energy solutions are proliferating, including community solar projects and solar carports on large parking lots, which would be especially appropriate for the Lower Hudson Valley.
These developments are producing economic benefits in new technology, new industries and new jobs. While coal plants are closing and shedding jobs, wind and solar jobs are a growth sector – and will continue to be post-COVID. Ensuring affordable and reliable electricity from renewable sources requires several components: a variety of sources (solar, wind, hydropower), battery storage, energy efficiency, an upgraded national grid, and an effective demand response program. Under Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, New York State is currently addressing all these components, supported by recent legislation.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 made it law that New York move to phase out fossil fuels on a specific timetable. The Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth Act set up the administrative structures to quickly build large-scale renewable energy projects and make improvements to the grid. Gov. Cuomo now needs to ensure that these initiatives remain robust post-COVID. Finally, in addition to not even acknowledging climate change, Mr. Jarrett ignores its results and costs: severe floods, droughts, and intense summer heat, along with violent storms and other extreme weather events. These are the externalities, the unseen costs, of fossil fuel use. Their costs are borne by the rest of society and the economy. Ignoring them makes sense only in the short-term, bottom-line driven thinking of the fossil fuel industry he represents.