60 Seconds of Thought on 60 Minutes’ Recent Clean Energy Bashing Vignette

Listening to last weekend’s 60 Minutes, I felt I was watching a Saturday Night Live sketch on parallel universes. The bash fest by Leslie Stahl seemed like it was co-written by the Koch Brothers, lead funders of climate denier organizations and Keystone XL pipeline advocacy groups.

But in reality, clean energy has never looked better. The REN21’s Renewables 2013 Global Status Report released on June 12th, 2013 concluded that global demand for renewable energy continued to rise during 2011 and 2012, supplying an estimated 19 percent of global final energy consumption in 2011 (the latest year for which data are available), with a little less than half from traditional biomass. However, 2012 was the second highest year ever for renewable energy investments, which added up to $244 billion (including small hydro-electric projects). There was a continuing upward trend in developing countries, with investments topping $132 billon. 

Wall Street Journal reporter Keith Johnson wrote in his September 22nd 2013 “Six Myths About renewable Energy” article:

It’s also important to remember the scale of the country’s renewable efforts. The U.S. has the second-biggest electricity system in the world, accounting for about 20 percent of the entire world’s generation capacity. Wind power’s 5 percent of that pie is a big slice. The 60-odd gigawatts of windpower installed in the U.S. amounts to more electricity-generation capacity than in the entire country of Australia or Saudi Arabia, and as much as all of Mexico. It’s about half as much power as in France or Brazil.

Job Creator

On April 18, 2013, The Solar Foundation (TSF) announced the release of its State Solar Jobs Map, a web-based tool providing the first-ever solar jobs numbers for each of the fifty states. These new state numbers build upon TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012, which found that the U.S. solar energy industry employs 119,016 Americans and that solar employment grew 13.2 percent over the prior year, making it one of the fastest growing industries in the country.

According to industry estimates, the wind sector employs 75,000 American workers, including workers at manufacturing facilities up and down the supply chain, as well as engineers and construction workers who build and operate the wind farms.

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimated that there were about 5,200 jobs directly related to geothermal power production and management in 2010.

The biofuels industry directly employed over 87,292 Americans in 2012.

The National Hydropower Association reports, “The hydropower industry currently accounts for approximately 200,000-300,000 jobs according to a study by Navigant Consulting Inc. And according to the same study, with the right policies, the industry could add 1.4 million new cumulative direct, indirect and induced full-time equivalents (FTE) jobs by 2025.”

According to the National Mining Association statistics, coal production has demonstrable benefits, which include the direct employment of 204,580 people in 2011.

Silicon Beat’s 60 Minutes article stated, “There’s a token throw away line about Tesla Motors, which had a fantastic year by any measure and has more than 6,000 employees. But nothing in the piece about Agua CalienteCalifornia Valley Solar Ranch or Ivanpah, massive solar projects that were not only funded by the DOE’s 1705 program but are up and running.” Note, the U.S. has 1.3 GW of concentrated solar either built or being built right now.

And Daniel Kessler’s article in the Huffington Post looked at it this way: “Clean tech is outpacing fossil fuels for job creation. Just look at two projects: The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and the Ivanpah solar installation in the Mojave. According to the State Department, Keystone XL will create about 50 permanent jobs. This while threatening our land, water, and climate. Ivanpah is expected to employ 2,650 construction jobs and 86 operations and maintenance jobs.

In the 60 Minutes piece, host Leslie Stahl claimed, “There were not that many jobs created. The DOE loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.”


Market Influencers

The Department of Energy’s website throws out several key facts:

While these technologies still represent a small percentage of their respective markets, that share is expanding at a rapid pace and influencing markets. For instance:

  • In 2012, wind was America’s largest source of new electrical capacity, accounting for 43 percent of all new installations. Altogether the United States has deployed about 60 gigawatts of wind power — enough to power 15 million homes. 
  • Since 2008, the price of solar panels has fallen by 75 percent, and solar installations have multiplied tenfold. Many major homebuilders are incorporating rooftop panels as a standard feature on new homes.? 
  • In that same five years, the cost of super-efficient LED lights has fallen more than 85 percent and sales have skyrocketed. In 2009, there were fewer than 400,000 LED lights installed in the U.S.; today, the number has grown 50-fold to almost 20 million.? 
  • During the first six months of 2013, America bought twice as many plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) as in the first half of 2012, and six times as many as in the first half of 2011. In fact, the market for plug-in electric vehicles has grown much faster than the early market for hybrids. Today, EVs ranging from the Chevy Volt to the Tesla Model S also boast some of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings in America. And prices are falling and export markets are opening up. Since 2008, the cost of electric vehicle batteries — which really drive the economics of EVs — has dropped by 50 percent.

 Ken Bossong, who analyzes statistics here for REW routinely, noted on Thursday, November 21, 2013:

According to the latest ‘Energy Infrastructure Update’ report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, solar, biomass, and wind ‘units’ provided 694 MW of new electrical generating capacity last month or 99.3 percent of all new generation placed in-service (the balance of 5 MW was provided by oil.) Twelve new solar units accounted for 504 MW or 72.1 percent of all new electrical generating capacity in October 2013 followed by four biomass units (124 MW – 17.7 percent) and two wind units (66 MW – 9.4 percent).

For the first ten months of 2013, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) have accounted for nearly a third (32.8 percent) of all new electrical generating capacity. That is more than that provided thus far this year by coal (1,543 MW – 12.5 percent), oil (36 MW – 0.3 percent), and nuclear power (0 MW – 0.0 percent) combined. Solar alone comprises 20.5 percent of new generating capacity (2,528 MW) thus far this year – more than doubling its 2012 total (1,257 MW). However, natural gas has dominated 2013 thus far with 6,625 MW of new capacity (53.7 percent).

As for biofuels, we have created over one billion gallons of biodiesel for transportation fuels three years in a row. Beyond the 13 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, we have newer biofuels from non-food feedstocks coming online, as well. For example, INEOS opened the nation’s first commercial-scale biorefinery in Vero Beach, Florida in November 2012, and began production of cellulosic ethanol and biopower in July 2013. Throughout the course of its construction, INEOS created nearly 400 jobs, sourced 90 percent of its equipment from U.S. manufacturers across 10 states, and provided more than $4 million annually in payroll to the local community. Two other commercial-scale biorefineries, POET-DSM and Abengoa, will complete construction and startup in 2014. Together, these three facilities will have a combined production capacity of more than 50 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year plus electricity generation. A fourth biorefinery project, Myriant, was constructed and started production of biobased succinic acid in its facility in Lake Providence, Louisiana.

For hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids and all electric cars, The Electric Drive Vehicle Association shows the growth curve starkly. In 2010 , there were 274,210 hybrids on U.S. roads, 326 plug-in electrics, and 19 all-electric “road worthy” vehicles. By 2012 we have over 495,000 hybrids, 96,702 plug ins, and over 30,000 all-electric vehicles.

Further in just four short years, solar went from 0.3 GW in 2008 to 3.2 GW in 2012 while wind went from 8.4 GW in 2008 to 13.2 GW in 2012. Hydropower supplies over 9 percent of U.S. energy and the tidal, wave, and ocean thermal/currents industries are also expanding significantly.

Energy Use Falls

The Institute for Electric Efficiency found that the U.S. saved enough electricity to power almost 10 million homes in 2010 (about 112 TWh) — 21 percent better than the previous year.

“Driven by government policies and the high price of energy, the world invested as much as $300 billion in energy efficiency in 2011, the most recent year for which the report provides information. That’s about the same amount funneled into renewable energy or fossil-fuel power generation,” according to the International Energy Agency inaugural report on the energy efficiency market.

The report highlighted Japan as one the world’s leaders of energy efficiency savings. The nation will save its consumers $3 billion in energy reductions, with more efficient lighting, vehicles and appliances all contributing to the lowered electricity demand, the report said.

The 2013 Energy Fact Book released jointly by Bloomberg Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy noted:

Total energy use fell 6.4 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to preliminary estimates, driven largely by advances in energy efficiency…Overall, U.S. energy efficiency expenditure reached $7 billion in 2011 (the latest available date for which data exists). Demand response capacity, which typically involves the curtailment of electricity consumption at times of peak usage, has grown by more than 250 percent between 2006 and 2011, allowing major power consumers such as manufacturers to cut their energy costs and utilities to scale back production from some of the costliest power plants. Some 46 million smart meters have been deployed in the U.S., while spending on smart grid roll-outs hit $4.3 billion in 2012, up from $1.3 billion in 2008.

None of these numbers — increasing private sector investment, increasing market share, and decreasing prices — indicate the investments in clean energy are losers. The opposite is true.

The nonsense from 60 Minutes comes right after their poor journalism on NSA spying. Sadly I am old enough to remember Walter Cronkite, Morley Safer, and David Brinkley who conducted substantive journalism. What we ended up with here is “News Lite” — just another symptom of the dumbing down of the American public in the 21st century. And if the writers for 60 Minutes submitted that script in one of my university classes, the would have received a D-. Happy New Year, all.

Lead image: 60 minutes via Shutterstock

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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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