Harrop: Switch from oil, coal to clean energy already ongoing

Biden’s talk of a transition from oil isn’t news, not even to some oil companies who are making the switch.

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

Joe Biden could have used more careful wording at that debate, but his talk of shifting the economy from fossil fuels to cleaner energy reflected a process well on its way. The transition started before Donald Trump took office and accelerated during his presidency.

Hoping to vacuum up some votes in oil- and gas-producing swing states, Trump pounced on Biden’s remark. He also replayed one of his favorite lies, that Biden would ban fracking. Biden would stop hydraulic fracturing only on federal land, a middle position that has displeased some environmentalists.

Trump’s been pushing another lie, that he “saved our oil industry.” Actually, he didn’t.

On the contrary, America’s oil and gas companies are in big trouble and filing record bankruptcies this year. Exxon Mobil isn’t among them, but the legendary oil giant has lost over 66 percent of its market value since 2013.

The reason is partly the transition, pushed along by the rapidly falling cost of green energy. Renewables such as solar and wind are expected to provide 20 percent of America’s electricity this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s more than double their share 10 years ago.

For one brief but shocking moment, Exxon’s market value fell below that of NextEra Energy, a wind and solar power company that few have heard of. Clearly, the move from fossil fuels to clean energy sources is not just about environmentalism. It’s about capitalism. It’s where investors want to put their money.

Covid-19 has multiplied the suffering of fossil fuel companies and their workers. Fear of the virus has applied the brakes on flying, driving and other energy-dependent activities. The resulting glut in oil and gas is largely to blame for the loss of 107,000 jobs between April and August. By September, the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. had dropped more than two-thirds from only a year before.

Trump was president all that time. Had he not gone limp on confronting the public health crisis, there’d probably still be a lot more oil and gas jobs today. Other countries managed to corner this plague, and their economies are going full tilt.

Oil companies know the transition is on schedule. BP leads the pack in planning a 40 percent cut in oil and gas production over the next decade; while boosting investment in wind, solar and hydrogen power. This radical move reflects the economic realities, the British company says. It believes that global demand for oil has already peaked and might never return to pre-pandemic levels.

Hello, Texas. Texas is America’s No. 1 producer of oil and gas but also wind energy. Only four countries generate more wind power than Texas. And, oh, yes, average wages of renewable energy jobs now top those of fossil fuel jobs, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Solar PV (PV stands for “photovoltaic,” one of the solar technologies) and onshore wind (the Texas kind) are currently the cheapest newly constructed energy sources for two-thirds of the world’s population, according to the research group BloombergNEF. The cost of batteries to store the energy is also falling.

Bigger turbines have further lowered the price of onshore wind power over the past five years. Rural landowners, meanwhile, are cashing some nice checks as they lease their acres to wind farms.

Do Texans really want four more years of a president who ruminates that wind turbines may cause cancer?

Opinion polls out of Stanford University find that the virus and economic downturn have not at all reduced the public’s growing worry over rising temperatures. Biden’s ambitious climate plan may be sweet words to voters in his base but also to the voters well beyond it. We shall see; and hope.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

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