ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Indiana University Associate Professor Sanya Carley spoke about “The U.S. Energy Transition and Vulnerable Populations” as part of the CLOSUP Lecture Series at the U-M Ford School of Public Policy on Wednesday afternoon. She argued that there are several big changes happening within the energy sector right now.
“The price of solar is going down significantly,” Carley told the audience. “We can extract natural gas at a much cheaper rate than before. Market forces have developed in a way that there are other resources that are more economically efficient.”
Carley also serves as the Chair of the Policy Analysis and Public Finance faculty at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. She co-authored a report titled, “Adaptation, culture, and the energy transition in American coal country,” appearing in the March 2018 issue of the Energy Research & Social Science peer-reviewed academic journal.
“We have embarked on a large energy transition,” she explained. “Coal generation has declined. We see the increase in natural gas and renewables over this time period. We will continue to add a lot more solar and wind and natural gas and continue to retire coal. We hopefully will see a reduction in greenhouse gas. Hopefully we’ll see a diversification of renewable energy.”
There are a variety of different energy and climate policies here in America. In 2016, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) required new vehicles to achieve 35.5 mpg. By 2022, the renewable fuel standard will achieve 36 billion gallons of biofuels blended in gasoline. Meanwhile, California enacted a zero emissions vehicle mandate that states 15 percent of all new vehicles must be zero emissions by 2025. Many of these policies are set to expire in the next five years.
In November 2017, ITC Transmission suggested that President Trump impose up to a 35 percent tariff on imported solar modules. He agreed and set the tariff at 30 percent and signed the legislation in January 2018. His new tariffs on steel and aluminum would mean these solar panels would essentially be taxed twice before arriving on U.S. shores.
The Indiana University Associate Professor hopes to see a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases. However, while transitioning to cleaner forms of electricity, there could be some negative effects. Those include a rise in the price of electricity, a loss of jobs, specifically coal, in the Appalachia region.
Her study focused on three cities including Detroit, St. Louis and the Appalachia Region, which includes the Southern Tier of New York to northern Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. She interviewed 46 people interviewed from June-October 2016.
“We decided there are places that exist that are already feeling the effects of the transition,” Carley explained. “Detroit and St. Louis have high concentrations of poverty and segregation. St. Louis is the home of many coal companies.”
Three research questions were asked to the participants in the study:
- Are communities vulnerable to the energy transition?
- How are the communities conceiving of and adapting to the energy transition?
- Have perceptions about the energy transitions changed since the 2016 election?
The renewable portfolio standard is a goal or mandate that a certain jurisdiction, a state, must increase the percent of renewable energy over a certain amount of time to force the industry to change.
“There is an equal distribution of environmental and social impacts related to energy across space and time,” Carley said. “In Detroit and St. Louis, there are a lot of discussions about electricity bills and transportation. There’s a lot of discussion about housing stock inefficiency. In Appalachia, the story was much focused on jobs as a result of the coal industry being in decline.”
Following the 2016 Presidential Election, a total of 23 individuals working on the front line were interviewed. Of those, 84 percent male and 72 percent were either unemployed or in a training program. A lot of them were former coal miners.
“Coal is culture” It defines these regions. The entire communities are wrapped up into coal. These individuals are very mindful of the fact that the coal industry is declining. The excitement that came along with the new opportunity.
Is it possible that repealing laws can bring coal jobs back? Carley argued no based on four reasons:
- Environmental regulations are less responsible
- Repealing environmental regulations will not alter economic forces
- Parts of Appalachian coal country have begun a transition of their own
- Providing false hope and uncertainty can stall the process in these communities
“There’s a very sharp difference between Obama and the Trump administration,” Carley explained. “Generally, people see evidence of energy transition in their community. The election hasn’t really changed the pace. I think the political shifts are going to change the energy transition. The long-term effects of political change has a real important effect on energy markets.”
She said the younger generations are propelling the sentiment of new opportunity. Multi generations are working within the coal industry. Young people are recruited from high schools and are earning $60,000-80,000 right off the bat.
During the question-and-answer session, a U-M student asked, “How many jobs are created from the construction of solar and wind farms in rural areas?”
Carley answered: “We don’t have a great sense of how many jobs are created. Generally, the findings are investing in solar or wind would lead to more jobs than fossil fuel industry such as coal.”
Read her full report titled “Adaptation, culture, and the energy transition in American coal country” at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629617303341