Consider this blog an olive branch offering to clean energy supporters on the Right, and a splash of cold water on the face of Democrats: stop with the doom & gloom predictions. Your echo chamber of outrage over the impending apocalypse is doing nothing to bridge the already enormous canyon between us and fellow American Trump-supporters.
Like most leftists, I was angry at the misinformation spread by The Donald on his campaign trail regarding solar. His claim that he was informed that a proposed solar investment would pay for itself in 28 years, if true at all, was extremely outdated.
But the President-elect has flip-flopped on many issues in the past, proving time and time again that his walk is going to be different from his talk. Having never held public office and therefore having no voting record, we’re forced to read between the lines to figure out where he stands on many issues.
And on solar, the lines are clear: Trump will be good for the solar industry.
We’ve heard it before.
Historically, the creation of jobs is paramount to the domestic policy created by U.S. Presidents, and that’s where solar shines the brightest.
According to an Energy Department report, the solar industry employed 209,000 people in the United States in 2015, up 20 percent from the year before. “That’s more than the fuel industry, more than the cement industry, more than oil and gas, more than coal,” said Jigar Shah, solar entrepreneur, and cofounder of San Francisco–based finance company Generate Capital.
In fact, according to Green Tech Media, the solar industry has created one out of every 80 jobs in the United States since the Great Recession.
That kind of contribution to the county’s economy is something that has been resonating with both Republicans and Democrats alike.
Not too long ago, solar was viewed as a liberal agenda item. But in recent years, as the cost of renewables has come down and as solar installations become more ubiquitous, more and more conservatives are warming up to the idea of pursuing a more energy-efficient future.
This past October, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll among Americans on the topic of alternative energy infrastructure development. They found that 83% of conservative Republicans favored solar installations, and 75% favored wind farm development.
"The bottom line is that rank and file Republican support for clean energy policies at the state level is growing,” said Mike Franklin, consultant to the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum. “Clean energy represents an opportunity for the GOP to build a bridge to key independent voters such as millennials, college educated and minorities that are critical to the party’s ability to win elections in the future.”
What about the conservative ex-governor of Texas, Rick Perry? Remember when our soon-to-be Secretary of Energy wanted to abolish the Energy department, but couldn’t remember its name?
On December 20, 2016, Texas broke an all-time record with wind providing 45% of the state’s total electricity needs — or 13.9 gigawatts of electric power — at its peak.
Rick Perry’s reputation with the sustainable community may be shaky at best, but it’s difficult to deny his success with building a greener infrastructure for his state. As former Texas energy regulator Barry Smitherman noted, "for us, wind development in Texas was never about climate change — it was about economic development and diversifying our portfolio.”
The numbers are clear on why Perry and other conservative states are focusing more of their efforts on wind & solar.
According to the Financial Times, solar panel prices have declined by approximately 80% over the past six years. In the US, solar electricity now costs $79 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared with $125/MWh in 2010. That has made it more competitive with coal, which costs $65/MWh, or $140/MWh for a modern plant with carbon capture technology. The economics for wind energy are even better. Wind-generated electricity costs just $56/MWh, or $34/MWh including subsidies.
This is a big part of the reason why 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, have committed to a state “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” a state-wide mandate for electric suppliers to generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewables by a target year.
This puts the President-elect’s power to dismantle U.S. domestic energy policy much more out of reach; although he has influence over Congress’ decision to enact or detract federal laws, state laws are not as directly accessible by him.
And that’s only public policy. Despite his best efforts, there’s little a President can do to directly affect a private corporation’s budgetary or environmental goals.
The Free Market
There’s nothing that Trump needs to initiate to get the ball rolling for a greener corporate America; the private sector is already showing the desire for renewables.
Last month, Google’s parent company Alphabet announced that they would be 100% renewable by the end of 2017. And they’re not the first major U.S. corporation to do so: Microsoft achieved the net-zero milestone in 2014 through the use of RECs and on-site solar generation. In May 2015, Intel began piloting one of the world’s largest operating rooftop arrays of wind microturbines.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has joined Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, and seems to have a favorable view of how the Trump Administration will impact the clean tech industry. After meeting with the President-elect in December, Elon had this to say about their conversation: “The President-elect has a strong emphasis on US manufacturing and so do we. We are building the biggest factory in the world right here, creating US jobs…I think we may see some surprising things from the next administration. We don’t think they will be negative on fossil fuels… but they may also be positive on renewables.”
Regardless of the policies he puts in place or removes from existence, the bottom line remains clear: for major companies, solar & wind make more economic sense.
And the bottom line is the only line that we can be sure Donald Trump appreciates.