Clean Energy Canada | Why Trump's term may not be as grim for clean energy as critics fear
November 13, 2016
If you work in clean energy, chances are your inbox and Twitter feed have been overwhelmed with stories about the implications of a Trump presidency for the renewable energy sector. If you were watching markets, no doubt you took note of falling stock prices for clean energy companies.
The prospects seem grim. And that won’t just affect American companies. Canadian energy companies—from Enbridge to Alterra Power—have been growing through investments in renewable power south of the border. This investment creates jobs at HQ here in Canada, not to mention value for their Canadian shareholders.
There’s no doubt that President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton have differing views on both climate change and the opportunity clean energy offers. A lot of people lump the two together: if you want to reduce carbon pollution, build more clean energy. Since Trump thinks climate change is a hoax, that pretty much eliminates the case for clean energy—right?
Not so fast.
The Bureau of Labour notes that wind turbine technician is the fastest growing occupation in the country. Would Trump put these good jobs in jeopardy? Doubtful.
The reality is that clean energy has been booming in the United States for a whole bunch of reasons that don’t have much to do with climate change. Things like health, security, and innovation which lead to high levels of support amongst Republicans—yes, Republicans—for harnessing the power of American water, wind and sun.
Those federal tax credits for wind and solar? They were passed last December by a Republican congress with bipartisan support. Revoking them would require a legislative effort, one that may not be looked upon kindly by the many Republican lawmakers who have renewable energy manufacturing and development in their states. Lawmakers like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said this summer: “If he wants to do away with it, he’ll have to get a bill through Congress, and he’ll do it over my dead body.” He won’t be the only one: looking across the country—and the electoral map—the top 10 wind-energy producing congressional districts are represented by Republicans.
Besides—much of the renewable energy boom has been driven by state policy. You might recall that back when he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush passed legislation requiring utilities to buy renewable energy. It lead to a building boom that has made the state the largest producer of wind power in the United States. Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota lead the nation in the proportion of electricity generated by wind—all are led by Republican governors. Ditto North Carolina, which trails only California in the development of new solar projects.
Up in New Hampshire—which also went Trump—the newly elected Republican governor won on a platform that included support for the Northern Pass transmission line, which would move clean hydroelectricity from Quebec into New Hampshire and the New England power grid. Not only is this good news for HydroQuebec, it’s good news for New England states as it will provide baseload power that can enable more development of in-state wind and solar.
Down in Florida, at the same time Floridians delivered their support to Trump, they voted to maintain unlimited opportunities for the expansion of rooftop solar. There are hundreds of state-level policies in red states and blue states that aren’t going to disappear, and they are driving significant investment in clean energy.
Just last year, the U.S saw US$56 billion in clean energy investment—second only to China. That kind of investment creates a lot of jobs: almost 210,000 Americans are now employed in the solar industry, a doubling over 2010 figures and represents more people than are employed in oil and gas extraction. The Bureau of Labour notes that wind turbine technician is the fastest growing occupation in the country. Would Trump put these good jobs in jeopardy? Doubtful.
Looking at dollars and cents—and customers’ wallets—it’s also worth highlighting that the unsubsidized cost of wind and solar just keeps falling, down 61 and 82 per cent respectively, between 2009 and 2015. And these trends will continue, making clean energy the competitive choice. It’s one of the big reasons why so many major American companies are committing to renewable energy and signing big contracts for wind and solar.
If we learned anything from Donald Trump’s campaign, it was that we should expect the unexpected.
Most people—and the stock markets—seem to think president-elect Trump will be bad for clean energy’s prospects in the United States. And they may very well be right.
Or it might just turn out that the continued rise of clean energy will help Trump Make America Great Again. For clean energy, opportunity should trump ideology.
This op-ed was co-authored by Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada. Originally published in the Globe and Mail Report on Business (Nov. 14, 2016).