Wind and solar advocates make their case to Trump

By Daniel Cusick | 11/10/2016 09:00 AM EST

Renewable energy leaders moved quickly to extoll the fast-growing wind and solar sectors to President-elect Donald Trump and suggest he make them a key part of his energy policy.

Renewable energy leaders moved quickly to extoll the fast-growing wind and solar sectors to President-elect Donald Trump and suggest he make them a key part of his energy policy.

"The solar industry, born in America, is creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments across American communities," Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

Kimbis added that "the great majority" of SEIA’s 1,000 member companies "are small businesses [that] will continue to innovate and provide clean, competitive, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans."


Sounding a similar "America first" theme, American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan said the group is "ready to work" with Trump and his administration "to assure that wind power continues to be a vibrant part of the U.S. economy."

Greg Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, noted in a statement that U.S. renewable energy investment topped $44 billion last year, making it "a crucial part of our country’s economy and a mainstream source of affordable electricity for millions of Americans."

A critical question is whether Trump shares that view.

Both before and during the campaign, Trump has criticized energy policies designed to help wind and solar power compete with fossil fuels. As recently as last month, he called the two leading renewable energy technologies "very problematic," "very expensive" and, in the case of wind power, harmful to wildlife (ClimateWire, Oct. 27).

Industry officials have worked hard to counter those arguments, saying renewables have become an integral part of the U.S. energy mix and will continue to grow as consumer demand and environmental concerns mount over emissions from traditional power plants.

But Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to restore the traditional mining economies of Appalachia and the interior West, has signaled through his early appointments that environmental concerns about fossil fuels will not be a presidential priority.

He tapped two prominent critics of Obama administration energy and climate policies — American Energy Alliance lobbyist Mike McKenna and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute — to oversee leadership transitions at the Energy Department and U.S. EPA, respectively.

Chris Warren, a spokesman for AEA, said in an email that while many details have yet to determined under a new energy policy, "just from looking at Donald Trump’s energy plan, I think we can expect to see less government interference and political favoritism in energy markets from his administration."

"Under the Obama administration, the Energy Department has poured subsidies into their preferred energy sources like wind and solar, while Interior and EPA have made it more difficult to produce and use the sources the administration opposes," he added.

Conservative critiques of renewable energy range from economic arguments over their costs relative to fossil fuels and nuclear power to challenges around the integration of distributed and intermittent generation resources into regional power grids.

Many conservatives have also been critical of tax incentives for renewable energy, saying the federal investment tax credit and production tax credit programs have allowed clean energy developers to reap hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for projects that are otherwise uneconomical.

Renewable energy proponents counter that the installed costs for wind and solar generation have plummeted over the last decade, and that the emissions-free electricity resources have achieved cost parity with natural gas in many U.S. electricity markets.

Capitalizing on Trump’s pledge to adhere to an "all of the above" energy policy, AWEA’s Kiernan said, "We look forward to working with [Trump] and his appointees to make sure they recognize that wind is working very well in America today as a mainstream energy source."

Kiernan also stressed that wind power has bipartisan support and is a significant employer and job creator in the Midwest and Great Plains, including farm states where Trump won solid majorities, like Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

"We’re putting money in the pockets of farmers who host wind turbines, keeping the farm in the family and the family on the farm," Kiernan said. "And wind power supports 88,000 well-paying American jobs, a quarter of them made-in-the-USA manufacturing jobs."

Lewis Milford, president of the Clean Energy Group, which advocates for policy and technology solutions at the state and federal level, said a Trump administration may take cues from previous Republicans. He said Trump could oppose federal mandates on energy — such as U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan — while allowing states to pursue policies based on their own needs and interests.

While Trump’s "all of the above" energy policies will place greater emphasis on coal, gas and nuclear power, Milford suggested a Trump administration could be "fairly supportive of clean energy technologies, both from an energy cost savings standpoint and from an innovation standpoint in emerging areas like battery storage."

"One of the major reasons why corporate America is adopting solar and storage is to reduce electric bills. It’s an economic play," Milford said. "Those kinds of market strategies are going to continue no matter what the administration does."