Wind-and-solar messaging roars on despite rule freeze

By Amanda Reilly | 03/18/2016 01:04 PM EDT

The wind and solar industries say they aren’t changing their messaging strategies while the Clean Power Plan remains frozen pending a flurry of litigation.

The wind and solar industries say they aren’t changing their messaging strategies while the Clean Power Plan remains frozen pending a flurry of litigation.

Industry advocates say that they’ll continue to meet with states to push their technologies as affordable, reliable and job-creating, regardless of what happens with the Obama administration rule.

They’re also pushing the point that other federal and state policies are driving up production of wind and solar energy. It’s a caution for red states that are opposing the Clean Power Plan: Get on board now with solar and wind, or lose out on jobs.


"That fundamental strategy was going to be and still needs to be being out in the states on the ground with a fundamental message about the benefits of wind energy," said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. "It’s a no-regrets strategy — telling state folks this just makes sense, with or without the Clean Power Plan."

In a 5-4 decision in February, the Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan, which compels states to write plans that would lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, until the courts resolve massive litigation over the program.

EPA anticipates that solar and wind will be key for states to achieve their required carbon dioxide emissions reductions. The agency has proposed a related program, the Clean Energy Incentive Program, to reward states for moving early on wind, solar and energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.

Both the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association are siding with EPA in the Clean Power Plan litigation through friend-of-the-court briefs.

Kiernan said that his trade group would continue meeting with state air agencies, public utility commissions and governors’ offices in most states to talk about the benefits of wind energy within the context of the Clean Power Plan.

Still, the group plans to focus on the more basic economic message about wind energy, Kiernan said at a policy forum in Washington, D.C., yesterday sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy.

The group says it will point to the downward trend in costs for wind energy and to statements by utility executives in support of wind power. Kiernan also said AWEA will focus on the reliability of wind power.

"Right now, we’ve got Iowa with over 30 percent wind energy," he said as an example. "So 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, they’re cranking 30-plus percent wind energy."

Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said his group would be pushing a similar message to states.

"I think where we are positioned right now is very positive," Resch said, "and as the Clean Power Plan … goes through the legal process and we’re working with states on the implementation side of it, they know that solar is a cost-effective option that’s going to be available."

Resch said that SEIA is highlighting that Congress’ recent long-term extension of tax credits for both industries will help lower costs.

According to SEIA, solar installation costs have gone down more than 80 percent since 2006, when the industry’s investment tax credit was first put in place.

And SEIA says the prevalence of state renewable portfolio standards will also help the industry grow, with or without the Clean Power Plan.

"Yes, we have pushback from those who don’t want to see these RPSs expanded, but the trend is a positive one," Resch said, "meaning we’re going to have a lot more demand for solar and wind in the near term, beyond just what would happen naturally from the ITC, which I think is really important for us to point to."

‘Don’t want to fall off the cliff’

To be sure, both industry groups think that the Clean Power Plan will eventually be upheld in court.

Resch said his group was telling states that tax credits and renewable portfolio standards would allow the two technologies to be available at a lower cost when the Clean Power Plan compliance period is scheduled to begin in the early 2020s.

"When the Clean Power Plan is put in place, we are going to deliver very large amounts of solar and wind at a very affordable price to help lower the costs for consumers," he said.

But Kiernan said that the industries are concerned that, even if the Clean Power Plan is upheld, its compliance deadlines could slip, creating a gap between the time the federal tax credits are currently set to expire and when the program goes into place. He said the scenario would be similar to previous times when Congress allowed the tax credits to expire.

"We’ve got to make sure the policy, the credits go far enough such that when the CPP kicks in, or Clean Energy Incentive Program kicks in, there’s a smooth transition," he said. "We don’t want to fall off a cliff again. We’ve done that before — not a lot of fun."

Both industries say they aren’t shying away from meeting with states that are publicly opposed to the Clean Power Plan.

Resch pointed to the fact that some of the states most vocally opposed to the Clean Power Plan, such as Texas, have some of the fastest-growing solar industries.

And Kiernan said AWEA is highlighting the number of jobs that could be available with or without the Clean Power Plan.

"This is one of the humorous ironies of all of this — the majority of those jobs will be in Republican, rural districts throughout the country," Kiernan said.

"We’re very much getting the message out into many of the more conservative parts of the country where there might be political leaders either at the state level or D.C. that are skeptical of climate or skeptical of the Clean Power Plan, saying, ‘Hey, your district’s going to win.’"

The groups may face an uphill push, as the oil and gas industry has concurrently been promoting natural gas as the nation’s lead driver of carbon dioxide reductions.

A big-name Republican booster of clean energy, climate activist Jay Faison, is also skeptical of whether wind and solar can continue their downward trend in price because they may need more backup power as they penetrate more of the market.

"They’re an important part of the solution, but they have limits," Faison said last week.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, predicted, however, that states — both those that are continuing Clean Power Plan implementation and those that have frozen all implementation activities — will come around to the messages.

"Those states that do want to play will continue moving ahead, will expand programs, will learn, will do analyses, and ultimately will be able to share their experiences — and hopefully some very good experiences," he said. "And those that have stood down, some of them may be shamed in not taking advantage of the economic opportunities that occur."