Will President Trump take the solar panels off of the White House?
When Ronald Reagan assumed the office of President in 1981, one of his first actions was to have the solar panels removed from the roof of the White House. It would come as no surprise to see this scenario repeated as the new president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, takes up residency there. Unfortunately for those in the solar industry, supporting the use of solar energy has long been associated with environmentalism and the radical left despite it’s obvious technological and economic growth potential. For Reagan, the White House solar array was symbolic of the Carter administration and their liberal agenda, and he called them “a joke.”
Can we expect the same from President Trump? President Obama’s economic recovery goals included a lot of support for clean energy, and all indications show that trend will come to an abrupt halt after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. As of this writing, the name being floated as Trump’s choice for energy secretary is Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire, and leader in the fracking industry. Hamm, who spoke at the Republican National Convention, called Hillary Clinton’s solar plan “The silliest thing I’ve ever heard… I don’t see solar panels on her new airplane she’s flying around. I don’t see solar panels on these 18-wheelers going down the road,” added Hamm. “I’m calling it silly. We’re trading good American jobs here in the U.S. for those in China, Japan and around the world.”
Despite falling demand for fossil fuels and falling oil prices, Hamm insists that fossil fuels are the key to economic recovery. Despite having no data to back it up, Hamm told the audience at the RNC that “We are going to lift the restrictions on the production of American energy. This will produce more than $20 trillion in job-creating economic activity over the next four decades.”
The best we can hope for is that the Trump administration leaves the solar industry alone. Even if they try to cancel the federal tax credits for solar before they sunset next year, they probably couldn’t do it, and it wouldn’t make much difference. But don’t be surprised to see a Trump Energy administration go after cornerstones of the renewable energy industry, like PURPA. The Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act is an important piece of law that allows non-utility power producers access to the market. Also, net metering laws, which are currently set on a state-by-state basis could be undermined through federal policies.
Luckily, there is a huge push currently underway to bring affordable energy storage to market by companies like Tesla, Sonnen and Sungevity. Soon, indie solar systems with power management systems behind the meter will make it much, much easier for consumers to use solar without having to ask the permission of utility companies. Look for this market to blossom despite the best efforts of a federal government that is now undeniably anti-solar.
The Reagan administration was able to quickly suffocate the fledgling solar industry in its infancy in the 1980s, because of the admittedly excessive government subsidies and the unwise dependence on them by the solar industry. Luckily, the 21st-century iteration of the solar industry is much less dependent on federal money as it was in the 80s. Solar is highly competitive and getting more so every year.
The final question mark for solar right now is the fate of Chinese imports. Despite anti-dumping tariffs, panel prices continue to fall, in part due to competition from cheap Chinese product. It is doubtful that Mr. Trump will be able to make good on his promise to level a 45% tariff on Chinese products, but if he does, domestic production is ramping up to fill in the gap.
Our best hope as solar advocates is that the new Trump administration and a Republican congress will leave solar alone, to grow on its own and compete in the market. However, there is a real reason for concern- if they attack the solar industry, it could be a very, very tough four years.