Beyond the Election: Solar Policy in the Next Four Years

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Clinton is pro-solar. Trump is anti-solar. Beyond that, what do we know?

At the time of this writing, the United States is just weeks away from going to the polls to decide the single ugliest election since the civil war. Although the Clinton campaign appears to be opening a widening lead, anything could happen. The bigger question mark is what happens down the ballot, in congressional races and state races. According to the political stat-geeks at fivethirtyeight.com, Democrats will likely gain a few seats in congress, but remain the minority. Safe bets are on a Clinton Presidency and a closely divided House and Senate, but honestly, it wouldn’t be terrible surprising to see the exact opposite transpire.

We can be sure that in terms of federal incentives, a Clinton Presidency would mean more incentives for solar and tighter restrictions on the  fossils, while Donald Trump pledges to strangle the renewable industry in it’s cradle and return us to the happy days of coal mine fires, black lung and acid rain. Frankly, no one with any respect for the environment, human health or the American economy could vote for Donald J. Trump with a clean conscience, but much of what Hillary Clinton is presenting as an energy plan is itself pie-in-the-sky campaign rhetoric. If you haven’t dug into the candidates energy policies at this late date, do yourself a favor and read the excellent analysis at Business Insider before you vote.

Here are the two campaign “Action Plans” side by side.

First Mr Trump’s:

Here is my 100-day action plan:

  • We’re going to rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions including the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.
  • We’re going to save the coal industry and other industries threatened by Hillary Clinton’s extremist agenda.
  • I’m going to ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline.
  • We’re going to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas
  • We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies. These technologies create millions of jobs with a smaller footprint than ever before.
  • We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.
  • Any regulation that is outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest will be scrapped. We will also eliminate duplication, provide regulatory certainty, and trust local officials and local residents.
  • Any future regulation will go through a simple test: is this regulation good for the American worker? If it doesn’t pass this test, the rule will not be approved.

 

Now Mrs. Clinton’s:

Hillary Clinton will launch a Clean Energy Challenge that forms a new partnership with states, cities, and rural communities that are ready to lead on clean energy. She will outline this Challenge in detail in the coming weeks, and it will include:

  1. Climate Action Competition: Competitive grants and other market-based incentives to empower states to exceed federal carbon pollution standards and accelerate clean energy deployment.
  2. Solar X-Prize: Awards for communities that successfully cut the red tape that slows rooftop solar installation times and increases costs for businesses and consumers.
  3. Transforming the Grid: Work with states, cities and rural communities to strengthen grid reliability and resilience, increase consumer choice and improve customer value.
  4. Rural Leadership: Expand the Rural Utilities Service and other successful USDA programs to help provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy, not just to rural Americans but to the rest of the country as well.

As part of the Clean Energy Challenge, Clinton will ensure that every part of the federal government is working in concert to help Americans build a clean energy future. This includes:

  1. Transmission Investment: Ensure the federal government is a partner, not an obstacle, in getting low-cost wind and other renewable energy to market.
  2. Solar Access: Overcome barriers that prevent low-income and other households from using solar energy to reduce their monthly energy bills.
  3. Tax Incentives: Fight to extend federal clean energy incentives and make them more cost effective both for taxpayers and clean energy producers.
  4. Public Lands and Infrastructure: Expand renewable energy on public lands, federal buildings, and federally-funded infrastructure, including an initiative to significantly increase hydropower generation from existing dams across the US.
  5. Innovation: Increase public investment in clean energy R&D, including in storage technology, designed materials, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and sequestration. Expand successful innovation initiatives, like ARPA-e, and cut those that fail to deliver results.

As we can see, Mrs. Clinton’s plan is very much a continuation of the current Obama energy plan. Mr. Trump’s, is a complete and utter repudiation of those policies, with promises to massively expand fossil fuel mining and drilling with as little regulation as possible. Where her plan is dragged down by details that are at times verging on fanciful, his is completely unburdened by specific implementation plans.
energy-graphic
For now, Let’s stick with what we KNOW…

Coal is on it’s way out, and even Donald J. Trump can’t will an obsolete technology back into existence. Natural gas and renewables are taking it’s place, and those technologies are where new jobs are going to happen.

By the end of the next presidential term in 2020, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) will be at the end of its phase-out period. Chances are, neither candidate will have the political horsepower to change that, either by extending it or accelerating its cancellation.

Look for nuclear to muscle in on any future tax schemes. Hillary Clinton has been a strong supporter of nuclear, and high-dollar supporters from the energy sector like Warren Buffett are eye-balling the same tax credits used for big wind and solar to fund their nuclear dreams.

The real action will continue to be on the state level, where utility boards are under pressure from Koch brothers funded campaigns to bleed state net metering policies to death. Though Clinton’s plan alludes to increasing “access”, congress will probably not wade into that state-by-state fight.

Finally, it is safe to say that the solar industry will survive regardless of who is elected next month. That train has left the station… and it is a global movement. In many ways, the federal government is becoming less and less relevant in the advancement of solar technology, as it has matured greatly through global efforts. As “solar plus storage” makes its way to the forefront in the next few years, US presidents will have less and less to say about how and where Americans spend their energy dollars.

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