What would a Trump presidency mean to the US solar industry?
Since Solar Tribune published the “Solar Scorecard” of 2016 presidential contenders in January, The Republican field has grown even larger, while the field has narrowed on the Democrat’s side of the race. In fact, the Republican side is becoming so crowded that it takes not one, but a series of debates to get them all on stage. Similarly, it will take a series of articles to cover the solar stances of all of the candidates.
As of this writing, Donald Trump continues to be the frontrunner in the Republican race. The bombastic billionaire media-hound continues to make headlines with his condemnation of big government and the status quo, and those headlines are keeping his poll numbers high. Most political reporters agree, though, Mr. Trump’s campaign to date has been light on substance, and his position on energy policy remains unclear. Can we look at “The Donald’s” past statement and extrapolate anything about what a Trump presidency might mean to the US solar industry?
After Solyndra, @BarackObama is stil intent on wasting our tax dollars on unproven technologies and risky companies. He must be accountable.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2012
On January 25th, 2012, @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “After Solyndra, @BarackObama is stil (sic) intent on wasting our tax dollars on unproven technologies and risky companies. He must be accountable.”
In March of the same year, Trump told Greta Van Sustern of Fox News:
“Right now, green energy is way behind the times. You look at the windmills that are destroying shorelines all over the world. Economically, they’re not good. It’s a very, very poor form of energy. Solar, as you know, hasn’t caught on because, I mean, a solar panel takes 32 years — it’s a 32-year payback. Who wants a 32-year payback? The fact is, the technology is not there yet. Wind farms are hurting the country.”
Trump has made no bones about his hatred of wind power, and his feelings about solar seem to be dismissive at best. However, his criticisms seem to be based on outdated information or sheer hyperbole. Where does his vitriol come from?
His opinion of windpower stems from an unsuccessful legal battle he has fought against an off-shore windpower project near one of his golf resorts in Scotland. Just last month, Scottish courts found that Trump had no grounds for accusing Scottish ministers of illegally agreeing to license the 100MW experimental wind farm.
As for solar, Trump has simply dismissed it as an “unproven technology” despite solar’s decades of rock-solid reliability. His 32 year payback assessment, even in 2012, did not take into account any of the tax incentives or rebates available to most Americans. One can only assume that his criticisms of the government tax breaks for solar are strictly political in motivation, since his real estate empire is built on the hundred of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies his projects receive, and the subsidies his father built the family fortune on during the administration of New York Mayor Abe Beame, a family friend.
Trump’s dismissal of climate change and his naive focus on energy independence through domestic oil production and fracking belie his authoritative statements on energy technologies. It is painfully obvious that Trump chooses “facts” that suit his personal narrative, regardless of their relevance or validity.
Ultimately, the solar policy arena is changing and the solar business is growing rapidly, due primarily to strong market forces. It appears that the solar industry is here to stay, and it would not make sense for a Trump administration to take a stance that was hostile to one of the few “sunny spots” in the nation’s current economic situation. Above all, Donald Trump is a slick businessman, and he understands trends. Unlike Ronald Reagan, I doubt he would tear the solar panels off of the White House. Times have changed.Even Mr. Trump can’t deny that.
We can only hope that if “President Trump” were to start cutting subsidies, he would cut those for the coal and oil industry as well as solar.
About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.