We all know where the respective party “establishments” in Washington come down on climate change, clean power, and the pace at which the country should move to renewables as the primary source of energy (if at all). President Obama gave us the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan; the Republic Congress is not happy about either. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court effectively shut down the discussion until judicial review of the Clean Power Plan is complete – est. circa 2017 – so, the industry may now be better served by concentrating on the energy policies of the candidates to be our next president, one of whom will soon be setting policy for the next four years.
Hillary Clinton’s policy is on her website. Donald Trump’s is not. He does have some policies outlined on his website, but those do not include energy or climate change. Which is not to say he has not discussed his policies publicly. In fact, he has been a prolific Twitter user; in 2012, among other tweets, Trump wrote that “[t]he concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make the U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” When that statement came under criticism by Bernie Sanders (in 2016), Trump insisted it was a joke, but continued to explain that “climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. . . and I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China . . . [b]ecause China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you can burn. They couldn’t care less. Their standards are nothing. But, in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So, it’s very hard on our business.”
On the Trump website, the only statement that potentially impacts current U.S. energy policies is Trump’s proposal to reduce taxes by “reducing or eliminating other loopholes for the very rich and special interests.” While this could mean an end to the federal tax credits which have supported the development and long-term operation of renewable resources, Trump also may be looking to level the playing field for these same technologies with his US-China Trade Reform Policy, which includes eliminating “China’s illegal export subsidies and other unfair advantages.” As we have seen with U.S. manufacturing of solar panels , Chinese government support has given Chinese companies a competitive advantage.
In 2012, Trump described wind energy (on Twitter) as “not good” economically and “destroying shorelines all over the world.” The shorelines with which he was most concerned appear to be those near his golf courses in the United Kingdom. Trump lost a legal fight to prevent the construction of a small offshore wind farm in Scotland but won a lawsuit to stop an offshore wind farm in Ireland (though the court’s decision was based on the presence of an endangered species not the ruined viewshed). To be fair, those lawsuits were business, not policy, decisions; offshore wind has also met with fierce opposition in this country for reasons that have more to do with aesthetics than with denial of climate change – see, for example, the multi-year saga of Cape Wind.
Even so, the growth of the U.S. wind energy industry has been almost exclusively through on-shore wind and most turbines are located far from population centers, much less shore lines, thereby removing the argument about aesthetics. But, prior to November 2015, when Trump made statements at an Iowa town hall supporting some wind subsidies, he had been very critical of on-shore wind energy too – on Twitter – tweeting “[n]ot only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health,” and “[u]gly industrial wind turbines are ruining the beauty of parts of the country – and have inefficient unreliable energy to boot.” In these 2012 tweets, Trump also cited harm to migratory birds, including bald eagles, caused by operation of the large wind turbines.
As for solar energy, Trump calls the technology “unproven” and cites a 32-year payback on the panels as reason that is has not “caught on.” Experts would disagree; even taking the government subsidies out of the equation, most find a more realistic payback period is 14-15 years.
Other than tough talk about how America should deal with OPEC, demand a share of the profits from the Keystone XL Pipeline (which he supports) and the need for energy independence , Trump has been fairly silent, or at best inconsistent, on most energy topics. A Trump presidency may be a dark period for the renewable technology industry with a loss of government support and a focus on domestic fossil fuels, but could just as well see strong executive action to level the international playing field and give domestic renewables companies the chance to develop without crushing competition from China. So far, other than a stray question at a town hall, neither the voters nor the debate moderators have drilled down on any of the Republican candidates’ energy policies, much less those of the front-runner.
Next up: Hillary Clinton.