There was obvious disappointment among clean energy advocates last Friday when the White House published on its website “An America First Energy Plan” that makes no mention of renewable energy or energy efficiency.
President Donald Trump has made it clear since his announcement to seek the presidency in June 2015 that his top energy priority is to boost oil and gas development in this country, and that is what his energy statement emphasizes. It vows to “embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans.” It also calls for “reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”
While Trump has previously expressed some disdain for renewable energy, over the course of his campaign he spoke more in support of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that included biofuels, wind, solar and other renewables. He has promised an energy policy and industry that promotes jobs – and that requires recognition that the current energy sector employs more than 500,000 people in the solar, wind, bioenergy, and hydropower industries. In fact, the solar industry, with more than 373,000 workers, employs more people than all other power generating sectors combined, according to DOE data.
And if he is to remain true to promises of supporting rural America – a principal constituency that helped put Trump in the White House – he will need to acknowledge that renewable energy continues to offer economic benefits through local tax revenues that help renovate roads, build schools and update infrastructure across the American Heartland.
Despite the absence of any reference to clean energy in a seven-paragraph statement on energy, it is way too early to ascribe long-term plans to this administration. In fact, a number of leaders in the renewable energy sector have said that they did not read too much into what, essentially, is a preliminary draft of a more substantial policy that is expected to be forged once the administration’s senior leadership settles in.
Among that leadership is Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who oversaw a major evolution of energy production and use while in the governor’s mansion. Perry called a special session of the Texas legislature in 2005 that expanded a major renewable energy portfolio. According to an analysis from the Brookings Institution, the state has long since exceeded its regulatory targets, but has also gone on to invest heavily (nearly $9 billion through electricity use fees) in upgraded transmission capacity to move electricity generation from wind-rich regions to high energy-demand centers. The Brookings analysis goes on to point out that Texas now stands as the largest generator of wind energy of any state – including renewable energy leaders like California – and is poised for continuing expansion in both wind and solar.
One would hope that Perry, who said during his confirmation hearing last week that he “regrets” his call to close the Department of Energy during his unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, will bring to this administration the experience and voice of a government leader that helped create a business environment that boosted clean energy development in an oil- and gas-rich state.
Texas is among many states that offer Trump’s administration model scenarios for building and maintaining a diverse energy portfolio. Data from DOE’s Energy Information Administration shows nearly 44 percent of total power generation in California came from renewables through the first three quarters of 2016. Over the same period, Utah doubled its generation from geothermal, solar and wind energy. Other states such as New Mexico saw generation from wind power double, and Nevada increased its geothermal generation by more than 25 percent. Elsewhere, wind power met 24 percent or more of electricity demand in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. Solar power generation in North Carolina has tripled from year to year, ranking it third behind California and Arizona.
On a more political point, most election observers agree that Trump won the presidency by listening to voters and offering them a platform that heeds their needs. So, it is hoped that the new president will heed the voice of Americans who overwhelmingly support the continued development of clean energy, as demonstrated by an extensive survey of more than 9,000 voters released last fall by no less credible an organization than the Pew Research Center, which found that 65 percent of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources.
As Pew pointed out in its announcement of the survey results, public opinion is widely supportive of expanding both solar and wind power, but is much more closely divided when it comes to the idea of supporting expansion of fossil fuel energies such as coal mining, offshore oil and gas drilling, and hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas. While the survey found substantial party and ideological divides over increasing fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources, strong majorities of all party and ideology groups support more solar and wind production. We urge the new president to hear those majorities and those in rural America that put him in office, and give clean energy development its due support in the months and years ahead.