What might Donald Trump’s victory mean for people interested in the now-huge universe that seeks energy investments only if those investments reduce climate impacts? A review of some issues vis-à-vis the President-elect’s campaign planks:
The Paris Climate Agreement:
It’ll take a hit. But maybe not a fatal hit. It depends on how aggressively U.S. allies stand their ground and make demands on the U.S. Allied leaders could sever economic/trade links based on climate costs/benefits. Trade leadership could push America into a corner. This is not analogous to the League of Nations in the 1930s, the pre-UN world forum that struggled and failed, partially because the U.S. would not join. Just because Donald Trump doesn’t want to do something doesn’t mean the rest of the world is suddenly reduced to a bunch of weaklings.
Electrical Energy Markets:
Trump is (so he says) a market-based guy. Economic headlines recently have declared that wind and solar are pretty much neck-and-neck with fossil fuels in many applications and economics. Trump will likely pull back from deliberately pushing renewables but to the extent non-fossil can build its own business case, and advance from decisions made by utility and state-level regulators, wind and solar will also advance. Yes, subsidies will shift, and maybe they should. Remember, the federal government does not build nor pay for electrical utility investments and infrastructure. That happens in local/regional markets overseen by state regulatory commissions. To the extent that the private sector, consisting of state-level and regional electricity markets, views wind, solar and renewables as an attractive investment, those technologies will be chosen. The economic and technological advantages from non-fossil investments really need to come to the fore. The tether is being cut loose.
Pro- versus Anti -:
In his 100 Day Action Plan Trump states that he will lift the restrictions on the “production of $50 trillion dollars” worth of American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal. This rhetoric isn’t anti-renewables, at least in a deliberate policy sense. If people in Iowa, for example, want wind — they’ll get wind, not a fossil-based economic expansion. A President can’t dictate such decisions. To the extent that utility executives want to increase solar in North Carolina, solar will likely increase. State utility commissions will make decisions about what best serves ratepayers. To the extent non-fossil is smarter than turning the clock back, that’s the increment by which wind and solar and other renewables will move forward. Did the Obama Administration set renewables up to succeed or was it all economic bluster? With Trump, we’ll see whether there is a true foundation or just a Potemkin stage-set.
California and the States:
Don’t forget, California is the sixth-largest economy in the world. A President can’t change the state’s renewable energy demands, set in statute! California will impact and drive the entire Western U.S. electrical grid, from within the Pacific Ocean itself to Wyoming. New demands from Oregon and Washington will complement. Very likely, other states will step up, realizing they need to become more aggressive when non-fossil-based investments demonstrate sustainable technological and economic benefits for citizens and ratepayers. A President can “lift restrictions” on energy access but that hardly guarantees interest from state legislators, utility commissions, ratepayers, executives and investors. Energy and power are far more complicated.
Unless your paycheck is directly linked to coal, nobody wants to turn the clock back and increase the economy’s reliance on coal. I take my hat off, and say thank you, to the people who mine, transport and burn coal in systems and technologies dominated by concerns about safety, efficiency and environmental impact. I like having the lights on. However, even if everything is done perfectly with coal, it’s still nasty, poisonous stuff. The less coal the world burns the better. The momentum driving wind and solar is unstoppable, they are the anti-coal, which everyone wants. Wind and solar are not powered by personalities, let alone a singular personality. President-elect Trump’s energy plank starts with the statement: “Make America energy independent, create millions of new jobs, and protect clean air and clean water. We will conserve our natural habitats, reserves and resources. We will unleash an energy revolution that will bring vast new wealth to our country.” Everybody knows that to reach those goals you’re not going to depend on coal; actually, you can’t depend on coal.
The road ahead: count on high blustery winds and delayed travel for a while, but the clock won’t be turned back.
Lead image credit: Gage Skidmore | Flickr