What Now? Renewable Energy in the Age of Trump: A Time for Efficiency? — Part 2

Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
—Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

Let’s see, where was I? I remember—I promised to describe A Republican Energy Efficiency Reinvestment Act (AREER); the beginning of an idea I thought would fit neatly within the policy parameters of the incoming administration.
The strength of the idea lies in its simplicity and compatibility with what President Trump seems best able to do: cajole private corporations to pony up money. In this instance for financing a national low-income weatherization fund.

I’m indifferent as to whether Trump cajoles, threatens, dares, squeezes or entices—just as long as he does it. Before you declare me delusional, hear me out.

My idea is not nearly as impossible nor indefensible as you might think. It is, in fact, good business and even better politics. It plays to the President-elect’s strengths, his flair for the dramatic and is consistent with what appears to be his management style.

I envision AREERA coming about more or less as it does in the following scenario—

  • President Trump invites leaders from various corporations to play a round of golf. Invitees would include the CEOs of companies: benefiting from the sale of energy efficiency products, e.g. Carrier and Westinghouse; doing a lot of business with the government, e.g. CH2MHill, Northrup Grumman and Deloitte; and, being on record as climate defenders, e.g. Apple, Levi Straus and Bloomberg.
  • He explains that he would like to create a $15 billion revolving national energy efficiency fund, with the goal of weatherizing 35 million low-income residences. Other at-risk populations, e.g. the elderly and children with respiratory diseases, would also be eligible for assistance.
  • The fund would be operated as a public/private enterprise, with an oversight board of business executives and a citizens’ advisory committee.
  • Project activities would include residential audits, efficiency retrofits like insulation, installation of Energy Star appliances and windows, as well as workforce development.
  • Corporations could consider their contributions charitable donations or loans to be repaid, with interest, over time.
  • Recipients would be obligated to pay the fund $2-$3 a month over the life of the retrofit. If the residence changes hands, the obligation carries over to the new tenant. The payment amount reflects half the minimum expected monthly rate-payer savings.
  • Payments will be collected by the utility company and credited to the fund, creating a monthly cashflow of between $70M-$105M—based on a target of 35 million homes. These monies are to cover the fund’s operating expenses and to finance new projects.
  • Existing unobligated federal weatherization funds will be used as seed capital. The $15 billion total is to be raised within two years. Until obligated, funds will be put into an interest-bearing account.
  • The President announced to the gathered CEOs that he has been informed that the Trump corporation—with which he no longer has any active relationship—will make a charitable contribution of $25M.
  • In appreciation, the President is proposing to appoint Ivanka Trump to the fund’s oversight board. All members of the oversight and stakeholder panels will be appointed by the President, with input from Congress. Both will be bi-partisan panels.

Trump touted the fund as a public-private partnership, on the order of what he envisions for his larger infrastructure program.

Drawing on his knowledge and experience as a builder, the President confidently highlighted some of the fund’s economic benefits.

  • Rapid growth of the domestic markets for energy efficient appliances, building materials, etc., supported by the program’s “Buy American” provision.
  • Job creation and workforce development, creating a ready supply of skilled domestic labor.
  • The job creating nature of this and other infrastructure programs is particularly important for coal miners and steel workers whose jobs the Administration might not be able to save. Moreover, the jobs created cannot be shipped overseas.
  • Higher employment levels will lead to greater consumer demand for products ranging from computers to new homes to automobiles and beyond
  • Lower unemployment and higher consumption means fewer federal expenditures and higher tax revenues lowering the national deficit.

Aware of the connection between energy efficiency, renewable energy measures and the environment, Mr. Trump believes the fund will demonstrate his Administration’s support for sustainability. He also hoped his proposed efficiency fund and willingness to maintain the tax credits for renewables already on the books would demonstrate his personal commitment to an all-of-the-above energy policy.

Trump was quick to point out his plan helped Americans–not the crooked Chinese; and, he emphasized his approach wouldn’t be throwing coal miners out of work in the process.

The President was confident his plan would do more for the environment than the Clean Power Plan ever could and pledged to work with Congress to amend further the federal tax code to encourage private participation in AREERA.

The President concluded the meeting by saying he asked his daughter Ivanka to head the organizing effort and that he expected the fund to be up and running before the end of the year—even if funds were not fully committed.

Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm for the program and the positive outcome of the meeting was evidenced in his own brand of communication, as seen the copy of the Tweet he released immediately at the conclusion of the meeting.

Back from The Future

A national weatherization program of sufficient size has been wanting for years. Neither the need nor the benefits of a national efficiency retrofit project can be seriously disputed.

The closest the nation has come to actually making the required investment was the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). The $5 billion of ARRA money for weatherization merely scratched the itch—it did not stop it. The Clean Power Plan offered the hope of big bucks from the sale of carbon credits—a hope likely now never to be realized.

Environmental justice for low-income and at-risk individuals has been delayed far too long. Should the above fiction become fact, President Trump will be right when he recites the many benefits of a $15 billion revolving energy efficiency fund.

Reliance on federal appropriations, utility investments and state budgets is risking the health and welfare of America’s underserved citizens and failing to capture the socio-economic benefits such a program carries with it. Could President Trump do what chief executives before him could not? I don’t know.
What I do know is that we should not dismiss out of hand Mr. Trump’s willingness or capacity to bring private and public forces to bear on a problem thought intractable.

Whatever you or I may think of him—or the deal he just cut with Carrier—the fact is 1,000 Hoosiers, who would otherwise have faced 2017 wondering how to feed their families, are resting a bit easier. The only way to find out if Mr. Trump is as good a businessman as he would have us believe is to propose plans he can understand and might support.

Next In The What Now Series

Look for the next installment in the series when I will be discussing President-elect Trump’s nominations for key energy/environment posts and their potential undoing of the Obama era energy and environmental agenda.

This article was originally published by CivilNotion.com and was republished with permission.

Read more in this series:

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Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion ( www.civilnotion.com ). Joel recently returned to private practice after serving as the Executive Director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.  He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; and, sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. He has recently taken on the duties of managing partner for LAC Solar Light, Inc. a B-type corporation working in the Americas. Joel can be contacted at thejbsgroup78@gmail.com .

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