So­lar, wind com­pa­nies hope years of court­ing pays off un­der Trump

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

US wind and so­lar com­pa­nies for the first time gave more money to Repub­li­cans than Democrats dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion cy­cle, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral cam­paign dis­clo­sures, part of a years-long ef­fort to ex­pand re­new­able en­ergy’s ap­peal be­yond lib­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. The in­dus­try is now hop­ing its strat­egy of reach­ing across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide will pay off in the form of Con­gres­sional sup­port as Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump, a cli­mate change skep­tic who has ex­pressed doubts about the role of clean en­ergy, takes the White House in Jan­uary. “We’re not start­ing from ground zero,” said Isaac Brown, a prin­ci­pal at 38 North So­lu­tions, which lob­bies on be­half of clean en­ergy clients.

The USwind and so­lar in­dus­tries em­ploy over 300,000 peo­ple, mak­ing clean en­ergy an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal con­stituency that is about five times big­ger than the coal sec­tor for jobs, thanks to years of rapid growth fu­eled by govern­ment in­cen­tives and de­clines in the cost of their tech­nolo­gies. They have also fought to win over a new breed of backer: con­ser­va­tives skep­ti­cal of cli­mate change but in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing homegrown en­ergy al­ter­na­tives that in­crease na­tional se­cu­rity, boost com­pe­ti­tion, and cre­ate well-pay­ing blue col­lar jobs.

But Trump’s up­set vic­tory over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Nov 8 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion has cast doubt on the fu­ture of a fed­eral tax break for re­new­able en­ergy seen crit­i­cal to the in­dus­try’s con­tin­ued growth. Trump has never specif­i­cally called for those cred­its to end, but has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the role of so­lar and wind in the US en­ergy land­scape, call­ing both “so ex­pen­sive” and blam­ing wind tur­bines for killing birds and ru­in­ing pic­turesque land­scapes.

Money and lob­by­ing

Dur­ing his cam­paign, Trump also called global warm­ing a hoax and promised to quit a global ac­cord to cut green­house gas emis­sions, though he has since soft­ened his stance and said he is keep­ing an “open mind” about the deal.

The re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try got a boost last year when Con­gress ap­proved a five-year ex­ten­sion of tax cred­its for new power pro­jects fu­eled by so­lar pan­els and wind tur­bines, and the in­dus­try’s main con­cern in Wash­ing­ton is to en­sure they are not with­drawn in Trump’s first term, or al­lowed to ex­pire should he win a sec­ond.

A Trump of­fi­cial did not re­spond to a re­quest for comment about how he will ap­proach re­new­ables as pres­i­dent. But one of Trump’s potential picks for En­ergy Sec­re­tary, Ok­la­homa oil and gas drilling mogul Harold Hamm, has been a vo­cal op­po­nent of sub­si­dies for re­new­able en­ergy. Re­new­able stocks took a beat­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter Trump’s elec­tion but have since mostly re­cov­ered.

Dur­ing the 2016 cy­cle, the wind and so­lar in­dus­try’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees con­trib­uted more than $225,000 to Repub­li­can can­di­dates for of­fice, com­pared with $185,000 for Democrats. The numbers are not large by the stan­dards of po­lit­i­cal dona­tions but they mark the first time the in­dus­try has tilted its con­tri­bu­tions to­ward Repub­li­cans, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral records. In 2012, Democrats got about two-thirds of the in­dus­try’s con­tri­bu­tions.

Re­cip­i­ents this year in­cluded 34 House Repub­li­cans and 19 Se­nate Repub­li­cans. US Se­na­tor Dean Heller from Ne­vada, New York Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tom Reed and North Carolina US Se­na­tor Richard Burr - all vo­cal pro­po­nents of re­new­ables - to­gether ac­counted for more than 40 per­cent of the So­lar En­ergy In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion PAC’s to­tal fed­eral cam­paign dona­tions. “It is re­as­sur­ing that we have those re­la­tion­ships al­ready de­vel­oped, and we have a re­ally strong busi­ness case for the poli­cies that have been im­ple­mented,” said Brown of 38 North So­lu­tions.

In­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives like SunPower Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Tom Werner and First So­lar Inc CEO Mark Wid­mar have ac­knowl­edged the un­cer­tainty around fed­eral sup­port for re­new­ables. But they have sought to as­suage in­vestors, say­ing cur­rent poli­cies are likely to re­main due to the cost-com­pet­i­tive­ness of their tech­nolo­gies and the num­ber of jobs they rep­re­sent. — Reuters

PAS-DE-CALAIS, France : A pic­ture shows a wind tur­bine and so­lar pan­els in­stalled at the Lu­mi­watt site, a site of research and test­ing on pho­to­voltaic pan­els. — AFP

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